By Jura Koncius
October 16, 2018

Since the dawn of the 21st century, the wow factor of a house has centered on the trophy kitchen: a temple of polished stone counters, party-size islands and top-of-the-line appliances.

But that’s all gotten a bit boring. A new status symbol is zooming onto the domestic landscape: the luxury garage. High-performance Italian cars, after all, are much sexier than high-performance Italian dishwashers.

The latest space to transform from utilitarian to cool, garages are where Americans store some of their most precious, and most expensive, toys. The lowly garage is increasingly being blinged. In 2015, owners of single-family detached homes spent $3.2 billion adding garages, according to an analysis of the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the National Association of Home Builders.

Despite urban millennials’ purported distaste for collecting and the rise of ride-hailing, Americans haven’t given up their love of cars. Garages (and Bugattis) of the stars are catnip on blogs, TV and social media: Jay Leno, 50 Cent, Ralph Lauren and Britney Spears are just a few who have shared theirs.

The rich (but not famous) also have jumped on the bandwagon, with tricked-out warehouses, second-homes-as-garages and car compounds.

Short on space? Technology and creativity — and of course cash — can still open doors. “More and more people are interested in urban vs. rural homes, and this presents a challenge if you want to have your cars at your house and you don’t have 40 acres,” says Jonathan Klinger, a spokesman for Hagerty, an insurer of collector cars. And that desire is feeding an industry of space-saving, high-tech lifts, organization systems and even auto elevators that industry experts expect to continue growing as more Americans move to cities and suburbs.

The average-looking two-car garage of the future? It could be hiding three, four or more prestige autos, when it’s not doubling as a cocktail lounge or basketball court.

“If you look at a Ferrari as the equivalent of a Picasso, why would you want to keep it across town and have to go and see it or, worse, have a valet bring it for you?” says Sam Smith, editor at large for Road & Track. “So much of this is spontaneity. … You’re going to see more people turning those spaces into a more welcoming and usable chunk of their house.”

Take Natalie Adams of Oakland Park, Fla. Adams, 41, who started collecting JDM (Japanese domestic market) Hondas after spotting “the cutest car I had ever seen in my life.” She turned a one-story, 1950s warehouse into a combination home/garage and, using car lifts, keeps six of her favorite JDMs inside the 1,200-square-foot space; that’s about 60 percent garage and 40 percent living space. “I don’t have a fancy kitchen,” says Adams, an accountant. “I have a fancy garage.” She actually thinks she made the kitchen too large in her renovation, adding: “I think I will probably shrink its layout so I can get two more cars inside where my kitchen sink and wall cabinets are now.”

Before buying the warehouse, Adams had lived in a 300-square-foot condo with her Chihuahua and rented space in a self-storage facility for her cars, but it was broken into twice. “I needed to upgrade my housing and get the Honda collection safer,” Adams says. It took her five years to find the perfect space.

“I don’t have a fancy kitchen. I have a fancy garage.”
– Natalie Adams, who turned a warehouse into a combination home/garage

In Coronado, Calif., a resort town across a bridge from San Diego, car aficionado Chuck Steel is living the dream. He calls his swank garage his “jewel box.” “It’s such a great relationship you have with your cars; they are part of your family,” says Steel, who shares his custom home, with its views of the Pacific Ocean, with his wife, Rita, and two daughters. Because space in this beach town is limited and expensive, “I wanted to maximize everything in this home,” he says. Steel, a retired contractor, has a two-bay garage packed with amenities to safely and elegantly stash his 1935 Packard 1201 coupe convertible, 1948 Ford Super Deluxe convertible, 2017 BMW X6 and 2017 Range Rover LWB.

The Steel garage, unassuming from the outside, is equipped with two PhantomPark subterranean parking lifts, wall sconces hand-forged in Vermont and a giant mural of a beach framed by LEDs on the back wall. The garage is about 400 square feet on each level, and the extra goodies added about $164,000 to the cost.

Lifts like those of Steel and Adams are one of the biggest trends in garage makeovers. American Custom Lifts has been producing hydraulic and mechanical lifting systems for cars since 1998, says founder and board chairman Brad Davies. He says business has grown significantly every year.

The company’s lifts, which can range from $3,000 to more than $1 million, are often for “celebrities and the ultrawealthy,” Davies says. The two-deck, drive-on PhantomPark, which transports vehicles to a subterranean garage or an upper level, is $56,000 (plus about $15,000 for installation). “It’s got a cool factor,” Davies says. “As cities run out of land and parking, there is higher demand for our parking systems. We expect growth each year to continue.”

