Business in the Front, Party in the Back: Garage Edition.

I’ve owned my house for over five years now, and I have never—not once—parked a car in my garage. Honestly I often forget that it’s even a potential option, even though it’s right behind the house and I see it everyday. Both online and in real life, people persistently tend to refer to my garage as a “shed” or a “shack,” which for a while confused me. It has a garage door that faces the street and everything! But then I realized…that I use it as a shed-shack…and think of it as a shed-shack…and more than likely talk about it like a shed-shack while I continue to not utilize the ENTIRE SEPARATE BUILDING that I have ON MY VERY PROPERTY built SPECIFICALLY for the ultra-fancy purpose of sheltering THE THIRD MOST EXPENSIVE THING I OWN, behind my house and my debt, and MAYHAPS I should really start thinking of it as a garage?

Which really conflicts with my evident aspiration to also have a personal lumberyard, so it’s a tough call. I don’t know. We don’t need to dwell on it. We’re just talking about what the shed-shack is like right at this moment in time. To do that, let’s look at where we’ve been. Behold:

This is when I bought the house. The great thing about having such dire before photos is that I can never really feel that bad about how things stand today because, well…look! Evidently, there had been some kind of half-baked effort to extend the garage to accommodate a boat, which—speaking as a person who can barely maneuver my small utility trailer into my own driveway (or any kind of space, really)—sounds patently absurd. Clearly the project was abandoned before it had really gotten off the ground, though, leaving this…weed and trash pit?

Additionally, take note of the little door in that first image, because it becomes relevant shortly. OMG HANG ON, we’ll get there.

SO. When ALL THAT ASPHALT got removed from the backyard (prompting the insane summer of dirt-hauling and praying for the sweet relief of death), so did that cinderblock foundation, which left this charming view! There’s something about an old sloppy siding patch that I’m actually kind of fond of, even though I have NO patience for new sloppy patch jobs. I finally made the connection that the missing window on the back of the garage never actually left the premises, but rather got recycled as the old laundry room window! Which has now also been replaced, but anyway. What an odd choice.

Inside the garage, things had gotten a JUST A LITTLE crowded. Demo over at Bluestone Cottage had left me with piles and piles of wood trim to store until it gets cleaned up and re-installed. My first fencing project had left behind an extra panel. Upstairs kitchen demo supplied a kitchen’s worth of base cabinets and formica countertops, poor decisions granted me a bunch of falling-apart shutters that I intercepted at the dump, a twenty-dollar price tag on a cute art deco dresser had saddled me with…an extra dresser. And so on. You get the idea.

I’m not really sure when or exactly why somebody drywalled the whole interior of the garage, and in retrospect it might have been kind of nice…but it wasn’t in good condition, appeared moldy in some spots, and somewhat interfered with the plan to install new electric in here to run power tools, new exterior lighting, etc.

SO! I gutted all the drywall, exposing the unpainted backside of the shiplap siding and the studs. Rustic? Sure. Rustic.

A couple months before, my friends Kim and Scott over at Yellow Brick Home had put some super impressive work into their own detached garage, including adding these simple and strong wood brackets for storing excess lumber. Their garage is what garage dreams are made of. “Great!” I said. “I’ll do that, too!”

So I did that too.

Except I have a lot more wood than Kim and Scott do. And also a much smaller garage. These are two facts you might think I would have considered beforehand, but evidently I’m incapable of thinking this many steps ahead.

Simple brackets. I can build simple brackets. Here I am, building simple brackets as day turns to dusk. Brackets out of scrap wood to hold more scrap wood.

Turns out there is a real compatibility problem between me and these brackets. You also might think I would have foreseen this, but once again. Too many steps ahead. Lower those expectations PLEASE.

See, each one takes up a lot of space. The space that is a particular issue is that diagonal brace, because once your wood pile gets to the base of that diagonal brace, subsequent pieces of wood inch forward, causing your pile to be weird and uneven, and things to fall, and general mishap. The solution here is obviously to not have so much goddamned wood that the piles ever get higher than the bottom of the diagonal brace, but that’s obviously too much to ask of me at this moment in my life. Someday I will have used up a lot of this wood (I SWEAR I HAVE PLANS FOR ALMOST ALL OF IT PROBABLY I THINK) and this might not be an issue anymore. Even still, though, it’s not an especially space-efficient design.

