When Lisa and Dave Schertler purchased their classic 1930s brick Colonial in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC, it was missing a key ingredient. With two small children and a dog, the Schertlers needed a casual space to hang out in, one that would be easily accessible to the kitchen so they could keep an eye on their busy brood. They needed a family room.
But because of the home’s tight urban lot, adding on was not an option. Instead, the Schertlers thought of converting their garage, which adjoined the kitchen, into a family room. “This was a leaky garage we never used,” Lisa Schertler recalls. “It felt like a waste of our finite space.” The couple consulted architect Bruce Wentworth of Wentworth Design Build to see if their idea would float. “We weren’t sure it was possible until we met with Bruce,” Schertler says.
According to Wentworth, “It was a puzzle. We had to figure out how to do it legally.” The house is located in a historic district with very strict zoning regulations. Off-street parking had to remain available to the residents, so the space needed to meet the district’s requirement for a garage, even though it would be used as a family room. “Zoning insisted on operable garage doors,” Wentworth explains. He replaced the existing garage doors with more attractive new ones made of two outer layers of wood with insulation sandwiched in between. Though the family had wanted wood floors, they settled for porcelain tiles “to withstand the weight of a car, if necessary,” Wentworth says. The floor sits on an almost imperceptible slope as well, to account for the drainage that zoning requires for any garage space.
Having complied with the zoning requirements, Wentworth now had to create an attractive family room inside. He began by placing three sections of moveable, custom-built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in front of the garage doors to simulate a regular wall. At nine feet, eight inches tall, the ceilings are coffered to add interest to the room. The rear wall of the 15-by-20-foot space was replaced by French doors leading to the backyard patio; a transom and sidelights flank the doors, adding to the sense of openness and light. A built-in cabinet matches the shelves; it houses a dry bar and wine rack, and provides a surface for the flat-screen TV.
The couple chose a wall pump to heat and cool the space. Water pipes are embedded in the concrete sub-floor for radiant heating (electric pipes are also an option for under-floor heat; they are cheaper to install but more expensive to run). The lighting in the room is recessed.
Originally, the kitchen was separated from the garage by a narrow breezeway, but in order to get from one space to the other, the Schertlers had to walk out into the breezeway and go around the corner to gain access to the garage. Wentworth cut a four-foot-wide opening in the kitchen wall, incorporating the covered breezeway into the remodel and creating an opening into the garage area. The result is a kitchen that flows into the new family room via a couple of curved limestone steps, which blend artfully with the room’s tile floor.
The kitchen had been remodeled before the Schertlers moved into the house, with dark cherry cabinetry and black granite countertops. However, because the wall that had to be removed for the new family room had housed the stove and some cabinetry, Wentworth needed to do a bit of reconfiguring. In the process, the Schertlers decided to make a few upgrades. They purchased a new stove and hood, which were relocated on the other side of the room along with an iridescent glass-mosaic backsplash; a new kitchen island was also installed. For contrast from the kitchen’s other, darker finishes, Wentworth used an off-white painted maple base and topped it with a grey-beige limestone slab to create a furniture-like effect.
The final component of the project was the update of a pre-existing roof deck above the garage. “It was a leaky, failing roof,” says Wentworth, “made of pressure-treated wood on top of a rubber roof.” The Schertlers wanted to keep the deck, but the situation was complicated by the fact that the roof was sloped. Wentworth used Veradjust adjustable pedestals to create a level surface, and installed copper roofing over the entire structure. “When you put a roof deck down, you don’t want leaks,” he explains of his choice. “Copper will last 100 years, is maintenance-free and looks good.” Over the copper, he installed îpe wood modular decking.
The Schertlers are thrilled with their new space, which was completed last spring. “We sit in there and wonder how we ever lived without it,” Lisa Schertler says. “Lots of houses have garages that have a bunch of stuff in them. So does ours!”
Photographer Ron Blunt is based in Washington, DC.