No (more) parking

An extreme makeover in Marblehead turns a cramped garage into a comfortable family room.

By Jaci Conry
June 20, 2010

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Perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the Atlantic in Marblehead, this English country manor-style house is graceful and finely crafted. But the 1926 residence came with a garage “built to house the original owner’s Model T,” says the current homeowner. It just wasn’t big enough for a modern garage, and it opened onto the front lawn, upstaging the front door. Since the homeowner wanted a family room, a renovation was born. Cambridge architect Frank Shirley drafted plans for a new garage, away from the front entry, and converted the antique one into a new living space.

The renovation was designed with the home’s scale and craftsmanship in mind. The living room still has its original floor-to-ceiling paneling, made from boards that had been salvaged from a 19th-century barn and church. That room, Shirley says, inspired his transformation of the garage.

The new family room’s ceiling features hand-hewn timber beams, and the walls, cabinets, and shelves were paneled with pine that matched the living room sheathing, down to the last detail.

“We used new wood that resembled the existing boards in width and grain, as well as knot size and frequency,” says Shirley. To achieve a lived-in look, boards were left outside in the active construction area. “We leaned against the boards, bumped into them, parked coffee cups on their surface.”

To match the patina of the aged paneling, contractor Joe Gagne tried stain after stain, finally settling on an amber-pumpkin hue.

The existing garage-door openings were fitted with new French doors that lead to the front yard, where a patio, grassy pathways, and gardens afford much needed outdoor living space, since the back ocean-facing side of the house is often too windy to use. “We really enjoy the front yard now,” says the homeowner. “We can be out here eight months a year.”

Jaci Conry is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to

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