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HOME DESIGN : Garages Nowadays, They House Almost Everything Except Cars

February 17, 1990|EVE BELSON | Eve Belson is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

When future archeologists sift through the residential rubble of what was once Orange County, chances are they will find little evidence that garages were supposed to house cars.

Instead, they will find offices and wood shops and fitness centers, rehearsal studios, billiard rooms, boatyards, artist studios.

In Corona del Mar, 400 cases of vintage wine sit in an insulated, thermostatically controlled garage "wine cellar."

In Santa Ana, students take singing lessons in a garage dominated by a baby grand piano.

And in Westminster, an elderly couple fight off loneliness by holding open house in the garage they have converted into a mini-den. They sit on a couch and watch television with the garage door wide open so that anyone passing by, including the mail carrier, can stop in for a visit and a chat.

For many families trying to squeeze into tiny Orange County tract homes, the garage has taken the place of the basement or attic for hobbies, recreation and storage. Beloved paraphernalia piles up year after year until the garage begins to look like ground zero at a swap meet explosion. There never seems to be enough room . . . especially to park a car.

"I've never put a car in the garage, so I don't know what it's like," says Kathy Putney of Costa Mesa.

Instead of the standard two cars, Putney's garage is filled with the family's workout equipment, her 16-year-old son's silk-screening rig and her own custom gift basket business. Dozens of fun items, such as exotic pastas and perfumed bubble bath, are arranged on hand-made shelving for her clients to browse through.

In Fullerton, all four cars belonging to Sandor Demlinger's family are parked on the street.

"The last time there was a car in this garage was 16 years ago when the previous owner drove hers out of it," he laughs. The two-car garage now houses a photographic darkroom, two kilns for baking ceramic mugs and tiles, and a 24-foot-long, hand-crafted model railway.

"A car is just something to have if you need to go somewhere," he says. "But you gotta have a garage. If I didn't have one, I'd have to buy a bigger house."

Demlinger, a Chicago native, sees no problem with leaving cars out in the weather. "You call this weather?" he deadpans. "Where I come from, 'snow' is weather."

Bruce Kaplan, who manages Universal Gym Equipment in Irvine, says he was concerned about the family cars when he and his wife, Donna, a personal trainer, converted the garage on their new house in El Toro three years ago to a deluxe gym.

"I drive a company car, so I didn't worry too much about leaving it outside all the time," he says. "But Donna has a brand new Honda Prelude. In the end, though, she decided that she wanted a gym more than she wanted a garage."

The Kaplans work out for at least two hours each day in their mini fitness center. With its soft lighting, mirrored walls, gray carpeting and wall-to-wall collection of computerized treadmills, rowing machines and multistation weight machines, the gym looks more like a private club than a garage.

Although all new single-family homes in Orange County are required to come with two-car garages, three-car garages are now almost routine, even for affordable housing.

Newport Beach developer Gary Fudge doubts that many of the families who opt for three-car garages actually have three cars to park in them, even though they pay a premium for the extra space.

"Home buyers view garage space as cheaper living space," he says.

Although automobiles had been around since the mid-1880s, the word garage (from the French garer, meaning to shelter or dock a vessel) did not appear in the language until about 1902. Until then, these "horseless carriages" had been housed out in the stables along with the other carriages.

As the smell from the horses diminished, the carriage house was moved closer and closer to the main building. By the turn of the century, structures designed specifically for automobiles had begun to appear.

"Between 1900 and 1905, you begin to have examples of garages actually being attached to the dwelling," says David Gebhard, a professor of architectural history at UC Santa Barbara. Because the concept of a service station was still a long time off, turn-of-the-century garages were built as small service stations unto themselves, complete with oil pits, a workshop and gasoline storage tanks.

In the 1930s, modernist architects reworked the old porte-cochere into a carport, a term that Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with coining.

Gebhard dismisses the notion that Wright invented the term but concedes that he popularized it.

The modernists' architectural legacy was the integration of the carport--and eventually the garage--into the total design of the house, a concept that has been integral to home design ever since. California designer Cliff May is credited with perfecting the ranch house design in part by moving the garage from the back to the front yard and attaching it to the house.

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