When Did The Garage Become So Important?

By Scott Sidler April 15, 2013

Garage House
Photo Credit: Cornell College

I was driving through the suburbs yesterday on the way to a friend’s place when I noticed something that has never really stood out to me before. House after house, street after street I noticed a pattern.

The houses in this area were standard 1990s – 2000s stucco behemoths typical in Florida. Aside from being some of the most slapdash construction, I noticed that they all shared one design element that defied logic to me. Every one of these homes was hiding behind a disproportionately large garage placed front and center!

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When did the garage become so important that it has become the visual heart of the home? I honestly have no problem with a large garage. They’re great for extra storage or having a small workshop or other hobby, but when did they get promoted to become the most important part of our home’s curb appeal?

When garages first came on the scene in the 1910s they were an afterthought. A small detached shed in back of the home just large enough to fit the small cars people had only begun to learn to drive. As cars got bigger so did garages, and rightly so. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of an attached garage so you wouldn’t have to walk in the rain to get to your house after parking. Another great idea! As our country’s wealth grew so did our consumption of automobiles until we reached the 1970s when 2 car households started becoming the norm rather than the exception.

But someone please tell me when the cars we use to get from A to B became so stinkin’ important that we gave them the most prestigious position in our home. The garage is still an accessory to the home and not the other way around, right? And whose garage isn’t cluttered with junk they plan to someday organize?

Photo Credit: Cornell College
The old ways…much better!
Photo Credit: Cornell College

Maybe the Question is ‘Why?’

I think more important than “when” is “why.” Are we too lazy to drive all the way to the back of our home? Gone is the front porch and here to stay, for now, is the garage. Did developers and builders decide for us and start putting garages at the entrance to the home or did they respond to our wants and desires.

I would offer that maybe the garage has taken such a prominent position in “architecture” (I use that word in the loosest sense) today because by putting a sprawling 3 car garage at the entrance to our home we are telling the world that we are rich enough to afford 3 cars. Or at least, that we can afford a garage that is the same size as the whole house our parents grew up in.

Whatever the answer may be I feel like it eats at the heart of what a home is. It is the place where we come to be with our family. It is where we feel safest. It is a place meant for humans and not for things. It is, as the old saying goes, where the heart is. But if home is where the heart is, it would seem today that our hearts are packed in the garage, somewhere between the Christmas decorations and old exercise equipment.

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11 thoughts on “When Did The Garage Become So Important?”

  1. If the garage must be in the front, there are creative ways to disguise it that work. You just have to have an architect or builder who has an eye for proportion, balance, and aesthetics.

  2. It seems most of thep eople here are Pro Liberal who want us to only drive tiny Obama cars *which the rich elite are exempt from* or lose our licenses and force us to pay more at the pump for longer work commutes then the guy who lives within 3 blocks.

    Sorry but not going to happen! We would have a huge civil war redux about state rights before we allow ourselves that kind of tyranny on our front porch.

  3. We had a garage for most of our lives and our cars have lived a very long life because of not being exposed to the elements.

    It’s not just below freezing weather that’s damaging to cars *we have anti freeze* but moisture will mix into the oils and eventually cause engine trouble if you don’t keep the car moving regular.

    We now don’t have a garage due to our mobile home park for some strange reason not allowing them. *They think it will lower property value* which it doesn’t since it provides an extra layer of security.

    And as a result our old mini van which worked almost flawlessly for 15 years started having things fall apart once exposed to the elements.

    When I first practice to drive at our old house for a few months we left the car outside so we can get to it easier and the paint started to rust at the top not too long and the radiator had a bit of trouble but we caught the issue in time before it became a major problem.

  4. Here in Florida, where lot sizes aren’t that large (even in the richer neighborhoods) and the houses are practically on top of each other, the garages are placed in front so the house gets maximum square footage. If the garage was in back, the house would block it from the road. Or the house itself would have to be built smaller to accommodate the longer driveway.

    I agree, it’s atrocious when the garage blocks most of the homes street frontage. But to builders it’s the most efficient use of the smaller lot sizes. With larger, wider lots the garage tends to be adjoined on the side of the house because it can.

    Remember, developers are in it for the money…subdivision lots are made small so they have more to sell. And not many of us can afford the cost of larger lots or the large costly homes typically built on them.

  5. We chose our house to NOT have the garage out front. Those disgust us. Our garage stores two cars (not buried under stuff) and it hides back along the alley. I don’t kick people in the head when I first see them, why would I show off my other mode of transportation right away? Gotta show the tie and cuff links first!

  6. I’ve seen this style referred to as “garage mahal”, which I think describes it perfectly. Although, as the owner of a 1924 Craftsman bungalow, I find the style unattractive, I have another theory of how it became so popular. Especially on small lots with homes close together, it acts as a barrier to make the living area more private, the way a tall fence or hedge may have in the past. Also, homeowners don’t want to give up desirable private back yard space, which may also be in short supply on small lots with the behemoth homes you refer to, for a garage on that same space. I see it as part of the trend that replaced community-friendly front porches and front stoops where you interacted with your neighbors.

    1. “Garage Mahal” I love that! It is a sad cultural shift. Someone mentioned to me that on the good side, shorter driveways mean less snow to shovel. I don’t know that that is enough to justify the change though.
      In America “people value expediency and pragmatism over aesthetics and quality.”

  7. Hi Scott,
    I always thought that this “sickness” was mainly found in northern parts of the US and Canada because of winter weather. Sadly, it’s all over North America. Car culture instead of being cultured. I totally agree and furthermore, in a car, a family can gather, eat, talk and not have to look at eachother and that’s the best case scenario – pretty sad.
    Anyes

  8. I’ve noticed the same thing with houses here in Indiana’s suburbs. I flat out refuse to purchase a home with a garage that has ANY placement at the front of the home–regardless of whether or not its proportional. Fortunately, we live in a smaller town that still has affordable historic homes. We’re currently renovating an early 1900s craftsman…and it has no garage at all. 🙂

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