What I SHOULD HAVE DONE (and later did do on one wall) was suck it up and buy these storage racks, because they’re a) made for this very purpose b) well-designed and very sturdy c) pretty macho. Unfortunately once I started building my simple brackets I couldn’t stop building my simple brackets.

Because I simply must tell you EVERYTHING, demo revealed another now-covered window on the other side of the garage, directly opposite the other window!

Siding is patched over on the exterior, and this window faces the fence that divides my property line from the neighbor’s. Maybe someday I’ll restore it but for now it’s kinda not hurting anybody.

SO. Back to the wall opposite the garage door. At this point there is lumber everywhere so I take a break to use a very small amount of it.

Remember when I said to take note of the skinny door on the side of the garage? It’s only 28″ wide—which is fine for just walking in and out, but try carrying a table saw through it. Or a long piece of wood. Or the lawnmower.

YES there’s a big garage door on the opposite end of the garage, but it’s outside of the fence, doesn’t have an electric opener, and stays locked for security…so using it means making sure the dog is in the house, opening the garage door from the inside, out onto the sidewalk with whatever the probably heavy thing is, back into the backyard through the gate, back into the garage to close it, back to the house to let the dog out who has now eaten something I forgot I left on the table…this was a pain.

Long ago I dazzled you with this beautiful SketchUp rendering of my backyard, which is mostly different than anything I’ve done or plan to do anymore, but adding doors to the back of the garage didn’t change! The idea is that it allows more light into the garage, and provides an easy, convenient, and LARGE access to bring big things in and out. In theory you could put a table saw or a planer in the middle of the garage, open up both sides, and feed a long board through. In practice, thusfar there has always been too much stuff for this concept to become a reality, but I HAVE DREAMS, OK?

So, I invited my friends over for a relaxing afternoon of light framing work and demolition. And by friends I mean Edwin and Edgar, the ride-or-die power duo I rope into pretty much everything I do. We built a header with hoarded lumber and supported it with hoarded jack and king studs. Evil plan in action!

Then we cut a big hole! Light streamed in! Angels sang!

Into the opening, we inserted this set of pre-hung french doors. Pre-hung doors are so simple! So drama-free! A few shims, a few screws, and viola! Doors!

Edgar, who is magic with a circular saw, ripped off the ends of the siding around the door to accommodate a new casing.

The hardest part of assembling the new cashing is, luckily, not very hard! A few passes on the table saw and I had a good replica of the drip cap that sits over the other doors and windows on the garage and parts of the house. Some lumber yards have this piece available, too.

Some more scrap wood and a hefty dose of Bondo later…looking pretty good, doors!

Speaking of Bondo: Bondo is a bit tricky and, I find, unreliable for exterior wood repairs, at least in this climate. Some people swear by it, some people won’t touch the stuff—I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve had repairs fail after just one year on bare wood, although repairs where I’ve used at least 1-2 coats of primer on bare wood before applying Bondo have been fine—for now, at least. A much better product—although more expensive and time-consuming (it takes about a week to cure)— is Abatron WoodEpox. For what it’s worth, although not recommended, I’ve never seen a Bondo repair on interior painted woodwork fail—just outside. It can’t seem to take the expansion and contraction that occurs with exterior woodwork in the upstate NY climate.

SO. Way back when I said I was going to do this, and then a bit later did it, and then neglected to blog about it, there was comment drama about the doors. They are pine. They are made for interior, not exterior use. They are single pane and not particularly weatherproof. I chose them in large part because they were affordable at $377, and I figured worst case scenario, someday I’ll have to replace them into a now-existing standard-sized opening, which isn’t really such a big deal. I stand by it! They’ve been through 3 whole winters at this point and haven’t shifted or shown separation at joints, etc., and I think they should last many more years without issue.

