Blowing the cobwebs off the blog to finally post about the new garage that is currently under construction in the back garden, the final part of our house renovation. In some ways I've dragged my feet about posting on this, as I wasn't sure it would make a particularly interesting post, but there are some quirky details to this, and I thought discussing the planning process might be interesting, and helpful hopefully!

American style carriage house via

Firstly, the design. One of the features of our house that we were attracted to when we bought it 7 years ago was the fact that it had three street frontages. This meant that we had flexibility with how we wanted to lay out the various elements of the house. I suppose most people would have placed the garage up against the house to give direct access into the main living area in our extension, but I didn't want to do this for a variety of reasons.

One was that it gave too much prominence to the garage, which is a curse in modern design (for more on this, read the Architect's Bible A Pattern Language), and the second was that it would create a large blank structure that blocked light to the garden and back living areas of the house. I have seen quite a few garages given prominence in houses that cut off garden space, all for the sake of saving a few metres walk. We have our outdoor dining area and pool where a garage would possibly have gone instead, which is far nicer to look out on from our living room.

rough layout of the upper level - it's evolved a little since these development approval drawings

So, it's a short walk down to the back corner of the block where there was an existing galvanised iron shed. It was very decrepit, and every time the wind blew I worried it was going to send sheets of iron crashing into cars on the street, and neighbours houses. It was also quite enormous, containing two large shed rooms (apparently the previous owner had cut gemstones in one of them), but only a single bay carport.

The bit I never photographed for Instagram - the old brown falling down galvanised iron shed complex

The garage was reorientated to face our back boundary street which allowed for a much more efficient layout, and has made an overall smaller footprint on the site. We wanted a 3 bay garage, and then to have an upper level with a large open plan space for me to work in, and a small kitchenette and ensuite bathroom. This would have an entry door from the street, and another entry from the garage. It will provide a lot of flexibility in the future - if not used to work out of, it could be used for a teenaged University student to live in, guest accomodation, a place for an au pair, a home gym etc etc.

Stable Block in East Melbourne via

So the tricky part was fitting in all the wants, and making it look right. Really, the only comparable examples I could find were in the US, where many people seem to have living areas over garages, or have separate coach houses. But plonking an American style carriage house in Australia wouldn't look right, so I decided to use the old Australian city vernacular of the stable block as inspiration, an example of which is above.
third street, non symmetrical elevation

To tie it in with our existing side wall, I decided to continue the wall at the base of the new garage and wrap it around the laneway so that it didn't look like an afterthought (it will also have creepers growing up it like the rest of the wall). The rest of the structure is rendered in the same render we used on the back extension of the house to tie it in with that (grey venetian plaster with an ashlar block imprint). By having a wall with the studio above it it breaks down the scale a little, which should also make it less imposing from the street.

This is technically a two storey building, but we had to (council regulations) fit in the studio level mostly under the roof line so that it didn't dominate the streetscape and to make it the height of a single story structure, as are all the buildings in our street are.

studio loft windows, mine won't look like this sadly...via

The gable on the main street elevation therefore had to be lower than the gable on our neighbours house across from us on the secondary street, and not be much taller than the neighbour across our streets garage (they have a similar thing with three street frontages, and their garage is approximately 1m shorter than ours). So to get enough head height in and fit in windows, I decided to do a sort of New York/ Parisian Studio feel by wrapping the windows from the walls up and onto the roof using sky windows (Velux).

more sky windows via

I also spent some time working out with the Engineer a method of making the floor space between the garage level on the ground floor and the studio level as thin as possible to maximise head height in the upper level, and keep the number of stairs required to a minimum (as the stairs were becoming difficult to fit in with the head height issue at the top).

Fitting in all the "wants" on this design was tricky, and one of the first things that had to go was a perfect, symmetrical garage facade with matching garage doors.

Symmetrical garage facade by Howard Design Studio via

Due to having the stairs running against the second street side, the garage door was going to have to be offset to allow for the width of the staircase. Doing three garage doors symmetrically like all the photos I liked just didn't work. I also tend to err on the side of practicality, and doing one very large door, and one smaller was going to be much more practical than three small doors that we'd have to squeeze into at any rate.

So, with the lack of symmetry this threw up came the problem of how to place the windows on the upper level.  In the end after fiddling around with different placements, I decided to bank them into a 3 bay window and centre it over the largest garage door.

