Seattle's Parents of the Year Turn Garage Into Cool Playhouse for Kids

An active Seattle family encourages creative and athletic play by transforming a garage into a multipurpose gym-style pavilion.
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Sure beats a pillow fort.

Tucked in the back of a Craftsman home in Seattle is a two-story freestanding garage that reimagines the family room. Instead of a space centered around a television, the garage became a multipurpose pavilion that challenges the family to engage in creative play and activities. "My clients now have a large multipurpose room on the second level, a bike and car storage space on the first level, and a unit that's designed to be flexible and stimulating for the kids — one that can grow and change with them well into their teen years," says architect Margaret Menter.

Space at a Glance
Who uses it: A couple and their three young kids
Location: Seattle
Size: 413 square feet
Design challenge: Getting zoning approval for a project that the planning department didn't know how to categorize.

The clients wanted their kids to be able to use their imagination in the space. Now they can read books in the hammocks, hang from the monkey bars, climb the ropes or run around freely. The room can easily be converted from a gym to a party room, hosting a small dinner party or a family movie night. A small bathroom and a utility sink are on the premises, making cleanup after craft parties and small gatherings easier.

Related Link: Ladders and Step Stools for Kids to Climb

This project pushed Menter to visualize a space through the eyes of active children; it also allowed her to use more modern, streamlined and functional design elements while still being conscious of a largely traditional home built in 1904. 

Menter's clients, who use the first level of the garage-pavilion as an electric car docking station, wanted to use as many green design solutions as possible for this space. 

Menter kept 75 percent of the garage's existing walls to reduce waste; used lasting materials like plywood (for the walls) and stainless steel (for the fixtures and baseboards) to reduce the need for repairs; and installed industrial light fixtures, high-performance windows and skylights to reduce energy loss. 

The play pavilion uses the original roof frame of the old garage; Menter just added a steel truss across the center of the space to support the climbing ropes and swings.

Related Link: Remodeling a Garage? Find Key Measurements Here

The pavilion is seamlessly connected to the outdoors and is within plain view of the larger house. Its proximity to the patio ensures that entertaining can easily expand to the outside.

The biggest challenge for Menter was getting zoning approval. "We couldn't change the garage into a play space without adding car parking elsewhere on the property, so we ultimately ended up with a car garage tucked underneath a multipurpose space," says Menter.

Related Link: Nowhere to Hang a Hammock? Try a Porch Swing Instead

What used to be a storage area filled with boxes and random things is now a space that reflects the current lifestyle of this family. "[My clients] can always convert the pavilion into an office, music room or an in-law apartment in the future, but for now, it meets the needs of their fun and active family." 

The best part of the renovation was when Menter's clients e-mailed her a picture of the kids in the pavilion with a sign that read, "Best room ever!"

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