SO. Current Status: TOO MUCH WOOD. In fairness there are many not-wood items like a few large tools, 2 spare cast iron sinks (as one does), various gardening and landscaping accoutrement, roofing shingles for a rainy day (get it?), window sash (pl.), extra corbels, uh…I don’t know, stuff. It’s an overcrowded disaster which I swear is not nearly as disorganized as it might appear. I have a LOT of interior finishing work coming up (THANK GOD. I AM SO TIRED OF FRAMING AND PLUMBING AND ELECTRIC AND INSULATION AND SIDING I COULD SCREAM. I AM SCREAMING.), so I’m kind of perversely excited to see how thinned out I can get this in the coming months. Also, intensely motivated to get this garage back under control because this is driving me nuts. At a certain point the strategy backfires because there’s too much to even see what you have, and fishing it out becomes a big hassle.

Additionally. You may note. That the last two are recent pictures. And I mentioned these doors were installed 3 years ago. There is a simple explanation for this. I never actually finished painting the doors. Because I just did not. The options were to finish painting the doors or do something other than finish painting the doors, and I have consistently chosen the latter option for multiple years now.

Also, they really need hardware. The lack of hardware is an issue.

TA-DA!!!


71 Comments

  1. I love that lately you have blogged about these ‘less romantic’ parts of homeownership — from dirt moving to lumber storage. Keep it coming, dude!

  2. Haha. This is such a classic reno story. The way you write it has imbued the everpresent undercurrent of “WHY AM I *LIKE* THIS” with a sense of spontaneity and fun, though, which I appreciate insomuch as you are also writing about MY foibles. The foibles of us all, really!

    For the record, the reason your bondo fails outdoors is because bondo absorbs water even after it has cured, so unless you’re in a desert eventually it’s gonna stop doing the thing. It’s paticularly incompatible with wood that’s painted only on one side, because then you’ve got a bunch of movement and absorption happening at different rates in different directions, honestly I’m tired just thinking about it.

    • All makes sense! I wish it hadn’t taken me so many stubborn attempts to figure it out! You really can’t beat that cure time…or that delicious aroma.

    • Thanks for the explanation!
      This is really useful info.

  3. I can’t tell what exactly I’m looking at in the reflection of the French doors in this last pic— are they mirrored?!— but it looks like some kind of secret garden and I LOVE it! I want to have a picnic there.

    • Not mirrored, just the sun! I wish it was like a secret garden!! I’m afraid you might be sorely disappointed when you see it, but it is better than the dirt pit from a few posts ago. :)

  4. This is such a cool project but -ahhh! I loved the doors before you painted them! I’m wishing you just did a clear stain and let that wood shine! The contrast of the wood grain on the black siding was so beautiful. I’m not worried though, I know you’ll make it look UH-mazing ;) Also I Celine Dion-style lourve your custom shelving with that angle on the ends. You have a great way of making functional things beautiful.

    • Thanks, Alicia! I think the painted doors will pan out in the end but I understand what you mean! Right now it feels so flat and blah…but the doors will have hardware, there’ll be a light fixture, something nice and wood-y on either side of the doors, plants…I think ultimately the monochrome will really work!

  5. A) I really love how the outside of your shed looks all in black, with those doors. A+ aesthetic choices.

    B) I really, REALLY love how you’re like ‘yeah, it got 80% done, and then Stuff Happened and I could have finished it but then that took 3 years because PROJECTS, because you sound so self-depricating but YEAH that’s what happens. We built a house (from fucking SCRATCH what were we thinking omg) 4 years ago, and finally put a countertop over the washer and dryer, which means that for the first time in 4 years I’m not fetching baby socks that fell between the machine after every load of laundry. Literally it cost 30$+scrap wood, took less than 4 hours, improved life… and yet took 4 years to get to. I feel you.

    • I love that about this blog, too! The scenario of “I put this project off for years and it was actually pretty easy and made my life WAY easier” is TOO real, and almost hilarious except it’s also actually really annoying, haha. Our house came with this awkward small hallway closet that was 40% consumed by ducting, but hey it’s a small old house so we’ll take whatever storage space we can get… after two years of just piling paper towels and toilet paper on each other in a big heap and feeling annoyed about it, my fiance took like 30 minutes to build two shelves with scraps from the garage and holy SHIT the functionality difference is exponential!

      Also congrats on building a house from scratch – what WERE you thinking?! ;)

  6. Lol, accoutrement.

    I note that the reflection in the doors is showing some raised planter action happening in the garden?

