By Karen Monroe
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's the thing about garages: they are a distinctly absent appendage in New York housing. Sure, there are a few examples of garages, particularly on select Brooklyn Heights brownstones scattered around town, but it's not the norm. Why is that? There are former mews, or garages for horses, along the lovely lanes of the Heights, but no housing for automobiles. Cars came after the houses, horses and curbs. No driveway equals no garage.
What were the builders of long ago thinking? It's not even about cars. Without a garage in the 21st century, where do we store a lifetime of memories, boxes, athletic gear, castaway furniture, and a collection of whatever we refuse to part with? The choice is to use the garage for our car or our stuff. For the super organized, it could be both.
The garage is a valuable part of any home. Like the kitchen, it can become a gathering place for friends, family and kids. Throw open the door and it becomes a play space, a hangout spot to talk with the neighbors, or even as an afterthought, the place you store the car. If you've got it, appreciate the added square footage a garage provides.
Wherever we live, garages – or lack thereof – vary by region. In San Francisco, people live over their garages, meaning garages are street level, and the first floor of living space is a flight of stairs above the garage. In Hawaii, garages are often more like a carport, open and exposed to keep the sun off your car (not great as a hiding space for years of shipwrecked stuff). In Middle America, garages are precisely that: garages. Big enough for the car and the stuff, and the man cave. Talk about garage envy.
Like most things we take for granted, it took a lot of effort for me to downsize from plus-garage to post-garage-living when moving across country to Brooklyn. Where oh where would I put my gathering of undecided items that I neither wanted to actively use nor constructively part with? The miniature Victorian dollhouse my daughters and I painstakingly decorated, hanging wallpaper and laying tiny tiles, had to go. I was ready for the challenge of de-stuffing my cluttered life. I did it. Now I barely have enough storage for my essential shoe collection, let alone any frills like a yoga mat.
In the end, it's all worth it. My car is safely tucked in a public garage in the Heights. I figured out the whole storage thing (thank you, Moishe's). And get this: I haven't driven in years. What New York lacks in garages, it beyond makes up for in transportation options that get you from A to B in less time than the automobile.
Absent as the garage may be, in Brooklyn all it takes is our own two feet to get around. We are lucky. With our homes, we already have a garage for our legs.
On the Run
While we're on the topic of valuable interior spaces, let's talk about closet envy. With an extremely finite amount of space to put my stuff, the takeaway for me as an East Coast newbie is to keep less and cut out any unnecessary collection of possessions. However, if this is impossible to do, there is hope. Move on over to Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood.
The regal brownstones in Bed-Stuy are amazing homes with ample storage space. I recently got a listing for a grand seven-bedroom, four-bathroom brownstone that took my closet envy to another level. In addition to what seems like loads of closet space, there is an entire downstairs room that could be dedicated to storage of stuff. For real.
This area is hot. The homes are lovely. The neighbors sit on their stoops and greet passersby. But even in Bed-Stuy, garages are distinctly absent.
Karen Monroe practices real estate at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 156 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. She lives in the neighborhood and represents buyers, sellers and renters in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Karen can be found walking her dogs and running the parks, paths, streets and bridges of Brooklyn and beyond. For feedback and all of your real estate needs, contact Karen at [email protected].