Great Spaces: five garage conversions to swoon over
Torontonians don’t like compromise. We want to live in the city, and we also want guest rooms, art studios and dens. The answer? Convert unused sheds, garages or pool houses—turning forgotten outbuildings into precious square footage
Who: Geoffrey Roche, a 60-year-old entrepreneur and former ad executive, and his wife Marie Claire
What: An 800-square-foot pool house with an office, dining area and sleeping quarters
Where: North York
For over 20 years, Roche was one of Canada’s top ad executives, but in 2011 he left the business to start a social media company called Poolhouse. He keeps an office at Yonge and Eglinton but often works in his backyard pool house, which is the perfect place to hold meetings, impress clients or steal away for a few hours of solitude. When he bought the property, the pool house looked like something out of That ’70s Show. Architect John Tong redesigned it with vibrant orange walls, two fireplaces (one inside, one outside) and a bar area, giving it the playfulness of a Silicon Valley start-up. At night, the place can be used for parties or poolside cocktails. And tucked in the back are a Murphy bed and bathroom for guests who’ve had a few too many to drive home.
Who: William Fisk, a 44-year-old artist
What: A 400-square-foot studio in place of an old clapboard garage
Until recently, William Fisk didn’t have a great place to paint. He used to work in a small rented space on Adelaide but had always wanted a separate studio space at home. So when he found a house he loved, with its crumbling garage in the backyard, he pounced. Fisk designed the studio himself and worked with an architect for drawings and permits. The bright white walls and surgical steel countertop show his penchant for order, while the giant, custom-made window and comfy chair make it a place where he can easily spend an entire day—which he does, settling in for hours on end to paint. While the structure is entirely new, he kept the oversized garage door to make shipping his paintings easier.
Who: Doug Wallace (right), a 50-year-old writer and editor, and his partner, 46-year-old Tim Stewart (below), a nurse
What: A 300-square-foot backyard living room, affectionately nicknamed “the Gay Raj”
Stewart and Wallace first transformed their unused backyard garage in 2007, after a designer friend suggested the overhaul one night over drinks. Neither had a car and the reno was a smart way to extend their living space without paying for an all-out addition. They redecorate for fun every couple of years: first, they gave the space a safari motif; then a Miami-Beach-meets-Marrakesh theme, with fuchsia and bright orange accents everywhere; now the space is decidedly collegiate, with varsity colours emblazoned on throw pillows and a set of mounted canoe paddles. It’s a relaxing place for dinner, drinks (Stewart makes a stiff negroni) and, when no one else is around, mid-afternoon naps on the giant, plush sofa.
Who: Clint Robinson, a 32-year-old entrepreneur
What: An 1,800-square-foot party pad in an alleyway garage
Where: Just off the Ossington strip
When Robinson first saw this back-alley garage in 2009, it was packed with stacks of floor joists and stray two-by-fours. The owner was looking to rent it out, and Robinson hatched a plan: with a little work, he could turn it into a speakeasy. After two years of running his bar, though, the neighbours complained about the noise and, one night, the cops shut the party down, evicting 200 revelers. So Robinson turned his den of iniquity into, well, a traditional den. Now, the former stage is a platform for yoga and the bar area has become a kitchen and dining room. The space has only one small window, so Robinson punched a series of skylights in the roof that wash the rough, cinder-block walls with light.
Who: Anne Marie La Traverse, a 53-year-old TV producer
What: A 50-square-foot poolside cabana, kitchenette and change room in part of an old garage
La Traverse bought her home four years ago because of its great bones—it was designed in 1906 by the legendary architect Eden Smith. Because these are heritage buildings, she couldn’t tear down the old backyard garage to build her dream pool. Certain there had to be a solution, she turned to the architect Drew Mandell, who completely redesigned her yard. His most ingenious upgrade was the garage, which he cleverly divided in two. One half he barely touched: shielded from view by a frosted glass screen, it’s used to house a car and the pool’s mechanical equipment. In the other half, he created a tiny, chic cabana by installing sliding glass panels, adding a kitchenette and painting the walls bright white. La Traverse uses it to host cocktail parties or, on a lazy day, kick back with a book.