Current window situation in progress 

 current exterior corner view with partial street closure and scaffolding

The only other design point to note is the entry point between the garage and our back garden. We do not have any access into the property now through side fences. If for some reason we needed to get a digger in (say, a major plumbing problem), then it wouldn't be possible. The solution to this was to have a Jack and Jill door, which means we have a single large garage door which will be kept shut most of the time, and a standard width door which will give pedestrian access for us in and out of the garage.

Studio upstairs in frame stage

So, enough of the boring practical design talk. The interior is going to be fitted out fairly simply. I'm planning on doing a white beadboard IKEA kitchenette, which will have just a basic sink/ bar fridge set up (I've seen full kitchens done in this sort of accomodation and they never get used), and the ensuite will be tiled in a matte white large format tile, the floors a mid mottled matte grey - modern, classic and simple.

At the top of what will be the staircase

The walls will be painted and floors will be covered with fitted Sisal. I have purchased a wall light for the entry from Restoration Hardware, and have 3 pendant lights for the upper area from Early Settler/ Recollections.

The space has an additional store room on the upper level which I am SO looking forward to - at present every time I take delivery of fabric, light fittings, wallpaper or furniture for clients it's been stored in my formal sitting room... which is looking junkier and junkier. Having a dedicated space for this will be positively luxurious.

So that's about it. We're nearly finished with the exterior. The rendering commences this week, and then the garage doors will go in. Interior plastering will start in about another two weeks and the stairs will arrive then too. I think it will probably be about another 8 weeks to go until it's all done and dusted, but fortunately we've got the roof on and walls up before we hit Winter weather delays.


  1. Exciting! It will be so nice to have a separate space within the house boundary and yet a different domain to change the energy and get some work done. x

    1. It will be very nice to shut the door on all the work stuff at the end of the day... and not have to pack up the dining table when I'm in the middle of working out finishes. x

  2. I find this a very interesting post Heidi... it is fascinating to learn more about the design process. It sounds like it will be a great garage/annex. We have a similar block and reading this post makes me appreciate the design. Having said that the windows were awful (drafty, rusty and leaky) so we have just replaced them with velux ones! I'm keen to see your budget kitchen and bathroom design! X

    1. You're so lucky to have an existing structure with flexibility at your house Charlotte! I hope you've been happy with the switch over, although given you started with such terrible starting windows it sounds like you would be! I'll be going into IKEA next week to do the kitchen design, so I might post about it then... I've already done a bit of sussing out the components I want to use, so hopefully it will be an easy ish process! x

  3. Very interesting post Heidi. As usual you have given me an idea (wall morphing through to ceiling skylight) to solve a current dilemma and introduced me to a new term (jack and jill door). Its always a delight to read you. Judith

    1. Thank you Judith, and I'm so glad you found the post helpful with your own design dilemmas! x

  4. Just started reading your blog. I really enjoyed this post. I bless the builder of my home every day because he did not put a door into the main house from the garage. The reason is mice get inside the house that way. All the neighbours have mouse problems we don't. So I like your garage being not attached to your house! the design sounds fabulous and inspired!

    1. That's such an interesting point on the Mice, and you're quite right - they always live in garages and sheds. Hopefully they won't find their way upstairs into the loft space in our new garage! Thank you for your comment, it's always nice to hear from a new reader :)

  5. I love the dry building side! I referenced a couple of American 'New Urbanist' publications in designing our new house but a lot of the classical detail would get lost here. It's taken me a good while to find a builder who didn't laugh at a lot of my ideas. I actually just re-read a couple of your lighting posts while I was doing my lighting plan, so they don't go to waste, Heidi. We have a rear access block, which we purchased so we could not have a garage at the front. I would have loved a gap between the house and garage. I think it's another sign of the pendulum swinging back the other way. What price the convenience of direct access to your house? Look forward to seeing the pretty after shots also!

    1. So much to say in regards to your comment - firstly, I'm so glad to hear that previous posts have been useful... it's always good to get feedback on them. They're very widely read according to my stats, but don't usually get as many comments as my posts with dresses or books or cakes in them, so I never know.
      Secondly, I find your comments interesting in that you also sought out a block with rear access. When I was at Uni 20 odd years ago I did a research subject that included looking at some of the Walt Disney new suburb developments in the US. They had placed garages at the back of the blocks with rear laneway access, and done an old style front porch with swing chair (it was in the South). It would be great if these planning ideas were done here too! They wrote about this in A Pattern Language, but still our new housing developments are lacklustre, and a lot of modern design revolves around convenience with huge garages prominent at the front and the front door recessed and sidelined. Sorry, so long a reply - looks like I could write another lengthy essay on it!!

