Garage Mahals

On a sparkling spring day, the businessman’s home was transformed into a showcase for two dozen Ferraris. Positioned artfully around his circular driveway and situated in just the right positions on his stamped concrete motor court, the exhibition was one of sheer horsepower.

Zoom Rooms Race Into the New Frontier

By Jennifer Shapira

Courtesy Maytag

On a sparkling spring day, the businessman’s home was transformed into a showcase for two dozen Ferraris. Positioned artfully around his circular driveway and situated in just the right positions on his stamped concrete motor court, the exhibition was one of sheer horsepower.

It was the Ferrari Club’s annual get-together. As if in hushed museum corridors, the owners walked amongst their works of art, discussing their super cars at the best local garage outside NASCAR, the appropriately nicknamed Garage Mahal (a reference to the late Dale Earnhardt’s space extraordinaire).
What places this garage amongst the region’s top? The host, Peter, owns 11 cars and more than 3,000 square feet of personal play space. A self-proclaimed hobbyist since youth, it had always been his dream to have a room to restore cars—presently, he’s working on a ‘65 Mustang—as well as a place to park his vintage beauties.

There are the exotics—the Porsche, the Ferrari, the luxe Bentley and the Rolls-Royce—as well as the antiques—a 1966 mini Woody wagon and a rare 1957 BMW Isetta Microcar.
“My taste in cars is eclectic,” Peter said. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”

And, like an exhibition’s retrospective, a walk among them is a journey through time. It was during his years overseas in the service that Peter fell in love with the tiny, one-door Isetta. He and his now-grown daughter once raced Porsches at Watkins Glen in upstate New York. Today, while he still loves convertibles—he owns five—he drives sedans around town for their unbeatable practicality.

Courtesy of Maytag

The concept of his luxury garage, equal parts museum and auto body shop, was a dream that materialized over a number of years. Peter and his wife bought their sprawling lot in 1989 and began building their house, whose original, built-in, two-car garage served its purpose briefly. The two both had cars, but the first extra set of wheels called for the build outwards. As the collection grew, the attached space became an office; an extension served as a new three-car garage.

Today, an adjacent English-style motor court leads admirers to the piece de resistance: 3,100 square feet of garage perfection.

It took assistance from friends, some very specific visionaries, discussions with local architects and the exacting guidance of a team of contractors to make these digs what they are today. On one side, there’s another three-car garage, but thanks to two lifts, two more cars can be elevated overhead, essentially transforming the space into a six-car garage with a 12-foot ceiling. Framed keepsakes adorn a tiled hallway that leads to a full bathroom, complete with shower and urinal—“my wife wouldn’t let me put one in the house, so I put one in here.” One area of the garage is for storage exclusively, for “everything that makes noise and smells bad.”

Finally, everything is meticulously labeled, and tools are always returned to their correct spot in the workshop-lounge, which hosts the blue hydraulic car lift, the beams of which bolts and screws are magnetically attached for easy access. The lift rises some 6 feet, so it’s possible to stand while working beneath a car. The concrete floor is heated, so it’s also comfortable to work flat on your back.

The lift rises some 6 feet, so it’s possible to stand while working beneath a car. The concrete floor is heated, so it’s also comfortable to work flat on your back. Courtesy Premier Garage

Here, the floor slopes slightly, so when the cars are washed, water drains into the built-in trench. Peter also installed a double sink with foot pedals in the workspace to keep hands from greasing up the faucet; a motion-activated soap dispenser and automatic paper towel machine also hover close at hand. The ample cabinetry is that of Home Depot, and the mirror sports a Ferrari logo.

At the far end of the room sits a wooden bar, complete with functioning tap and several stools salvaged from a local pub. The lengthy countertops are two halves of a bowling lane, donated by a friend. Coffee table books on automotives are strewn along the counter, along with a mix of DVDs of the BBC’s fan favorite “Top Gear.” A stereo system pipes in tunes from the radio.

Couches situated in front of the big-screen LCD TV invite evening gatherings of sports, beers and cigars. Birghtly colored, round, metal posters line the perimeter above, advertising obscure British makes and classic American hot rods. Bookshelves are chockfull of guides and manuals; tomes are displayed artfully across magazine racks. MSRP window stickers hang, matted and framed for quick and easy specs-checking purposes.

Truly, this is a grown-up playground for the most passionate of car lovers.

Coutesy of Michael Rhodig/GarageMahals

High Art
That’s the idea, said Michael Rhodig. Founder of the Arizona-based Garage Mahals, Rhodig has made a career out of building extravagant, multicar garages. He made over his own garage-studio-office to showcase his black Harley, and the space now serves as the idea factory for projects all over North America.
Homeowners have been redoing kitchens and bathrooms for years, Rhodig said. Until now, though, garages have been largely ignored. “The garage is the final frontier of home improvement … It’s a showroom for your automobiles. It’s a gathering place for your friends; it’s a party room for yourself or your kids. It can even double as a home theater or a lounge area.”

Rhodig is currently at work on a three-level, 18,000-square-foot garage for a home in Canada. The job, which is likely to total $3.1 million when complete, is a family affair, according to collector Jacqueline Laniuk. Each car purchase she, her husband and two teenage sons make is a collective decision, including her husband’s series-one editions, Lamborghini and others.

Project specs include a freight elevator and a glass-enclosed shop “that looks and functions more like a hospital operating room,” according to Rhodig. The main level is slated to feature the car collection, which includes the family’s “toys” (snowmobiles and ATVs), as well as an entertainment lounge complete with full bar for cocktail parties.

