Real-Life Garage Loft Apartment

Low-cost details turned this compact above-garage apartment into charming guest quarters.

Guest Quarters

Guests will never want to leave once they experience life in Tim and Carol Thompson's guest apartment above their Chicago-area garage. The roughly 19-x-36-foot space includes a central bath, living room, open kitchen, bedroom, and nook for laundry and storage.

A Grand Plan

Architect Michael Abraham designed the creative layout. "Mike told me to think of the bath as a big tree growing up through the middle of the roof," Tim says. He created a bath with curved walls and a custom shower near the center of the space. This layout gives the apartment an open and airy feel, even though the space is small and the four rooms are well-defined.

Worth the Climb

Exterior stairs are both a cost-efficient and space-savvy choice. Anything that pierces the garage ceiling or connects parking and living spaces must be properly sealed to stop exhaust fumes from reaching inhabitants. Interior stairways consume valuable floor space and must be blocked off to be fume-free.

Tip: For year-round access, use thick cedar treads on the stairs that can handle occasional winter salt.

Welcome Site

The front door features an oval knob. A welder's torch turned its nickel surface blue-gray.

Crowning Glory

Stability is key when planning a living space atop a garage. Consult a structural engineer to ensure the upstairs is properly supported. The Thompsons' guest retreat has 2x12s on 12-inch centers as well as steel beams and columns.

Gathering Spot

The seating area features curved stucco walls. Reclaimed pecky cypress wood forms the paneling. The wood was coated with drywall compound, sanded, and stained.

Tip: Create a uniform look by using common materials throughout the space. Here, marble windowsills match the kitchen countertops.

Great Divide

A built-in table separates the kitchen from the living areas. Century-old slate tiles, reclaimed from a military complex, create the flooring throughout the loft. The slate is less than an inch thick, but resembles larger chucks of stone because of the deep mortar bed and broad grout lines that showcase the tiles' chipped edges and irregular shapes.

Curves Ahead

A custom-cut marble countertop creates a narrow hall into the kitchen. Abraham says that the usual rules, such as "halls must be 3 feet wide," don't apply in tight quarters. Breaking the rules allows you to get more use out of the space. The passages between the kitchen and the other areas are only 2 feet wide.

Tip: Add character and save money with DIY features. Each flower-shaped cabinet knob in the kitchen was handmade.

The Look for Less

Combining budget-friendly kitchen fixtures, such as stock cabinets and a beaded-board backsplash, with marble countertops and a professional-grade range give the kitchen a high-end look at a moderate price.

Tip: Get a built-in look for less. The refrigerator is an inexpensive model with a faux-steel front tucked in a surround made of salvaged cypress. "We cheated the wall a few inches so the fridge would fit almost flush with the countertops," Tim says.

Attention to Detail

This handmade cabinet combines whitewash pine and salvaged glass. The flower cornice is made of pine strips joined to form hollow cylinders.

Knockout Hardware

Seven-foot-tall screens made of wood planks and louvered doors lend privacy to the bedroom. Hardware from a home center anchors the bedroom door. The hinges were battered with a grinder and a hammer, then antiqued with stain.

Custom Fit

The Thompsons found unique ways to add storage in the bedroom. An antique mantel from New Orleans creates an attractive bedroom shelf.

Tip: Tim, a custom builder, recommends having a plan and careful measurements when working with antiques. Make sure the piece fits in the space before you fall in love with it.

A Separate Peace

A panel made of louvered doors separates the bedroom from a wall-in closet. Matching shutters on the windows carry the look throughout the room.

Tip: Make the most of a small space by keeping horizontal lines consistent. When the tops of doors and window, the transom line, and the tops of cabinets line up, everything feels more spacious.

Storage Central

An old scrap of mahogany is bolted to the wall to create bedroom storage for robes and towels.

Light the Way

A local artist crafted this handmade light fixture. The bronze and nickel pendant light fixtures are used throughout the space.

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