    P.S. My workshop (which also started life as a garage) is only moderately better (and it’s a fully finished indoor space, it was converted into a garden flat at one point…).
    The piles of inaccessible stuff really distress me too, mostly because I’m too short/weak to reach over them and pull out the things I want from the back/underneath, and too damned impatient to move it all around.

  7. Ok. So I just have to say…(I’ve been reading your blog for a while and never commented cause I’m just not much of a commenting person) but hands down your blog is my favorite to read. I get so excited when I see you’ve posted something new! It’s so refreshing to read something real and your writing is so hilarious! So just a shout out thanks for writing! I enjoy reading!!! (Also I apologize for the amount of exclamation points which clearly just got out of hand…)

    • Thank you, Callie! That’s very kind! Never apologize for !!!!!!!!! (bc then I might have to, and I’m the WORST! OFFENDER!)

  8. I love your posts, whether a finished room, a found object, or a “here’s what I got, come what may ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “ post! You have a great voice and always make me smile – thanks!

  9. Nice!

    I hear you on projects that get sidelined for other projects, or because funds cease to exist or what have you and then there have been countless times where I take photos of hanging something with the intent to blog, but never did for one reason or the other, but now I’m writing a post that will rectify at least one of those moments…

    A couple of weekends ago, did a bit more work in my shed, and it’s literally a shed, made by Tuff Shed, came with the house, and I’m SO grateful for that as it gives me a place to put all my gardening tools and finally found a spot for the weed eater, I hung it on the wall as I had a piece of wood with some hooks on it left inside but not mounted. Two of the hooks are large plastic ones that were screwed into it.

    I took everything off and with fresh screws, screwed it into the studs at the back of the shed, then mounting the two large plastic hooks and then hung my weed eater on it horizontally. Finally I’m not stumbling over the damned thing while looking for stuff on the two built in shelves, of which I straightened up and corralled the small stuff into tubs or boxes I already had. Much tidier now.

    But yeah, totally understand when you have plans that come to mind early on, but as time goes on, they change as other projects get done and you realize some ideas just would not work anyway.

    I think I recall you saying a couple of months or so ago that you plan on dealing with your backyard and perhaps the garage so I think I saw a hint in that final photo.

    Can’t wait to see what it all is you’ve done!

  10. I love the updates..keep them coming! Also I’d love to see whatever happen with your front room that’s behind your front porch. It was 2 rooms in one. I always thought it seemed so romantic in a grey gardens kind of way, which is not in any way a critisicm.

      • That’s the hoard room of doom!!! For now. For now. It’s such a great space but will be $$ to renovate and the house doesn’t actually feel like it’s *missing* anything by pretending it doesn’t exist (since there’s already a living room!), but it’ll be SO AWESOME someday.

    • I am taking bets on whether the Death Tub is still in there! (I’d say it is, except there’s no longer a full bathroom to put it in, sooooo……)

  11. I love blog posts about unfinished jobs and jobs in progress. I love following the middle bit, it’s SO INTERESTING.

  12. Daniel: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE install a drip edge on the bottom of those nice doors! It’s a super simple thing to do, and it will keep the bottoms of the doors from rotting. I just use stop mouldings made for door jambs, and then I cut a 45 degree on the inside edge to create a knife edge at the front lower edge to keep the water off the door. I thought I had a specific post where I talked about it, but you can kind of see the one I added to my porch door towards the end of this post: https://my1923foursquare.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-great-big-porch-reveal-finally.html

  13. Also: LOL “too much WOOD” Oh Honey, there’s no such thing! *cackle*

  14. OMG, I think your dreams for your garage are even bigger than my dreams for my garage! And my dreams are pretty deranged, haha. However, I am now following some of your links, which are proving very helpful. Thanks! I’m almost inspired to create a blog to display my own (lack of) progress, but that would be just one more thing for me to neglect.

  15. This would have been my hoarding parents’ dream garage. My dad would balance salvaged wood over the rafters in the garage and garden shed. Your method is safer.
    I love that even the previous residents recycled, moving the extra window to the laundry room.

  16. This sheds (no pun intended) light on my inability to mail presents once I’ve purchased them (I’m talking three years!). What is it about finishing? And also love the “too much wood” comment above. How did that not hit me immediately. Daniel, thanks for writing this blog. It’s funny and inspiring, and your taste is impeccable.

