Through the Portals
How to spruce up a utilitarian space
Driving through a new residential neighborhood in Florida sometime back, I was struck by the fact that in front of every single house a garage jutted out from the façade. There might be ornamental front doors and lush gardens, but these otherwise respectably designed suburban dwellings made the garage their most prominent feature.
To make matters worse, the garage doors were a parade of vapidity. Some were plain white canvases. Others had a few windows at the top, but the overall impression was trite and cheap-looking. In failing to choose sensitively-designed garage doors, the builders of these homes had foregone their only opportunity to atone for a lamentable floor plan.
But what are the alternatives? Are garage doors not the most utilitarian feature of any home?
Though you might not know it from driving suburban Florida, garage doors advanced significantly since the days of the aluminum roll-a-door.
Some manufacturers have found beauty in the earliest days of garage doors. Back in the 1920s, when homebuilders first began to accommodate the automobile, garages were adorned with heavy hardwood doors on hinges. So hearty were these doors that a number of them can be found to this day on raised and split-level houses and on detached garages around the city. The effect was to give houses that contained their garages a porte-cochere look. Separate garages looked like carriage houses. This made sense since, in the minds of the time, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy.
Nowadays, new versions of such doors are available, but outfitted with electronic arms, to be opened on hinges at the touch of a button. For examples, check out the Real Carriage Door Co. (realcarriagedoors.com).
Other companies sell roll-up doors with the same look as carriage-house doors. In these cases, the horizontal hinges are placed strategically to create the impression that the doors open from vertical hinges. The Overhead Door Co. and Clopay sell a number of designs that fit this description.
But not every garage needs to look like a carriage house. Some perfectly dignified garage doors are content to be roll-ups. With high-quality stained woods, a garage door can just be itself.
Some doors are designed to bring a wall of daylight into a garage. Several companies manufacture frosted or clear glass doors, giving the impression of a grid of windows, rather than of a garage door. These models work particularly well on modern-style residences.
Depending on the sun exposure, however, a glass door could turn a garage into a hot box. Such doors are ideal for the northern exposure of a house, but less so on a southwest exposure, unless it’s shady area.
Remote-control garage door openers are almost an expected convenience. Chamberlain actually has a remote opening system called MyQ Garage that operates via smartphone app. That way, you could open your garage door from Japan, if you wanted to. (Not sure why you’d want to, though.)
Manufacturers sell a variety of garage door opener types with a variety of advantages. For instance, belt-drive openers tend to be the quietest. The screw-drive types tend to have the most lifting power. Chain-drive openers tend to be the least expensive, but they’re noisy. One other consideration is lighting. Most openers feature built-in lights, but some are stronger than others.
One thing to consider is how well a garage door keeps the weather out. If a garage is climate-controlled, the door should be insulated unless made of solid wood. Insulation not only helps to keep extreme weather out, it also adds stiffness to a door, reducing the twisting that comes with opening and closing the door, and thereby reducing wear and tear. Regardless of the material, the windows should have thermal properties. And the weather seal should be tight to keep out the outside air.