Garages: For Cars, And Showplaces

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Every night, builder Joe Farrell’s three children grab their skateboards and take them out for a spin. Or, more accurately, they keep them in for a spin, as in, they don’t have to leave the house.

These days, the kids have two options. They can either go downstairs to the basement in their famous Water Mill estate, “Sandcastle,” where their father has built them a half-pipe, or they can pay a visit to the radiant-heated, tile-floored garage, so long as they avoid a slew of priceless vehicles and a pair of state-of-the-art car lifts that are becoming increasingly popular on the East End.

Garages are the new, and final, frontier in home design, explained Phillip D. Kouffman, vice president and CEO of MKL Construction in East Hampton, last week during a telephone interview. After all, architects and builders have been asked for nearly everything else, he said, from indestructible kitchen countertops and practically bullet-proof laundry rooms to indoor driving ranges and underground tunnels.

“I don’t know what’s abnormal anymore, except maybe what we’re seeing in garages. It’s the last thing to do something with,” he said. “I think the mentality out here is that they want every space that they live in to be incredibly beautiful. I don’t think they want to walk in and see a raw garage, especially when they have the means and incredibly beautiful, expensive cars that they want people to see but do not want the elements to touch.”

Up until recently, garages were relatively basic, Mr. Kouffman said, with a sand-filled foundation topped by a concrete slab. Then, homeowners started getting creative.

First, the standard garage became more practical, he said, by utilizing the square footage underneath it to expand a home’s lower level. And, now, by taking full advantage of the garage itself.

At the inaugural Holiday House Hamptons last summer, the team behind Manhattan-based Inson Dubois Wood Interior Design converted the Bridgehampton manse’s garage into a contemporary living area, complete with artwork, lighting fixtures, a high-pile shag rug and a trio of glossy car-hood-like lacquer lounge chairs. A custom-designed Baby Grand Piano competed with a sleek red Maserati for attention off to the side.

“People are turning what typically used to be something they didn’t think about at all into really beautiful pieces of art,” Mr. Kouffman said. “The way garages used to be was one coat of Spackle and tape. Now, they finish off the interiors as nice as the interiors of the house.”

But any given garage starts with the exterior: the doors. Traditionally, there hasn’t been much variation, Mr. Kouffman said. A garage door looked like a garage door, he said, and architects strove to hide them.

That is no longer the case.

“When people were locked into pulling into the front of the house, it was usually so ugly,” he said. “Now, we’re getting around that. Today, you have beautiful glass, woodworking in them, nice staining, nice graining—substantial-looking garage doors that look appealing all of a sudden. And we haven’t even gotten inside yet.”

Garage interiors have never looked or felt better, Mr. Kouffman and Mr. Farrell agreed, with tile-covered high ceilings and floors—ideal for year-round car washing—radiant heating, commercial lighting fixtures, stereo systems and large windows.

The extra fixings will run homeowners at least $75,000, Mr. Kouffman said, and upward of $200,000 if they get more high-tech with lifts, elevators and carports, which may be a future trend, he added. One client is close to pulling the trigger, he said, on the mechanism that will drop his car into a lower level that is completely open.

“I think as these houses get bigger and more expensive, as we have been building for our clients, that yes, garages will be going in this direction,” he said. “For sure.”

In Palm Beach, Florida, Mr. Farrell—founder of Bridgehampton-based Farrell Building Company—is embarking on a fresh endeavor inside one of his client’s homes: a glass-walled hallway that looks into one featured bay of the four-car garage.

“There’s a beautiful stone backdrop and with lights coming up off the floor. If you put a beautiful Ferrari in there, it’s like a piece of artwork that you can see from the living room of the house,” he said. “That’s the coolest thing we’ve ever done, and we’re doing it right now.”

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