Life in the garage: Architects make cars a part of the home

By Kevin Mcgue

On weekends, you’ll normally find Iwao Ouchi in the garage, polishing his vintage Mini Cooper and Meyers Manx dune buggy. Cars occupy pride of place in the architect’s home near the tip of the Miura peninsula, south of Yokohama.

Unlike most Japanese homes, the garage here isn’t a utilitarian box tacked on to the side of the house as an afterthought. Instead, it’s the focal point—both in terms of design and as the center of social activity. The vehicles share floor space with a bar and breakfast nook, where the car fan can sit and admire his beloved vehicles, or pour a glass of wine for neighborhood friends who pop in for a chat.

Ouchi is a major player in a new movement to bring auto enthusiasts in Japan closer to their prized possessions. In his professional capacity, he’s designed over 700 “garage houses,” which integrate automotive and living space. He also holds seminars for home owners who want to make the car a part of the family.

“Many car lovers in Japan want to have the type of garages they have seen in old American TV programs, but they think that it is very difficult and expensive to build their dream garage,” Ouchi explains. “It’s not so hard really, and I have to tell them not to give up their dreams.”

While houses with integrated garages may have been inspired by the small screen, their popularity is also indicative of a shift in family structure. “Families want to have a sense of living together,” Ouchi reflects, “so a car lover wants a great garage as a hobby space, but also doesn’t want to be too far away from the rest of his family.”

One of Ouchi’s most challenging assignments was designing the weekend home of Takashi Komori, a restorer of vintage Volkswagens who has over 25 classic cars of his own. The flooring in the home is made from wooden slats taken from old Scotch barrels, and bricks from dismantled buildings in England were shipped over to construct the bar counter in the garage. All of the windows are made from antique stained glass, while the doors were rescued from defunct Japanese storehouses and shops.

Throughout the house, vintage Coca Cola signs and coolers sit side by side with Buddha statues and samurai swords. But the undeniable centerpiece is the garage, which houses a dozen extremely rare cars that are visible from the entrance as well as the second floor.

Before you get the wrong idea, garage houses aren’t just for car gurus with weekend homes by the sea. Architect Yoshihiko Oshima of the real estate firm Blue Studio has carved out a niche designing living spaces that manage to squeeze motorbikes or even a car into an average-sized Tokyo apartment. His creations include homes with well-lit ground-level garages that are separated from living areas by a glass wall, transforming what is usually a hidden storage area into something of a mechanical art gallery. His signature Lift apartment building in Setagaya features a freight elevator big enough to hold a motorcycle and a parking space just off the living room.

“I designed it based on a story,” Oshima recalls. “I imagined what kind of lifestyle would be possible in an apartment with a large elevator, and I thought of guys in their 30s with an active lifestyle. I wanted to create a building that meets the needs of someone who really loves their hobby.”

For the time being, homes such as these look set to remain the preserve of dedicated auto "otaku." But as more architects warm to the idea of bringing the garage and living room together, don’t be surprised if Ouchi and Oshima’s designs become a model for the home of the future.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (

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So this story is for who and who can afford it?

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Interesting story. I guess for people in for example, the US, cars are considered dirty, and so people don't want to live "with" them. The garage is usually full of oil spots, grease and junk you don't want in the house.

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The guy next door to us built his house so he can see his Mercedes from his weight room, through sliding glass doors. A couple of condos in Kobe with a variety of floor plans gave customers on the first floor the option of a glass wall in the genkan looking through to closed garage space. Seems to be getting popular.

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Sort of makes sense if you fancy expensive cars - why should you go out in the uncomfortable garage to see them ?

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a floor made from old oak barrels? must be one uneven floor,that oak is curved in every dimension.

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Many car lovers in Japan want to have the type of garages they have seen in old American TV programs- The grass is always greener syndrome.

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When I lived in Milwaukee one of my neighbors was an executive for Harley Davidson. He had a garage with a black and white tile floor, tons of old signs and vintage Harley motorcycles it was very cool. Obviously you have to have the money to do it but if that's your passion why not. When things get back on track my wife and I are going to build a house on the land we've been sitting on in Omura. She gets her tea ceremony room and I get my garage, compromise can be a good thing. We both agreed on the rotenburo for what it's worth.

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For what it's worth the photo doesn't picture a Meyers Manx or a Mini Cooper but looks like a Porsche 356 and maybe an Austin Healey in the foreground.

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Does that count as official parking space?

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