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Chester County, PA Man Builds Luxury Garage

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    Mar 2008

    Chester County, PA Man Builds Luxury Garage

    Chester County man builds luxury garage

    By Kate Campbell
    Philadelphia Enquirer

    Chester, PA
    - Gary Ott, a developer of public storage spaces and RV parks, fell in love with the wind-kissed hills and hedgerows of southern Chester County. When he and his wife, Kathy, purchased 22 acres of gently rolling farmland in Glenmoore two years ago, they were set to build their dream home.

    But there was the matter of where to put all the cars.

    The stable - two Porsches, a 1968 Corvette, plus two classic Corvettes that once were part of a collection amassed by Ott's father-in-law, Nicholas O'Dea, plus a red 1941 Series H International tractor Ott is restoring that belonged to his great-grandfather - deserved a home as grand and handsome as the main house.

    So the Otts hired Peter Zimmerman Architects of Berwyn to design a luxury garage - also known as the "car barn" - as well as their new home.

    The garage cost "less than a million, but not by much," Gary Ott says.

    "It's hard to say exactly where it came from; I've always been passionate about cars," says Ott, 49, who was raised in Bedford, in south-central Pennsylvania. "I do remember being about 9 years old when I saw my first 1968 Corvette. They had made such a dramatic change in the body style - you could say that was sort of an 'Aha!' moment."

    "He loves his collection, and so our goal was to really surround him with the collection," says Zimmerman, whose colleagues, architects Jennifer Baxter and Warren Fisher, saw the project through a nine-month design and drawing stage.

    "Clients that have a real passion want to build [something] dedicated to that," Zimmerman says. "Gary's passion just happens to take up a lot of space."

    Evoking the traditional look of 18th- and 19th-century-era Pennsylvania farmhouses was central to the Otts' vision. So the five-room garage - which includes an office; a glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled display area that houses one of the Corvettes; a cement-floor wash bay; and a soaring space that houses three more cars - features exterior fieldstone extracted from the property (the main house does, too) and carriage-house doors with handmade hinges.

    The mammoth timber-frame display area is made from Oregon spruce, with hickory pegs instead of nails. The space, illuminated by 12 modern metal lamps suspended from the ceiling, serves as a stage for a 1961 Corvette convertible flanked by a gray and a black Porsche.

    It is Ott's favorite part of the garage: "The detail that most takes my breath away is the way the car barn looks from the outside and when you come into the office and see the car on display."

    A HiFi House-installed sound system runs throughout the structure. And there is, of course, a state-of-the-art security system.

    Friends and family are entertained by the garage's retro custom cabinets, stools fashioned from car rims, and a jet-black Big Chill refrigerator stocked with juice and water. Neon signs and a replica gas pump have been ordered to round out the decor.

    Unimpressed by what national chains offer for car buffs who want to outfit their favorite spaces, Ott searched the Internet and found Vault (www.showroomgarage.com), an Oregon-based purveyor of designer garage products.

    "We see the garage transformed into a stylish, inviting room that is functional and appealing at the same time - beyond just a place to park your vehicles," says Chad Haas, Vault's founder. "The garage of the future [will be] transformed into a fully furnished room where homeowners accessorize them into a high-value asset of the home and enhance the curb appeal for their home."

    The company provided almost every design element in the car barn.

    Maple-topped, 20-gauge powder-coated steel cabinets store tools and auto-detailing gear, and other equipment. Simple black-and-white tile is rotated at a 45-degree angle in a checkerboard motif, Haas says. "The diamond-shaped pattern gives the space a timeless look."

    Haas sees Vault, which he started four years ago, reinventing every corner of the residential garage, even the outside.

    "It was surprising to me that as passionate as we are in America about our love for the automobile and motorcycle . . . there was no specialty retailer that was serving this market adequately," he says.

    Ott is among a growing number of homeowners investing in a space that has more typically been the object of benign neglect.

    According to an April 2005 report by the market-research firm Packaged Facts, consumers spent $800 million on garage-organizing products in 2004 and $1.25 billion on garage and shed-storage products combined. The report projected that spending on garage makeovers would grow to $1.59 billion in 2009.

    Currently, says Jessica Tobacman of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, garage makeovers are one of the fastest-growing segments of the home-improvement business.

    Multiple-car garages have become gotta-have amenities for seven out of 10 wealthy consumers in the market for a new home, says Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of Luxury Institute LLC in New York City, whose March real estate survey examined the spending behavior of the affluent.

    "When we asked wealthy customers purchasing real estate in these very challenging times what was a 'must-have' in a new home, a multicar garage was number one," Pedraza says. "Seventy percent of those looking for new homes wanted the bigger garage more than any other item.

    "It makes sense," he says. "Many of the baby boomers are collecting cars. They want to make their garage into a showcase, an entertainment place, like a club. As consumers are getting older, it's an investment in and a love affair with the car."

    Ott seems genuinely dazzled by his new garage. "It's morphed into something of a museum," he says.

    On weekends, he can spend up to four hours a day there, washing and waxing his cars. (His wife's Range Rover is usually in a storage shed or the garage attached to the main house.)

    "We hang out in here," Ott says. "[People] don't get to come back if they lean on the cars."

    His garage office - outfitted with a flat-screen TV, a crankshaft lamp, and a framed newspaper article about the first motel development built by his father, John Ott - certainly is appealing.

    But when it comes to getting work done there, it's tough going, Gary says.

    "I prefer to conduct business in the front seat of my truck," Ott admits, referring to the Chevy Silverado 2500 diesel pickup parked outside, unprotected from the spring chill.

    "It's too distracting staring at the cars if I'm in the office."
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