Vrooms With a View
Kurt Mickelwait, Porsche owner and facilities manager at HBL of Tysons Corner, knows a thing or two about showrooms, professionally and recreationally. Of his own garage, he said, “I’ve done a lot of unique things with it. I’ve got painted floors, nice lighting, a 60-inch TV and a working shop.”

But when it comes to specialized spaces, he calls to mind that of a friend. All done in black lacquer, the garage is so slick that it’s reminiscent of an art gallery. “The cars look like they’re perfectly angled in his living room.”

Local collector, enthusiast and Porsche racer Gary Church can relate. “Car people love cars. They love to work on them, fool around and fix them.”

Church and his wife, who also races, converted their garage from a two- to a three-car space when they added a lift and raised half the ceiling. Fully heated and air-conditioned, the 25-by-25-foot area is tricked out with a workbench, cabinets from Gladiator Garageworks and a flat-screen computer monitor that doubles as a satellite TV, perfect for tuning into the Speed Channel while at work on the cars. And should Church have a specific question, all his manuals are stored on the computer, so he can easily look up the answer. “It’s a nice little space,” said Church of his home-based hobby shop and showroom. “So if my wife ever kicks me out, I’ll have a place to live.”

Tim Wallace, an Arlington-based architect and homeowner, is a self-described “car buff.” Higher ceilings and the installation of a car lift gave him more space for his ’35 Ford Slantback, a ‘38 Chevrolet Sedan and his 2003 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. Task lighting allows him to tinker at night; black-and-gray checkerboard tiling is anti-skid and easy to clean. Though he admitted his space is unusual for Arlington, Wallace’s firm focuses on the construction of major home additions, leaving the specific outfitting tasks to garage specialty companies.

Getting Organized
And that’s where PremierGarage fits in, said Scott Ditto, owner and operator of the Sterling franchise. Upon request, a team of his consultants will visit your garage, write up a proposal and suggest fixes, from sturdy shelving to high-gloss or textured, slip-proof flooring. Storage solutions are creative, such as warehousing such seasonal items as Christmas ornaments on the ceiling, or putting in lifts to hoist bicycles up and out of the way, Ditto said.

Organization is one of the most important things to consider when it comes to the garage, said Lou Ann Schafer, marketing manager at Whirlpool’s Gladiator GarageWorks. The Michigan-based company, whose products are distributed and installed on the East Coast by Potomac Garage Solutions, offers these suggestions for a redo: Rent storage space if you have to, but get your stuff out and sort through it decide to what to keep and what to toss.

“We know that 40 percent of Americans don’t park their car in the garage,” Schafer said. “Some of that is because they’re cluttered, and some it is because they use their garage for other things like a workshop or a living space.”

Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in Washington, D.C., said that, in 1993, 78 percent of homes nationwide had a garage or a carport. In 2006, 91 percent had garages, and the trend now is that they’re getting bigger. As SUVs grow, so too do garages. The average size of a two-car garage is 20 feet by 20 feet. But the NAHB estimates that by 2015, the average will become 22 by 22.

And when it comes to high-end garages, people are spending more money on building new spaces, Ahluwalia said. Whether it’s geared toward renovations or add-ons, Americans are currently spending approximately $2 billion a year for garage upgrades.

Garage envy can be grounded in as simple an appeal as the notion that everything has a place. It may be the ease with which your neighbor pulls his SUV into his multi-vehicle room, or a certain snazzy floor, LCD TV or workspace. Maybe it’s the overall ambience of a sleek showroom. It might even be the Ferrari.

For the budget-less, a Garage Mahal might be a personal reality. But for those with limited funds, spaces can still be elevated to high art—you’ll just have to admire the masterpieces from a distance.

What Made You Decide to Do the Work?
Northern Virginian Doug Strait details his revamp

What made you decide to make over your garage?
We’d been in our house for 38 years. We and our guests have used the garage as a primary entrance and exit port for our house due to the convenience of its location. We had changed the garage door, hung some of our old kitchen cabinets when we remodeled our kitchen to hide some of the junk that accumulated over the years, added insulation over the ceiling to keep the garage warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, and replaced all the windows on the house. 

What was the process like?
The cracks that we had in our garage floor had grown from minor fissures when we moved in to much larger cracks that continued to expand, and when (Scott Ditto of Sterling-based PremierGarage) told us he wouldn’t put his finish on the floor because the floor had active cracks, I feared the gap under the garage floor could be even larger than the gap under the basement slab. I envisioned coming out to get in my car one morning and finding it in a 2-foot hole.

Did it go the way you thought it would?
Our garage was not a pretty site and certainly not the place you were proud to use as an entrance to your home. It would not be a stretch to say that we had, by far, the ugliest garage in our community.

Our original intent was to clean out the garage, throw at least half the junk away, have the floor coated with an attractive coating, patch the walls and give them a coat of paint, and replace the old kitchen cabinets with an attractive set of garage cabinets.

How did you get started?
We rented a POD and, with my son’s assistance, we put what was worth keeping in the POD while the renovation was taking place. We hauled truckloads of junk to the local landfill, hired a concrete contractor to tear out the old floor and replace it, hired a contractor to redo the walls, ceiling and paint the garage door, hired PremierGarage to coat the floor and hang garage cabinets.

Are you pleased with the outcome?
My wife jokes that she has never had to mop a garage floor before, and we tease our guests that they need to take their shoes off before they enter the garage.

I had wanted to remodel the garage for many years but the kitchen, family room, living room, foyer, dining room, roof, siding, new windows and basement remodeling were far higher on my wife’s list, so it never got done. Now we are both thrilled that we can bring our guests through the garage without apologizing for the neglect we heaped on it for those 38 years.

(August 2008)