    • OH GOD THE DREADED PRESENT-SENDING! Same, same. I have baby bibs and changing pads bought for babies that…aren’t babies anymore. OH WELL.

      • Never fear, almost all baby gifts are also good for 21 year olds. Bottle bags = beer bags.

  17. I cannot decide which I enjoy more seeing the beauty of your finished work or reading about the journey!

  18. Just wow!! I don’t think any project I have in this house is 100% finished unless it is painting. Welcome to the unfinished project club!

  19. So glad to see I’m not the only procrastinator! I love seeing this kind of content. Also, I dream of having a shed to store all of this kind of stuff so I can get it out of my house. So nice.

  20. Love, love, love that you are writing more because you’re so talented and everyone needs to read more so that means great writers need to write more. But, I know you took Spanish and then Latin, so no French experience but the word is Voilà, not viola (which is an instrument).

  21. At this point I feel like you could write a post on how you just bought new garbage cans and couldn’t decide where to put them, but, hey, here’s where the old ones were, and I’d love it:).

  22. I can smell the veggie garden post coming. Cannot wait.

  23. The house I grew up in had a broken doorknob for, like, 20 years. I always wondered why my parents didn’t fix it, it seemed so simple. When I bought an old house, as an adult, I realized that the list of shit that needs doing is LOOOOONG and things seem to get added to the list faster than they come off. Now I know, it wasn’t that my folks didn’t know how or care to fix that stupid doorknob, it’s just that it kept getting bumped down the list by other things. All this to say I get why those doors aren’t painted. Hang in there!

  24. I am with you there on wanting to get to the finish work. I love finish work. Flooring, baseboards, trim, tile, paint, GIMME. The caulking I could do without but it’s a necessary evil. And I mean, it’s not that I don’t enjoy the things that come before finish work (I will frame for six days straight with a spring in my step on the seventh), it’s just that after a while, it’s exhausting, and you feel like you’ve worked so hard already that you just want to get to the point where you can throw a credenza in there and call it a day. BUT YOU CAN’T. BECAUSE YOU STILL DON’T HAVE WALLS. The struggle is real.

    • oh my god. caulking is my legit favorite part of any project! it’s so satisfying. especially when you’re fixing a shitting caulk job from someone else.

      • Exactly!!

        I’m not into the caulking part, but I am into the painting over the newly caulked part. When the color gets evened out and not a gap or crack in sight…umph! That’s LIVING.

  25. i think we can all agree that we support your 3-year laziness in not finishing painting the doors just so we can all feel better about our own versions of putting something off, half-done, for 3 years…

    like who has time to finish painting when you’ve rebuilt porches larger than my house, anyway?

    • Thank you! I try to remind myself of the many things that have taken place and been completed in the interim because otherwise I beat myself up…but honestly it could STILL be a while before finishing those damn doors is a priority, not because of laziness but just because of the volume of other things that really *have* to get done much more urgently. The house is gonna trump the garage every time—sorry, garage!

  26. The doors look great but I’m surprised to see you installed in-swinging doors – can you even open them with all the stuff that appears to be in the way?

  27. Yours is one of the few blogs I read every post of, and I will drop just about anything to do it.

    I come for the pics + stories and stay for the hella good writing :D Thanks for always sharing!

  28. Also, your(?) mom in the comment section makes my year.

  29. Thanks for always making me laugh! Your doors look marvelous!!! And I think I need Edwin and Edgar in my life…

  30. You think this is bad?! You should see our huge TWO-CAR, TWO-STORY garage (former carriage house, but not one of the pretty ones) that is, like, WAY more crowded than that. Like, it can take 10-15 minutes to get a bike out of because there’s too much stuff in there! It desperately needs a clean-out. Also, the upstairs was supposed to be turned into a cool hangout space a decade ago, got like 1/4 finished and has sat like that since.

  31. Where do you find all of your cast iron sinks? I can find them on Craigslist but they are SO EXPENSIVE. Help me!!!

  32. Reeeeeeeally impressed that you got through an entire post that is almost entirely about wood and didn’t make a single “that’s what she said” joke. Truly, you are far more mature than I.

