A Brief History of the Modern Residential Garage

The garage is one of those features that is synonymous with modern homes. Drive down any residential street, and you’ll see one, two, sometimes three-car garages attached to any moderately sized single-family home. Not only are they great for storage of old toys or holiday decorations, but they can keep your car protected from the elements in ways that an open carport cannot. But where did they come from and when did we start attaching them to our homes?

For an answer to this question, we need to go all the way back to the early 1900s. Wikipedia had this to say:

“The common term for these structures in the first decades of the 20th century was a motor house. Many garages from before 1914 were prefabricated, typically by companies such as Norwich manufacturer Boulton & Paul Ltd. The style was usually in keeping with that of the house and its locale. However, they were mainly of timber construction, and few have survived.”

Understandably, the early beneficiaries of these “motor houses” were wealthy private citizens who had them custom built for their estates. Several prominent architects at the time specialized in the construction of these additions. However, one man in particular had a different approach entirely. Wikipedia notes:

“Charles Harrison Townsend was one of the few architects who put pen to paper (in The Builder in 1908) on the subject and recommended that the walls be glazed brick for ease of washing, air gratings to be low (petrol fumes are heavier than air), and drains half open to avoid build-up of gases.”

Thus began the era of the modern solid-wall garage. From wide-hinged barn-style doors to vertically rolling doors to automatic garage doors and even smart garage doors, this ubiquitous addition to the modern family home has evolved alongside the automotive technology it protects.

With the humble garage growing more complex, maintenance has become somewhat of a specialized field. An average homeowner can perform simple repairs, tighten up bolts, and clean and lubricate the rollers. However, the servicing of the motorized and tension-bearing hardware of modern garage doors should still be left to the professionals.

When the original architects constructed the first motor houses, I can imagine they never dreamed that one day garages would become such a versatile or technologically advanced space. Today, modern DIY-ers have done everything to the garage, including converting it into home theaters, music studios, and man caves. No longer is this space simply a disposable space in which to store your unwanted junk. It’s become a genuine living space that pushes the boundaries of residential living.

As technology advances, who knows what might become of the humble garage. When cars start flying or driving themselves, will these iconic spaces evolve to meet the needs of homeowners the world over? I think I’m not alone when I say, “Absolutely!”


—Ran Kroynish has more than ten years of experience as a garage door repair professional with Elite Garage Door WA. When he’s not fixing garage doors, he likes to share his knowledge and tips with others with a DIY spirit. 


Photo Collectie Tropenmuseum


One Response to “A Brief History of the Modern Residential Garage”

  1. Thanks for the cool article about garages. It’s interesting to learn that maintenance became a more specialized field because garages grew more complex. It sounds important for professionals to be trained in maintaining garages, especially if it can help a garage door continue to function.


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