There will come a time, perhaps sooner than you think, when it seems very quaint that people used to park their cars indoors. Because Britain’s garages – at least the ones still being used as garages – are dying out. Today just 34% of the 9.3m out there are reckoned still to have cars inside, with 12% already or about to be converted for some entirely different purpose.
At the same time, the Home Builders Federation says fewer and fewer new garages are being built. Mostly, this is because of increased demand for flats and townhouses, which seldom come with one anyway. But even when a garage is included with a new house, this is often done to satisfy a local authority’s two-space rule, rather than because buyers actually want an extra building to put their car in.
When you think about it, why would they? “You have to remember that 50 years ago every car leaked, so if you didn’t keep it in a garage it would soon be like a compost heap inside,” says Sarah Beeny, host of Channel 4’s Property Ladder, founder of the DIY estate agents Tepilo, and a secret garage “obsessive”. “But cars no longer leak. So I don’t know why you’d need to keep one under cover, really.”
Security would once have been a reason, as would protection from the elements in winter, but improvements in vehicle design mean these are less important factors now. And besides, modern cars – notably 4x4s – are larger, which often makes the question academic, as they cannot fit into many existing garages unless the driver is happy to leave them via the sunroof.
This may change again, of course, if a new generation of smaller electric cars needs nightly plugging-in. (Something to consider, no?) But for now, those people who still take the trouble to manoeuvre their car into its little home are surely doing so more for a feeling of comfort than any practical purpose. “It’s a slightly generational thing,” Beeny says. The garage has become the architectural equivalent of the tea cosy, in other words, and every bit as hip.
But then, garages have long been celebrated for their alternative uses. In the US, in particular, they have a very noble history, having incubated the origins of Disney, Hewlett Packard, Motown, Apple, Google and many other famous companies. And in this more densely populated country, it has become increasingly difficult to justify 200sq ft of car and tool storage when you might instead create an office, a studio flat, a gym, a playroom, or somewhere else that people actually spend time.
“All of this is just a reflection of the fact that we’re short on space,” says Beeny. “Per square foot, it’s a big luxury to have an entire garage storing one lawnmower. And it’s an amazing opportunity. A garage is an empty box to work with, so you can go a bit mad if you fancy it.” And some people, once their car is out of the way, certainly have. More here