    Thanks for the update, and thanks for keeping it real. Who wants to finish a job when there are other jobs to design and/or begin? No one. That’s who.

  33. Totally off topic, but did I miss the conclusion of the porch project at that other house??? You were story-ing it on IG, and the last I remember seeing was when there was still a section to go. For some bizarre reason I was having mild, vicarious anxiety with the scope of the whole thing and just wanted to see it done!

  34. I can relate somewhat. We are moving house, After the movers came and went, for a week now I have been going back to the old house for cleaning etc. Full time. While we are living out of boxes in our new house. It’s driving me nuts.
    Anyhow for inspiration for what to do with the left-over wood, take a look at pietheineek.nl Piet has 80 employee million-euro company involving reclaimed wood. Better yet visit him in Eindhoven, but that may be a bit too much.
    Have a wonderful day!

  35. This is my favourite post ever

  36. I LOVE your writing and it’s like Christmas every time I see there is a new post. You could write about lint balls under the bed and I’d be enthralled.

    Please tell me we will get an update on Bluestone cottage soon???

  37. I always love what you do and I love the way you tell the tale.
    I just found you on IG at the start of the porch. Cue the days of back project reading! Yowsa! Bluestone, dirt moving? You are amazing.
    All I have to say is that I agree with you: there is NOTHING more important than loving on your dog…the rest of life will wait forever if need be. Including doorknobs.
    Priorities.

  38. “At a certain point the strategy backfires because there’s too much to even see what you have, and fishing it out becomes a big hassle.”

    OMG I need someone to come explain this concept to my fiance… it doesn’t matter if we stockpile things we may need at some point in the future if we end up having to buy new ones anyway because we can’t FIND them :) :P

  39. I will guess that the French doors have not warped because perhaps the garage is unheated–if they were on a heated house with unheated outside, that might have made them fail. They are pretty, though, and the light is probably useful.

    I was watching YouTube mindlessly, as I often do when I have projects I ought to be doing but no energy to do them, and I found this one: https://youtu.be/8QDXfgbKKf0. The second project reminded me of that house you were/are renovating with the weird stairs to the basement in the kitchen. I hope to see it mentioned again soon–as it was a fun project.

  40. Spare sinks…as one does. I currently have three and a bathtub stashed in various outbuildings. I will need them…eventually….so if they can be had for a good price? Must buy. That spare sink I see does happen to look particularly lovely.

  41. Haha, I have had my house for 12 years now (sweet lord, where did the time go?!!), and have parked in the garage exactly once, when a bad hailstorm was coming. I ran out there at ass o’clock at night in a frenzy and shoved stuff against the walls and stacked the rest precariously so I could pull my car in, and it was such a tight squeeze that I had to climb out the car window and over a bunch of boxes to get to the house door. (These days, I could theoretically use the garage for my car, but it’s way more fun to use it as a workshop for ongoing projects instead.)

    P.S. I just converted my backyard shed into a libations lounge & also put in prehung French doors. It was going swimmingly until I discovered the floor slopes 1.6″ in under 6′, and boy, was it fun trying to figure out how to shim that gap without having the benefit of a table saw! I

    Anyway, love what you’ve done with the place, can see where you’re going with it, and it’s gonna be badass. I can’t wait!

  42. Daniel, your glorious procrastinatingness has just prompted me to go and hammer on a piece of trim i stained six months ago, to replace a piece of trim i ripped off five years ago.

    Well, i intend to, let’s see if I get out of the basement with the hammer…

  43. Is your basement storing wood, also?

    • YES! Not as much, and basically that wood is for my house and the wood in the garage is mostly for other projects. The goal, I guess, is to get all the wood in the garage…but that will entail using up a lot of it!

  44. Daniel, just saw your IG of “The Shutters”!!! May I say Congrats and YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!
    So happy for you!

  45. You do an amazing job making your readers feel like they know the ins and outs of your life (due to your impeccable writing). When I realize you’ve had something done for three years that I didn’t know about, it makes me feel like I’m in that dream where you discover a room in your house you never knew was there. How?! Don’t I know this house inside and out? Oh yeah… I just see pictures on the internet. Duh.

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