- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

George Weissgerber feels right at home in his Rockville garage. By day the director of research and development with District-area Case Design/Remodeling Inc., Mr. Weissgerber loaded up his garage with a computer, TV set and insulated walls to keep his family comfortable.

“In our garage, we do store some stuff, but mainly it’s a workshop for us. We’re into soap box derbies. I’ve never had a car big enough in there for me to fit in,” Mr. Weissgerber says.

Not everyone uses the garage so extensively, but many of us would like to use our garages more than we do.

An April survey by Harris Interactive shows that half the men interviewed called the garage “the messiest room in the house,” and 28 percent said they wanted a better-organized garage. The survey was sponsored by GarageTek of Greater Washington, which custom-designs and installs garage organization systems featuring tongue-and-groove walls placed over existing garage walls.

Mr. Weissgerber made some common-sense adaptations to create more room in his garage. When he remodeled his kitchen, he used the leftover parts to help clear valuable space in the garage.

“Instead of the cabinets hitting the dump, we installed them in the garage. They make great counters and workbenches,” he says.

Mike Wixted, Home Depot’s mid-Atlantic trainer, says the modern homeowner sees the garage chiefly as a storage area for seasonal items such as Christmas ornaments and lawn-care tools.

Homeowners can install shelving units to help stave off the clutter, says Mr. Wixted, who admits with a laugh that his own garage could use some straightening.

Shelves keep everything from power drills to paint cans off the floor, which makes for a more visually appealing garage and prevents mildew in damp spaces.

If the homeowner is concerned with metal shelving rusting with steady exposure to moisture, plastic shelving runs only between $40 and $50 for a 6-foot-high ensemble.

Such shelving doesn’t require tools to assemble and is a “fairly strong” support system.

He says many homeowners don’t bother to use their garages to store the family car. It’s common in split-level houses to close the garage off and use the driveway as a parking pad, he says. Then, the homeowner opens the wall between the garage and the home’s interior to create more living space.

“People run businesses out of their garages, raise tropical fish in them,” he says.

Mostly, garages serve as a “catch-all storage area,” says Peter Belman, president of GarageTek of Greater Washington.

“Sports gear, trash and recyclables, holiday decorations … you name it, people are trying to jam it into the corners of their garage,” Mr. Belman says.

“In most homes, the room is in very raw conditions, the way the builder left it,” he adds.

Homeowners who opt for GarageTek’s system will meet with a designer to discuss what needs the garage should fulfill. The designer sketches out the garage on a computer, figuring out the best ways to allow for that assortment of bicycles or workbench, he says.

An average GarageTek system will cost about $6,000, he says, with a price tag of about $2,500 for installation of just one wall.

“In our community, home prices are very high … and to a great extent you have to take the space you’ve got and use it very efficiently,” he says.

Steve D’Gerolamo, a New Jersey garage consultant and operator of Ultimategarage.com, helps clients willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a top-tier garage.

Mr. D’Gerolamo has tips for those looking to refurbish their garages on a more modest budget.

For starters, other people’s trash can be a good bet to restore order to your garage. He says a discarded desk, workbench or cabinet can be plucked from the trash on someone’s front curb and reused as a capable storage device.

Pre-made storage cabinets from such companies as Snap-on, Facom, Stanley Vidmar and Equipto also can serve a homeowner well, he says.

And remember to design space so that the car doors can open without hitting any cabinets or tool benches.

Mr. D’Gerolamo’s garage consultation career began in 1995 when he posted pictures of work he had done to his own garage on his personal Web site.

“People sent me e-mails from all over the country asking for help,” he says.

He chiefly works with high-end clients looking to keep their expensive cars safe and sound.

Toward that end, “I try to keep a lot of the stuff that belongs in a storage shed out of the garage and away from expensive vehicles,” he says.

He also suggests his clients consider the kind of light that filters into the garage. Expensive cars can suffer paint and fabric damage by a steady dose of natural light, Mr. D’Gerolamo says.

Potomac resident Stuart Levy turned to the comparatively more modest GarageTek approach to transform his “ugly” garage into a more workable space. With three small children, the garage teemed with toys and other items that left the area cluttered and less usable, Mr. Levy says.

“I’m fairly handy, so I have a lot of tools and lawn working equipment. That stuff was all over the place,” he says. “We were regularly stumbling over the stuff in there.”

The GarageTek installation gave him more flexibility with his limited space. The modular system allowed him to rearrange summer and winter weather items as needed to make each accessible when needed.

Mr. Levy likes his new garage, but it came at a price.

“It’s not an inexpensive proposition,” he says.

While Mr. Levy has placed a premium on how his garage looks and functions, others in the region likely aren’t as particular.

Victor Shargai, president of the District-based interior design firm Victor Shargai & Associates, says homeowners in other parts of the country generally pay better attention to their garages than Washingtonians.

“In Dallas, people consider garages part of their home,” Mr. Shargai says. “They panel them, even carpet them. They almost furnish them like a room.”

“People actually take you into their garages,” he says.

The garages in most of our homes will never fit into the fancy category or be the pride of the home. That’s just fine by Mr. Weissgerber.

“It’s just a place where we can go out, make a mess and not worry about cleaning up every day,” he says.

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