    2. Interesting post Heidi. The garages seem to be getting bigger and the blocks smaller. Rear accesss lane is a dream these days and developers constantly cannvassing council for special exemptions. Looking forward to the internal fitout.

    3. The bigger garages are surely a comment on modern Australian society. So many homes seem to be huge garages with a little house attached. In our suburban sprawls we're so dependent on cars to get us around. Unlike in European cities where public transport is a real and preferred option. I seem to remember though that there were older houses in some suburbs of Sydney where the garage was at the back of the block with access through a rear lane. Wonder what has happened to these. Probably replaced with blocks of flats/townhouses.
      Anyway Heidi your garage/studio is really coming along so well. It's exciting watching the progress. Can't wait to see the finished pics!

      Have been so busy today clearing out the frost struck plants from the veggie garden and generally weeding and pruning. Trying to get the house and garden tidy and organised for the house sitter who will look after all my potplants etc when we go back to France again for another long visit. Not long to go now. We'll be there in interesting times - just after the run-off Presidential election. French friends are already warning us there's bound to be some trouble no matter who wins. Pammie

  6. Heidi, I have followed the work of a firm called DPZ and an architect/writer called Steve Mouzon for some years now. I do find elements of masterplanned communities a bit sterile (like parts of Celebration, FL or even Seaside) but they are doing some interesting things along other parts of Hwy 30A in Florida, such as Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. I live in SEQ so the climate conditions are relevant to me, design-wise. It always baffles me that people spend big dollars travelling overseas, waxing lyrical about the charm of older European towns and cities like Charleston and Savannah in the US, and then go home and throw aesthetics out the window. 'Walkability' is a concept that makes urban planning difficult in many new suburbs here. Our rear lane is also ridiculously wide to accomodate council requirements and is the only newish one I know of. But I think the only way to break the Euclidean model is to reduce our reliance on cars........

    1. There's so much about town planning and building design that is lacking in housing developments. It's strange to me that back in the 90's when I was at Uni, we were told about all these things, and it was explained to us that the suburban models from the 50s and 60s were no longer what was adhered to - it was a return to the concept of the neighbourhood... no cul de sac dead ends, footpaths, smaller strip shops etc. Yet still they churn out these horrible suburbs abutting freeways with large malls servicing large areas. I remember looking at all those suburbs in the US for a paper I wrote at University - aspects were a little bit too much (Disney police?!) but other parts were really pretty sensible and well thought out.

  7. Heidi I love this! So much thought has gone into the design and I love to read about your process. This space is just what is needed for you to do your work, and it's such a flexible space it will add a lot of value and usefulness to your property in the long run.
    The American-style carriage house is very popular here and it does dominate the look of a house and garden, I prefer it removed from the main house rather than attached, but most everyone attaches it (if they are doing a new build). In our neighbourhood (due to the age of the houses) if a house does have a carriage house it is never attached, but off to the side or to the back of the garden.
    The interior sounds simple and calming, love that you'll have a kitchenette there too. XX

    1. I suppose a lot of people attach their garages in Canada due to the snow? But I too prefer to detach garages and have them separated from the house - it gives more precedence to the house and people, rather than the car.
      I'm glad you enjoyed my design explanation! It's not exactly an exciting design, but there was so much to try to make work it took a fair bit of fiddling around. xx

  8. I grew up in an old Adelaide blue stone villa and we had the original stables at the rear lane for our garage. I have vivid memories of opening the garage doors which were splintery old wooden things with a remnant of their original red paint. The opening was a mere timber latch - no way to lock it.

    I'm modern in my house tastes now but I can't abide the precedence given to modern garages at the front of houses - I can't believe people give up half their facade and all that expensive sq meterage just to house something which could quite happily sit plonked on the street.

    1. I think that the modern house with the giant garage at the front and the tiny front door recessed behind is a great design shame. There's a lot of that as infill development in our general neighbourhood, and it really detracts from the street feel.
      Love hearing your memories of the old garage with splintery latch! We had an old garage door on our shed (now demolished), but it blew off fairly early on in a big wind storm, and we had to replace it! The shed was certainly very rickety....

  9. How lovely to have your own space and it will be life changing to not have to clear everything off the dining table every time you wish to eat or have a guest popping in. I look forward to seeing the end result. Emma xx

  10. Can't wait for you to share photos of the finished garage project. I'm excited to see the outcome. I love your photo inspirations, though you may not be able to apply them all, I believe your design will still be as beautiful.


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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on
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