The garage, designed specifically for an automobile, was at first a utilitarian building separate from the house. By the 1920s garages were increasingly tied to the house by a loggia, pergola, or breezeway. A low wall between house and garage formed a courtyard (or, at least, a laundry yard). The “walled compound” look was particularly popular for English and French Revival houses. Garages for 20th-century Colonial Revival houses, like those designed by Royal Barry Wills, emulated the connected buildings of New England farmhouses. After fear of fire subsided, garages were attached, although many codes continued to require fire walls. On Dutch Colonials, a garage as one wing balanced a porch-on-slab, sleeping porch, or sunporch on the other side. Soon garages were tucked under the house or hidden in irregular massing, as in Tudor homes. But not until the postwar split-level era did double doors boldly appear on the primary façade.
Fancy garages are not new; they were built all along for the wealthy, often with a mechanic’s shop and chauffeur’s quarters. In the 1920s and certainly the ’30s, suburban owners could choose from garage designs that matched the house: Mediterranean, gambrel, English cottage. Craftsman-influenced styles were easy to adapt to garages. “Spanish” garages had tiled roofs. Garages have always had windows for ventilation and light, often mimicking those of the house.
If you have an old garage that’s usable, even if doesn’t match the house, consider paint color and trellising to make it attractive. Garage doors often are painted to match the trim color of the house—or even left white from the factory! Painting an ugly or too-big door the house’s body color instead will disguise it. If the doors are attractive, do paint them in the trim color, perhaps with panels reversed to body color or a shade of the trim color.
If the garage is to be all-new, the first decision is whether it will be a separate building, semi-attached, or part of the house. If fitting in matters to you, walk or bicycle around town, peering down alleys and side streets. Note materials, old garages’ relation to their lots and houses, roof types, door configurations, and details. Garages that mimicked the style of the house were not as common as utilitarian structures, but they are the ones that have tended to survive the decades.
An architect may see how to integrate car parking in a modest rear extension or underneath—in space excavated from the basement or patio. A designer understands that the garage should be subservient to the main house. The last resort is a large garage attached in front, but good design can rescue even that scenario with right proportions and roof, a setback, or divided bays.
Doors are the most important key to compatibility. Most modern garage doors, no matter how traditional the style, have horizontal breaks to allow them to retract overhead. It almost always looks better to separate each car bay, rather than use a door two cars wide. Consider specifying raised panels for a Colonial Revival; long, narrow panels for Craftsman or English Revival architecture. Many period garages had cross-bracing, similar to barn doors. Tongue-and-groove beadboard or matchboard was popular for door panels, too, used vertically or on the diagonal. Don’t overdo it: a simple hipped-roof garage doesn’t need arched, multi-light, highly varnished mahogany doors.
In the design phase, plan for utilities and the interior—and any future use, such as a workshop or guestroom. Choose a durable floor finish that can be cleaned. Be sure your electrical service can someday handle that charging station.
If the automobile garage itself has little precedent as a fully detailed, multi-function space, that’s not true of outbuildings in general. Surviving barns, offering lots of room and storage capacity, were remade by several generations to become vacation homes, car barns with workshops, home offices, and so on.
Victorian-era houses may have had a carriage house later converted to garage space. “Converted barn” and “carriage house” are common scenarios used by designers for adding a garage to a 19th-century house. Bungalows often had a garage from the beginning; catalogs and plan books from as early as 1909 include garages that mimic the style of the new homes they accompany. Sometimes a rather plain, hip- or gable-roofed garage is most suitable.
Old House Garage Door Design Options
Bifold or accordion doors date to the Teens and Twenties. Doors slid on tracks; now they disappear overhead.
Specialists in period-appropriate garage doors may offer coordinating peripherals such as windows & glazing, hardware, driveway gates.
Amarr Garage Doors (NC): amarr.com
Wood, wood composite, steel
Carriage House Door Co. (CA): carriagedoor.com
Clingerman (PA): woodgaragedoor.com
Choice of wood species; AZEK/Versatex; Extira
Cambek Designer Doors (WI): cambek.com
Wood; wicket door option; specialty claddings
Clopay Building Products (OH): clopaydoor.com
Wood, steel, aluminum
Craft Doors USA (NC): craftdoorsusa.com
Custom-order overhead roll-up & swing-out wood garage doors
Evergreen Carriage Doors (WA): evergreencarriagedoors.com
Everite (PA): everitedoor.com
Fimbel Garage Doors (NH): fimbel.com
Wide variety of architectural styles in different materials and price points: carriage house, raised panel, Contemporary, custom
Garaga Inc. (Quebec): garaga.com
Steel, steel with wood composite, aluminum
GADCO (General American Door Co.) (IL): gadco.com
Steel, wood doors
Holmes Garage Door Co. (WA): holmesdoor.com
Steel, aluminum, wood composite, wood
IDC: Industrial Door Company (MN): idcdoors.com
Wood, wood composite, steel
Lux Garage Doors (CA) luxgaragedoors.com
Wood, glass, steel etc. in traditional, Craftsman, Spanish & Modern styles; accessories & openers
Northwest Door (WA): nwdusa.com
Wood, steel, aluminum
Overhead Door Co. (through distributors) overheaddoor.com
Hundred-year-old mfr. of garage doors (wood, steel, insulated, fiberglass, vinyl) and automatic openers; doors for temp. and wind-load extremes. Traditional to Modern plus sleek aluminum and glass doors
Raynor (IL): raynor.com
Wood, steel doors
Real Carriage Door Co. (WA): realcarriagedoors.com
Wood—with swinging, sliding, folding options
Sunwood Doors (CA): sunwooddoors.com
Timberlane (PA): timberlane.com
Custom garage doors—wood, insulated steel—in historical & traditional styles; also hardware
Vintage Millwork & Restoration (PA): vintagemillworkrestoration.com
Custom wood carriage-house & garage doors, designed for tracks, manual, or electric operation
Outbuilding kits with plans
Country Carpenters: countrycarpenters.com
Pre-engineered, pre-cut post-and-beam building kits for garages, carriage houses, sheds, and backyard barns. Options include lean-tos, dormers, and window and door configurations
The Barn Yard: thebarnyardstore.com
Pre-built timber-frame barns, garages, pavilions & sheds
Hometown Structures: hometownstructures.com
Wide range of prebuilt garages, attached and detached, one- and two-level, options for roofing, siding, doors & windows
New England Outdoor: neoutdoor.com
Custom and prefab garages in classic styles, several sizes
Classic Rock Face Block: classicrockfaceblock.com
Historical concrete block suitable for period new construction & restoration
W. F. Norman: wfnorman.com
For use as metal siding, galvanized steel panels stamped to resemble brick, rock face, shingles, or stone