If you think a garage is just a place to shelter your vehicle and accumulated stuff, a new Winnipeg company can make over that space into just about anything you can imagine.
A barebones garage is an opportunity, say Garage Living co-owners Brian Friesen and Kevin Abraham. It could be a home gym, a recreation room, or a sleek place for storage and invention.
"It’s a large portion of a person’s house, and being able to maximize that space is definitely beneficial to the homeowner," Abraham said.
Garage Living has opened its 981 Main St. showroom while the global pandemic rages on and many people continue to stay home.
"Because (of) less vacations now, people want to be comfortable at their home, and that’s what we’re trying to do for them," said Friesen.
Favourite projects involve a complete upheaval — new floors, walls, cabinets and an organized layout. Friesen likes the quirky ones: Garage Living recently built a ceramics studio in a garage on a limited budget.
The average, middle-of-the-road garage renovation including flooring and cabinetry might cost between $12,000 and $15,000, Friesen said. Ordering "all the bells and whistles," including a $6,000 car hoist, may total well over $20,000.
Garage renovation started as passion projects for both Friesen and Abraham.
Friesen, 66, is a dentist by trade. He’s owned 10 dental offices over the past 25 years, with the latest being Creating Smiles Dental on Leila Avenue.
"I’ve always had a huge interest in cars," he said.
That’s morphed into buying luxury cars, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, and travelling the continent to attend car shows and participating in legal drag races.
He renovated his own garage and considered creating a business years ago.
"Now that I’m sort of semi-retired, it’s something I want to put my energy (into)," Friesen said. "Keeps me busy, keeps my mind going all the time, and I like a new challenge."
The dentist took over National Carpentry and Installation, a carpentry business, more than a year ago.
"I saw the natural fit to do garages," Friesen said, adding his interest piqued when he spotted an advertisement for Garage Living in a magazine.
The brand has 36 franchises across North America and is based in Toronto.
Last February, Friesen contacted Garage Living about a franchise opportunity. Little did he know, Abraham was doing the same.
The 38-year-old Winnipeg Police Service member learned how to tackle garage renovations from a friend who owns the Garage Living outlet in Regina. It’s a hobby-turned-side hustle for Abraham, whom Garage Living linked with Friesen.
The new partners started chatting on the phone, then meeting in person.
"It felt like we had known each other for years," Abraham said. "There’s a high level of trust between us, and it’s been a great friendship considering it hasn’t been a long period of time."
The two scoured Winnipeg for a location before settling on the roughly 7,000 square foot white building at the corner of Main Street and Pritchard Avenue.
Garage Living’s showroom meshes with National Carpentry and Installation’s offices, physically representing the two’s collaboration on projects: NCI might insulate or repair a garage before Garage Living introduces its flooring and cabinetry.
"The more I’m doing this, the more I like it," Friesen said. "Each job is so unique and so different… It’s like putting a puzzle together, so you try and figure out what the client wants and try (to) create an aesthetic."
Friesen and Abraham travel around Winnipeg and beyond — going as far as Kenora, Ont. — and provide free consultations, with an option to do so via video call.
They have a small staff and will bring in an architect and interior designer if clients want. Renovations could take two weeks, though if someone orders custom products, they might be waiting a couple months.
"(We) just do every day as it comes," Friesen said, adding he expects garage renovations will remain popular post-pandemic.
The home fixes started gaining traction about six years ago, according to Lanny McInnes, president and CEO of the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association.
"Before, it was kind of that rec room type renovation where people were looking at… having people over to watch a football game or a hockey game," McInnes said.
Home renovation shows have propelled garage transformations’ popularity, and the pandemic hit the gas pedal, McInnes said.
Now, home gyms are the renovation of choice for many.
"The garage is probably the most likely part of a home where you could potentially do that, installing gym equipment or that type of thing," McInnes said.
Traditionally, Manitobans spend more on home renovations than new home construction, he added.
Friesen and Abraham are working their day jobs while juggling Garage Living. The two planned to host a showroom open house this month but postponed due to the spread of Omicron. Word of mouth and online awareness have kept the business steady since it began in November.
People who want to view the showroom must book an appointment. Pre-bookings will end as COVID-19 cases numbers decrease, Abraham said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.