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Before & After Garage: Creating a Retreat for Teens

Big kids want to be on their own—and parents like to know where they are. For one family, bonus garage space just steps from the house offers the perfect hangout solution.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, second floor lounge Tim Lenz

Shown: Activity on the second floor—snacking, studying, watching TV—centers around a sectional sofa that unfolds to a queen-size bed for overnight guests. A horizontal steel railing at the top of the stairs opens up the space and establishes its modern vibe.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, before
Before: Poorly lit and inhospitable, the existing second story had two rooms: One was a holding area for fusty furniture. The other had a bathtub stuck in a corner, but no plumbing.
Courtesy Kelly + Co. Design

Teenagers want to be with their friends, and parents want to keep them close­—while giving them some independence, too. That was the case for the mom and dad who created this getaway space for their sons, 16 and 13, and, in turn, their 10-year-old daughter­. Interior designer Kelly Mittleman had already helped them renovate their house, a 1919 Craftsman outside New York City. “But the kids were monopolizing the basement entertainment room playing video games,” says the father. “When their friends were over, it got loud.” The freestanding garage had a lot of unused space, however, so back came Mittleman to see what could be done with it.

“It was a land of misfit toys and old furnishings—basically a second attic,” says the designer. Her challenge: Turn it into a teen magnet for hanging out, watching TV, gaming, sleepovers, and homework. Taking away a 6-foot-wide slice of the parking bay allowed for a new walled-off entry with sports gear storage and a full bath downstairs. The upstairs space got opened up and given a clean, modern look with a sectional sofa and TV, a beverage fridge, a table and chairs, and hidden storage throughout. “Our kids love the space, and we like not worrying about where they are,” says the dad, admitting, “The house is a lot quieter now—we like that, too.”

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, garage exterior Tim Lenz

The two-car garage, assumed to be original to the home, ceded 60 square feet for a single-door entry, hall storage, and a full bath downstairs. The parents control the code to the smart entry lock so they can monitor the kids’ comings and goings. A new overhead garage door, sconces, and paint spruce up the exterior.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, second floor desk/dining area, dormer window Tim Lenz

Left: Adding heating, cooling, and plumbing upgraded the space for year-round use. All-new windows further boosted comfort­ (and curb appeal). A table with chairs does desk duty, too, so homework assignments can be completed over snacks. The kids were given a selection of artwork to choose from for the finishing touch.

Right: One of two dormer windows that flank the TV console; each alcove was built out with a window seat that has a hinged top for hidden storage. A library-style sconce encourages curling up any time of day (or night). Shiplap walls can take a beating; the white paint has a satin finish that is “completely wipe-clean,” says Mittleman.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, kitchenette, entryway Tim Lenz

Left: “A teen space should feel a bit like an adult world that the kids snagged somehow—like their own suite in a boutique hotel,” says Mittleman. Hence this snack station with its own mini fridge and sink. To the right is a wall of low cabinets built into the shiplap for inconspicuous, easy-access storage.

Right: When it’s hang time, kids can enter through the new exterior door. Sports gear gets stashed in a 30-square-foot closet behind the shiplap under the stairs­—or set down by the door, ready to grab and go. The sliding barn door opens up to the two-car parking bay; when empty, it can host a Ping-Pong table that folds away for storage.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, boiler room to bathroom Tim Lenz

Before: The downstairs bath was installed in a closet where a defunct boiler sat along with a mishmash of stored items. The old brick chimney (located behind the doors) was painted white to accent all the black tile.

After: A full bath is a sleepover essential, and this 80-square-foot space with its sleek shower more than fills the bill. Black subway and hex tile with white grout and matte concrete-look porcelain floor tile give it an industrial edge. The wall-hung sink and bridge faucets add to the space’s vintage-modern style.

A Room of Their Own

Treating teens to a hangout space? Durable materials, easy-to-clean surfaces, cool decor, and common-sense measures help parents stress less when kids are holed up in there. Consider these pro tips:

MAKE IT MODERN: Teens typically go for bold colors and contemporary design, says Mittleman, who uses colorful accents like throws, pillows, and artwork. “I want things to look like an Apple store—great surfaces, fresh colors, and lots of white.”

KEEP IT INCLUSIVE: Skip gender-specific colors and themes. “These date themselves quickly as kids mature,” she says.

FACILITATE FUN: Include a media cabinet to hide cords and gaming gear. Enclosed storage and wipeable surfaces make tidying up no big deal. “Buy quality furnishings with performance fabrics that wear like iron—they look better, feel comfier, and last longer,” adds Mittleman.

SET UP FOR SNACKING: Provide a beverage fridge, a snack cabinet, maybe a microwave. A sink makes cleanup easier, especially if food delivery is on the menu.

PLAN FOR CHANGE: Choose rugs instead of carpeting, removable pillow covers, and fun artwork. These items can be updated easily as teens’ tastes change.

Expert Advice

“An app-controlled entry lock lets adults control access to a teen space. Consider a smart thermostat you can control, too­—kids love to crank the temperature without thinking about the cost.” —Kelly Mittleman, owner, Kelly + Co. Design

Floor Plans

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, floor plans Ian Worpole

Opening up the second floor allowed for a loft-like, 550-square-foot hangout. Downstairs a new entry leads to a full bath and a large closet in 150 square feet of living space.

  1. Removed a wall that closed in the staircase, adding a more open steel railing.
  2. Built flip-top bench seating in the existing dormers for extra storage; these flank a TV console opposite the sectional sofa.
  3. Ran plumbing for a sink and installed a mini fridge for a snack station; added a row of touch-latch cabinets in the adjacent eaves.
  4. Stole 60 square feet from the vehicle bay downstairs for a new entry. Added a barn door on the new wall for access to the parking area.
  5. Put in an 80-square-foot full bath and a 6-by-5-foot closet under the stairs.