Practical Alterations

Practical Alterations

This article appears in the October/November 2008 issue of Remodel, a Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication

A creative conversion turns a garage in Ohio into a multifunctional work space for a talented seamstress.

By Andrea Cooley

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Most women don’t clamor to spend their free time in the garage.  Robin Nielsen, however, has been known to spend as many as 30 hours a week in hers.  Unlike most garages that house cars, tools, and

sports equipment, Robin’s features spools of thread, yards of fabric, and colorful ribbons.

The inspiration for her garage makeover came when Robin, an avid seamstress, got fed up with having nowhere to spread out her sewing projects.  “We have no basement, and there was really no space to have a crafts room that would be filled with light and would be someplace you would look forward to going to,” she says.  Rather than add on to their house, Robin and her husband, Chip, decided to convert two out of three bays of their Indian Hills, Ohio garage into a sewing room.

The garage already had a vaulted ceiling, but the space had to be dressed up so it didn’t feel like a garage.  The first step was replacing the garage doors with a large window and French door and adding skylights to brighten the room.  The next step was designing and efficient layout.  “I tried to lay out the room so everything I would need would be within reach,” says Robin, who hired interior designer Charlyn Jackson to help with the project.  Jackson designed open shelves next to the worktable for fabrics and other materials.  New cabinets by the window house a wrapping station, and a mini kitchen area includes a sink, refrigerator, and more storage.

Once the functional elements of the space were in place, the finishing touches fit together like the pieces of a beautiful quilt.  “Robin wanted a warm room that was cozy and homey,” Jackson says.  Beaded-board wainscoting, cheerful yellow walls, raised hardwood floors, and cherry cabinetry fill the bill.  Jackson also added a partial wall behind the custom-built sewing table, which divides the sewing room from the home’s rear entry and mudroom.  This keeps foot traffic out of the space and lets Robin leave projects without worrying they will be bothered.

Robin knew she would be spending a lot of time “parked” in the garage, so she wanted it to be a gathering spot for friends, who can come through the separate entry and sit with her while she sews.  “I love spending time in there,” she says.  “I would rather be in there than any [other] place.”

Crafty Solutions

Before you start planning your creative getaway, consider these five crafts room must-haves:

  1. Storage.  The most important thing to consider is cabinet layout and storage, says designer Charlyn Jackson.  She recommends figuring out where materials need to be in relation to your work space and planning your storage around that.
  2. Traffic pattern.  Think about how people will be moving through the room so they’re not stumbling over things or tracking through your space, Jackson says.
  3. Lighting.  “Good lighting is essential,” she says.  “Get as much natural light as you can.”  Consider where windows or skylights are located so you aren’t blinded by the glare.  Filter natural light with blinds and supplement with task lighting.
  4. Mechanics.  You want your crafts room to be a comfortable temperature, Jackson says.  Depending on how you will be using the space, you may need running water and a sink or a drain in the floor.
  5. Ambiance.  The room should be relaxed, cheerful place where you want to spend time.  Jackson recommends using colors that inspire you and make you happy.  Remember: This is your room, so have some fun with it!

Garages that wow

The garage is a logical place to turn for additional living space.  (Remodeling an existing space usually costs less than building new.)  Here are tips for reinventing yours.

  • Invest in good design.  Neal Hendy, president of Neal’s Design in Cincinnati, stresses the importance of good design when converting a garage into a living space.  “You’ve got to really dress it up and give it a welcoming appearance,” he says.  The key is making the exterior blend with the rest of the house.
  • Raise the floor.  Garage floors generally sit lower that the house.  If you want the finished space to connect seamlessly with the rest of the house, you’ll need to raise the floor.
  • Consider heating and cooling.  Decide if you will connect the garage space to your home’s heating and cooling system or if it will have a separate setup.  You may also need to add insulation.
  • Install electricity and plumbing.  Run plumbing to the garage so you can have running water in the space.  And even if the garage is already wired for electricity, you will probably need to add more electrical outlets.
  • Add windows and doors.  Make your garage feel like a true living space by replacing the garage door with a large window or French doors to create a separate, more welcoming entry.

The Change

Part of a garage is transformed into a light-filled sewing room featuring plenty of work space and strategic storage.

What it took

  • Replacing the garage doors with a large window and a pair of French doors to create a separate entrance.
  • Installing skylights to fill the space with natural light.
  • Raising the existing floor to accommodate a new hardwood floor.
  • Adding a small kitchen area with a refrigerator, sink, and pet-feeding station.
  • Incorporating storage solutions throughout for sewing and crafting supplies.



Remodeler: Neal’s Design-Remodel; Interior designer: Charlyn Jackson, through Neal’s Design-Remodel; Cabinetry: Brookhaven-Wood-Mode, Inc.; Design of sewing table: Charlyn Jackson; Instant hot water faucet: In-Sink-Erator; Gooseneck faucet: Grohe America, Inc.; Gate fencing: Steve Bolyard, Cincinnati.