authors Laurie Grant
Garages often are the last room a homeowner sees in the morning before leaving for work and the first room he or she sees when returning home. Often perceived as just a storage area for old paint cans, trash and recycling bins, and miscellaneous items that don’t belong anywhere else, garages can be an eyesore that most are happy to shut their door on and forget about. Garages, however, have enormous potential for custom storage solutions. More homeowners are beginning to understand the value of these solutions, and garage remodels are becoming more widespread.
Rob Whitfield, owner of Garage Storage Solutions, Augusta, Ga., has been installing custom garage cabinets for six years. “Quite a few of my customers tell me not to look at the mess in their garage and I tell them I’m here to help them clean up their mess,” he says. “A lot of homes that I go in to you can’t even walk through the garage because they have so much stuff in piles and stacks. They’ve gotten desperate in many cases. The family has just had enough. The garage is unusable.”
One particularly memorable customer was a couple who hadn’t been able to park their cars in the two-car garage for years because of the piles within. Whitfield installed cabinets in half of the garage, which cost the owner about $1,500. When the husband returned from a business trip, he was impressed. “He said he needed some cabinets on the other half. I had installed cabinets only on her half of the garage and now he wanted them on his half to get all of his stuff off the floor. It turns out he had an ATV in there somewhere but there was so much on top of it that he couldn’t reach it,” Whitfield remembers.
The Average Job
An average two-car garage measures about 450 square feet, and Whitfield says his average job costs the customer between $1,200 and $1,500. Normal projects are about 12 linear feet, though he has done installations up to 36 linear feet where the cabinets wrapped around the entire garage wall. Garage cabinets are priced at about $100 per linear foot, according to Whitfield. Each cabinet has a door and shelves within. The 6-foot-tall cabinet has five shelves inside, but that number can be customized based on the customer’s needs. Whitfield can install four 6-foot-tall, 16-inch-deep, 24-inch-wide cabinets down one wall of a garage. Even with as much storage as this provides, the cabinet doors can still be fully opened and car doors can be, too, though not always at the same time. Other popular cabinet options include either a 48- or 72-inch-long workbench with 12-inch-deep bins or 6-inch-deep drawers in the cabinets below.
One customer had stacks of boxes 6-feet tall that filled the entire garage, with the exception of a 3-foot perimeter around the outside where he could walk. “Most people use their garage doors as entries into the house,” Whitfield says. “I guess seeing the mess gets old after a while.” That customer called Whitfield, who installed 12 2-foot-wide by 2-foot-deep by 6-foot-tall cabinets in the garage. Everything the customer previously had in the boxes fit into the new cabinets and he regained use of the garage.
After an initial consultation at a customer’s home, Whitfield draws a layout using CAD software to give the customer various options. “We usually modify the drawings in order to customize the installation for the customer’s needs,” he says. For example, he’ll stack a 3-foot-tall cabinet on top of a 6-foot-tall cabinet to give the customer additional storage that is out of the reach of children so they can’t get to pesticides, cleaning fluids and other toxic chemicals. The projects Whitfield installs have end uses anywhere from a pantry to a workbench to general storage to a tabletop hobby center.
Cabinets are mounted to the wall a 16-gauge galvanized steel bracket. Two 3-inch-long screws are drilled through the bracket and into a wall stud; two studs are required to provide adequate support. Whitfield also installs a cleat under the cabinet for additional support. If the concrete block ledger wall of the garage is low enough, the cabinets can be partially supported on that. Ledger walls higher than 12 inches require installing a 2 by 4 spacer and mounting the cabinet to it. Because of the gap that method creates, Whitfield installs trim that matches the cabinet and eliminates the gap so it looks like one continuous cabinet. Cabinets are mounted off the floor to make it easier to clean under them and space for storage of odd items. Homeowners also can store possessions on top of them. Installation takes about two days and each cabinet can accommodate up to 400 pounds.
The most challenging part is getting the first cabinet up. “Between the initial estimate and detail drawings I know how it’s going to be arranged and what it will look like, but you can’t ever tell what’s behind the walls and sometimes you have to shift a bit to make things work,” Whitfield says. The cabinets are shipped flat from the manufacturer, Stillwater, Okla.-based Garage Storage Cabinets, assembled on location and then mounted. If the first cabinet is installed correctly, the rest fall in line because they abut each other.
Because garages generally are not climate controlled, cabinets are exposed to heat, cold and high humidity conditions, as well as the fumes from vehicles and chemicals that are stored in the garage. The cabinets Whitfield works with are constructed from furniture-grade medium-density fiberboard, which is resistant to those conditions. Whitfield installed cabinets in his own garage with a natural finish. Through the past six years, they have endured spills and scuffs, which Whitfield has been able to wipe off or sand out with fine-grit sandpaper. One cabinet even has an oil spill that soaked into the shelf. “You would think with a petroleum product the shelf would delaminate, but it’s still there and holding my tools,” he says.
Whitfield demonstrates the material’s durability at home shows by soaking pieces of cabinet material in a bucket of water all day and then challenging booth visitors to break them, which they’re unable to do. “We also ask them to stand in a cabinet,” Whitfield adds. “They’re apprehensive about it but they learn it’ll hold them.”
Whitfield receives inquiries and jobs for garages ranging from small houses to multimillion dollar homes. One customer has moved five times in the past six years and has had Whitfield install custom cabinets in each new house. “He knew I could move the cabinets from house to house but he said the people who bought his houses insisted the cabinets stay and that was one of the reasons his homes sold quickly in a poor real estate market,” Whitfield says. “It’s unusual to go into a home and find built-in cabinets in the garage.” Although the current economy has hurt Whitfield’s business, he emphasizes the importance of custom solutions like this. “The garage is one of those last areas people want to spend money on but if they’re trying to sell their house, custom garage cabinets can make their home stand out.
“It’s one of the most underutilized spaces in a home in the way that it tends to collect everything,” he adds. “They say a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into. The garage is a hole in the house that catches everything you don’t want someplace else. With a little bit of effort and for very little money for what the homeowner gets, he or she can install cabinets that get belongings up off the floor and behind closed doors. They’ll neaten up the garage, improving its appearance, with the added benefit that the homeowner regains the use of their garage as a protected parking space.”