After months of staying home, you might be convinced that you’ve used every nook and cranny of your space as a makeshift office—kitchen counter or windowsill desk, anyone? Maybe that’s just me. The one place you probably haven’t tried, however, is your garage—that is, if you’re lucky enough to have one. No garage but have a decent sized backyard? You could also consider taking over a large shed or even adding an accessory dwelling unit (or ADU) to set up your professional headquarters. These areas typically aren’t a part of your home proper, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable for working.
Garages in particular get a bad rap for being dark, cold, and often filled with stuff you’re going to get rid of someday. In reality though, they’re full of design potential—you probably just need to clean yours out and reclaim that space. For Seth Ballard, owner and principal of Ballard+Mensua Architecture, the idea for turning a garage into a home office occurred when he was talking to a close colleague.
“I do so much work with Kathryn Everett’s landscape design firm, Everett Conroy and Landis, that originally we had considered sharing an office,” he explains. “However, I got a call from Kathryn, who realized she didn’t use her garage for anything other than storage and gardening. As her garden is such a great showpiece, why not renovate the garage and turn it into an office in the garden?”
Since that aha moment earlier this year, Ballard has actually transformed a few garages into workable (and stylish!) office spaces, a couple of which you’ll see photos of below. Want to give your own garage or shed a makeover? Hold onto these images as inspiration and check out these tips for transforming your garage in to your very own WFH setup.
Assess the situation with your structure
Before you pick out light fixtures, invest in a desk, and add a fresh coat of paint, Ballard recommends checking out your garage’s bones. Since this is where you’ll spend the nine-to-five grind—and maybe even burn the midnight oil— it’s important to make sure your space is hospitable.
“Make sure the structure is sound, first of all,” Ballard says. “If it is older, it could be worth doing an exploratory demolition phase to see what kind of structure exists and whether it is worth keeping.”
Ballard recommends checking into your neighborhood’s zoning regulations to see what is and is not possible. From there, you can add electricity, install plumbing, and adjust the flooring. “It’s always important to look into utilities,” he explains. “Usually we have to run plumbing out to the detached structures, and more electrical. Understanding the options for this is important before taking a project too far.”
I know what you’re thinking: If a garage can be transformed into a home office, your shed can definitely follow suit, right? Well, not so fast. According to Ballard, sheds are generally flimsier than garages, so it’s important to pay extra close attention to its structure, too. Fortunately, all hope is not lost.
“If sheds are well-built, adding insulation, adding a mini-split HVAC system to provide cooling, and replacing the windows and door could be an affordable way to create an office,” he says. “There are so many great reclaimed wood materials that can completely transform the feeling of the space.”
Add those creature comforts
Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to spend their workday shivering or sweating through spreadsheets, deadlines, and back-to-back Zoom meetings. Yes, a space heater and oscillating fan will get the job. If you’re looking for a savvier, more energy-efficient alternative, however, you might want to consider lining your walls with fiberglass insulation or covering your windows with film or heavy drapery to trap in heat.
In case you didn’t get the memo, a home office shouldn’t be a carbon copy of your cubicle. Every job has a different set of tasks and responsibilities, which means your ideal office could be quite specific with design features to make your given day-to-day easier. For Everett’s home, Ballard wanted to create a space that could shine a light on the landscape design firm’s services.
“We decided to create two garden storage rooms but to use the rest as a showroom,” he explains. “We added custom shelves, counters for displays, and got antique oak reclaimed wood to add to the unique structure of the original porch to create a special space.”
When it came to transforming artist Sharapat Kessler’s garage shown directly above, Ballard sought to make the space a total creative paradise. “She has a shared studio with other artists but really wanted a space in her home,” Ballard says. “We decided to improve their patio, build custom shelves in the front half of the garage to store everything needed there, and then take the front half of the garage over for an artist’s studio.”
Ballard says they were able to reclaim wood from the original ceiling decking to build custom shelving, a custom desk, and a continuous shelf around the perimeter for displaying paintings. Rounding out the look is industrial shelf brackets, a polished concrete floor, new doors and windows, and track lighting.
This particular project proves a home office doesn’t have to be all business. Ballard shares that Kessler also added a treadmill to her workspace so she could exercise in this area as well.
Though your garage makes a great home office now, it’s important to think about how your space will be used long after you live (and work) there. It’s something Ballard thought a lot about when designing Everett’s home office.
“She has partners, so we added a kitchenette and bathroom,” he explains. “While doing the bathroom, we decided to make it a full bath, so that after Kathryn retired or if they sold the house, the room could be used as a guest house.”
As expected, Ballard says making the most of your space is one trend that’s important after you clock out for the day. Before you make any design decisions, think about how else you could see yourself using the space someday. If you can fit a second story into your plans to add a semi-private sleeping area, Ballard says that could be a place to Airbnb or for a returning college student to get on their feet and have their own space for a while. Storage may still be a function you need, too, so if you can carve out a little space for tools and other things like that, all the better.
Seal the deal with a door
Last but not least, switch up your door. Unless you’re Steve Jobs, who famously started Apple from a garage, you’ll want your home office to feel more like, well, an office. Not only can this step give your workspace a stylish edge, but it can also help improve its insulation. It’s no wonder leaving the original door is one of the biggest mistakes Ballard sees people making.
“I have seen examples of where people enclose a garage and leave the floor level too low, and they aren’t able to keep water out, or they don’t insulate enough and can’t keep the space comfortable,” he explains. “Leaving a garage door in as opposed to spending the money to replace it with something that is better insulated is another big mistake.”