Life in the Garage

Life in the Garage

Japanese architects make cars a part of the home—and part of the family


Originally published on on March 2010

Photos by Caroline Parsons

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 genkan 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.