How owning beats renting for the downsizing boomer


Since the dawn of the 21st century, the wow factor of a house has centered on the trophy kitchen: a temple of polished stone counters, party-size islands and top-of-the-line appliances.

But that’s all gotten a bit boring. A new status symbol is zooming onto the domestic landscape: the luxury garage. High-performance Italian cars, after all, are much sexier than high-performance Italian dishwashers.

The latest space to transform from utilitarian to cool, garages are where many of us store our most precious, and most expensive, toys. In the United States, owners of single-family detached homes spent US$3.2 billion adding garages, according to a 2105 analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the National Association of Home Builders. In Canada, homeowners in Toronto alone have spent almost $30-million on garages since 2014.

“More and more people are interested in urban vs. rural homes, and this presents a challenge if you want to have your cars at your house and you don’t have 40 acres,” says Jonathan Klinger, a spokesman for Hagerty, an American insurer of collector cars.

That desire is feeding an industry of space-saving, high-tech lifts, organization systems and even auto elevators that industry experts expect to continue. For those who can afford it — $4-million-plus listings in Toronto were up 34 per cent according to a September report from
Sotheby’s International Realty Canada — garages can also be tricked out to double as cocktail lounges and basketball courts.

“If you look at a Ferrari as the equivalent of a Picasso, why would you want to keep it across town and have to go and see it or, worse, have a valet bring it for you?” says Sam Smith, editor at large for Road & Track. “So much of this is spontaneity. … You’re going to see more people turning those spaces into a more welcoming and usable chunk of their house.”

Even tight spaces offer opportunities. Toronto’s Laneway Custom Builders focuses on high-end laneway construction — including garages with climbing walls and French doors.


Or take Natalie Adams, 41, of Oakland Park, Fla., who started collecting JDM
(Japanese domestic market) Hondas after spotting “the cutest car I had ever seen in my life.
” She turned a one-storey, 1950s warehouse into a combination home/garage and, using car
lifts, keeps six of her favourite JDMs inside the 1,200-square-foot space; that’s about 60 per
cent garage and 40 per cent living space. “I don’t have a fancy kitchen,” says Adams, an accountant.
“I have a fancy garage.” She actually thinks she made the kitchen too large in her renovation, adding:
“I think I will probably shrink its layout so I can get two more cars inside where my kitchen sink and
wall cabinets are now.”

In Coronado, California, a resort town across a bridge from San Diego, car aficionado Chuck Steel is living the dream. He calls his swank garage his “jewel box.” “It’s such a great relationship you have with your cars; they are part of your family,” says Steel, who shares his custom home, with its views of the Pacific Ocean, with his wife, Rita, and two daughters. Because space in this beach town is limited and expensive, “I wanted to maximize everything in this home,” he says. Steel, a retired contractor, has a two-bay garage packed with amenities to safely and elegantly stash his 1935 Packard 1201 coupe convertible, 1948 Ford Super Deluxe convertible, 2017 BMW X6 and 2017 Range Rover LWB.

The Steel garage, unassuming from the outside, is equipped with two PhantomPark subterranean parking lifts, wall sconces hand-forged in Vermont and a giant mural of a beach framed by LEDs on the back wall. The garage is about 400 square feet on each level, and the extra goodies added about $164,000 to the cost.

Lifts like those of Steel and Adams — which cost from US$3,000 to more than US$1 million — are one of the biggest trends in garage makeovers. American Custom Lifts has been producing hydraulic and mechanical lifting systems for cars since 1998, says founder and board chairman Brad Davies. He says business has grown significantly every year.

“It’s got a cool factor,” says Brad Davies of American Custom Lifts. “As cities run out of land and parking, there is higher demand for our parking systems. We expect growth each year to continue.”


For those who want even more space, there are also standalone luxury garages — essentially a mega-mansion for cars. In Hamilton, Ont., one 20,000-square-foot garage stores more than 50 cars, as well as a bar, a smoking room/humidor and a trophy room with two Lamborghini
couches imported from Italy. Designed by Homes for Jojo, it also features spiral staircases supported by drive shafts.

There are private garage communities, too: M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Mich., offers car “condos” that allow car buffs to hang with other car buffs, says founder, Brad Oleshansky.

One fan is Bill Kozyra, a native of Detroit and president and chief executive of TI Automotive, who says he “was born with gasoline” in his blood. Kozyra is passionate about his collection of cars, which includes Corvettes, Camaros, an Aston Martin Vanquish S and a Lamborghini Huracán. Kozyra, 61, has two car condos at M1 that can store up to 25 cars to supplement his at-home garage. His 6,500-square-foot house in nearby Rochester is attached by a breezeway to a similar-looking house where the main floor is actually a garage for 15 cars. (The floors above and below the garage hold guest quarters and entertaining spaces.) This way, at home, Kozyra can easily access a Lamborghini or a Maserati, or just jump into his black Ford F-150 pickup.

Phil Berg, a longtime car columnist and author of the “Ultimate Garages” book series, says he started seeing a growing interest in garage upgrades around 2001. He says car fanatics like to hang out around their cars, so sofas and kitchens are sharing space with roadsters and coupes.

Peace of mind is another consideration. In Manhattan, for example, Kirk Rundhaug, a broker at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, says owners “want to park the cars themselves and know they are safe.” Condos in one West Chelsea tower designed by Selldorf Architects have a “Sky Garage,”
in which an elevator takes you and your car right to your floor.

“I do find it wildly convenient,” says resident Jamie Drake, a partner in interior design firm Drake/Anderson. “I don’t actually use my car that often — weekends and maybe one or two nights during the week to go out to dinner,” Drake says. “It’s wonderful in the pouring rain or in the snow. The car stays warm and toasty.”

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