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Conjuring History

During an 18th century-inspired makeover, the two-car garage of a contemporary Ulster County house is transformed into a gracious living room full of traditional touches

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cabinetrySpace odyssey: Paneled built-in shelves and cupboards house books and mementos, as well as the television, while subtle can lighting illuminates works of art. Soft colors on walls and woodwork and an eclectic mix of furnishings create a timeless feel. All that remains of the original garage is the footprint

But the biggest transformation was turning the two-car garage — a raw, 27-by-24-foot space — into a sunlit living room. Necessary structural changes included new studs deep enough to allow for adequate insulation in the walls, and bringing the floor up to the level of those in the house (building codes require attached garage floors to be lower). Raising the ceiling to just over 10 feet was essentially a cosmetic decision, but created a much more spacious feeling, while an additional gable solved the problem of marrying rooflines outside, says designer Mahoney. Two sets of French doors and three long windows were added to let in plenty of light and to frame views over lawns studded with mature trees in one direction, and a small garden with an old-brick terrace in the other.

A large wood-burning fireplace with a slate blue marble mantel and paneled chimney breast dominates one wall. Handsome architectural elements include reclaimed old beams on the ceiling (a Crisp signature) and weathered wide pine boards on the floor to match the rest of the house. Inset doors, wide casings and crown moldings on the windows, and raised paneling that’s repeated on the shutters are all “very traditional,” notes Mahoney, “and keep everything clean and spare-looking.”

garage, before constructionGarage, before construction

“My environment is terribly important to me, and it’s important to me to live among beautiful things,” says Bailey, who furnished the room with a mix of some of the beautiful things she has gathered over the years. “I’ve had several houses, including one in Bermuda and the New Hampshire house, so it’s quite an inventory. The challenge was to make the diversity of pieces work together.” There are even a few things — a Kittinger desk now being used as a sofa table, a wing chair, and a Martha Washington chair — that came from her husband’s office. “The octagonal beechwood coffee table is one that I had made in Spain when I was living there,” she adds. “I’ve been hauling that thing around since 1967... The only thing that’s new is the big couch, which I designed and had made to fit the room.”

The couch’s L-shape solves a modern dilemma too, notes Mahoney. “In a room like this, trying to locate the TV is always an issue, especially when the fireplace is a focal point.” Housing the television in built-in bookcases on the wall to the right of the fireplace means you can watch it from one leg of the couch, or face the fireplace from the other.

“We also spent time on the lighting, which makes a difference,” says Mahoney, who worked with a lighting pro to install small, subtle can lights in the ceiling to focus on various works of art. Hand-forged sconces cast a more traditional glow.

Bailey says she’s thrilled with the new room, and mentions that architect Crisp is pleased with it, too. “Jimmy said, ‘We’ve done quite a lot of garage conversions, but this one stands out for being successful,’” she says with a laugh.

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