Even simpler lifts let owners of modestly sized garages double up, stacking one car over the other. Brooks Weisblat, 44, who runs the drag-racing website DragTimes.com, bought a house in Davie, Fla., with a three-car garage but needed more room. It was going to be difficult to get approval from the city and homeowners association to add more garage space, so he ended up with a couple of lifts. Now there are five cars in there: a McLaren, a Lamborghini, two Ford GTs and a Tesla. “It does make you a little bit nervous at first,” Weisblat says. “It looks like the car is floating in the garage.”

For those who absolutely must have more space, there’s a new twist: Private luxury-garage communities are springing up across the country. Your car lives here, but you don’t. M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Mich., opened two years ago. Here, car condos (from $125,000 to $1.5 million) on an 87-acre property are customized to be not only places to store autos, but posh, multilevel entertaining spaces, some with cigar rooms and home-theater systems. It’s an autocentric lifestyle package that allows car buffs to hang with other car buffs, says M1’s founder, Brad Oleshansky. The property includes a 11/2 -mile performance track; automotive retail shops and themed restaurants are expected to open next year. Oleshansky says annual condo fees are $2,280 to $4,560; membership in M1 Motorsports Club, open to condo owners only, has a one-time $20,000 initiation fee and a $3,750 annual fee.

One fan is Bill Kozyra, a native of Detroit and president and chief executive of TI Automotive, who says he “was born with gasoline” in his blood. Kozyra is passionate about his collection of cars, which includes Corvettes, Camaros, an Aston Martin Vanquish S and a Lamborghini Huracán. Kozyra, 61, has two car condos at M1 that can store up to 25 cars to supplement his at-home garage. His 6,500-square-foot house in nearby Rochester is attached by a breezeway to a similar-looking house whose main floor is actually a garage for 15 cars. (The floors above and below the garage hold guest quarters and entertaining spaces.) This way, at home, Kozyra can easily access a Lamborghini or a Maserati, or just jump into his black Ford F-150 pickup.

Phil Berg, a longtime car columnist and author of the “Ultimate Garages” book series, says he started seeing a growing interest in garage upgrades around 2001. “In California, homes that had been built with three-car garages now needed four bays,” Berg says. Collectors increasingly were renting garage space elsewhere. But that is also changing, Berg says. “Eventually guys said, ‘You select a car every day like you select a tie, and you don’t want them six miles away in a warehouse.’ ”

Berg says car fanatics like to hang out around their cars, so sofas and kitchens are sharing space with roadsters and coupes. In the next few years, he thinks some Americans will install multiuse garages with high ceilings, so the spaces also can be used as basketball courts or yacht storage. But he says the focus on garages is about enjoyment, not size.

“Eventually guys said, ‘You select a car every day like you select a tie, and you don’t want them six miles away in a warehouse.’ ”
– Phil Berg, a longtime car columnist

That’s the case in crowded places such as Manhattan, where secure parking of any kind is a luxury. “We are having this renaissance with cars,” says Kirk Rundhaug, a broker at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “There are lots of car-loving Americans, plus the well-heeled from around the world are keeping cars parked in New York, even if they only use them a few months of the year. They want to park the cars themselves and know they are safe.”

Condos in one West Chelsea tower designed by Selldorf Architects have a “Sky Garage,” in which an elevator takes you and your car right to your floor. “I do find it wildly convenient,” says resident Jamie Drake, a partner in interior design firm Drake/Anderson. “I don’t actually use my car that often — weekends and maybe one or two nights during the week to go out to dinner,” Drake says. “It’s wonderful in the pouring rain or in the snow. The car stays warm and toasty.” Drake, 61, decorated his garage with Angelo Donghia wallcoverings, a slatted aluminum ceiling and a chandelier by Ted Abramczyk for Ralph Pucci. For a large holiday gathering, Drakeremoved his car and set up an extra bar, sound system and furniture, turning it into “a casual cocktail lounge.”

Adams is so crazy about JDM Hondas, she owns 12. She rotates her collection between the parking lot in back of her home to inside it on lifts. “I love keeping my cars in a pretty garage,” Adams says. “My place is open-concept, and I can leave a door open so I can see my cars when I’m lying in bed. Sometimes, I will play musical cars on the lifts. If I am tired of looking at the yellow one, I put the black one up. It makes me very happy.”