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New directions for the family garage

Here's the challenge: to make garages larger, yet to make them disappear.

We need big garages _ for our multiple vehicles, for our stuff, to satisfy deed restrictions that prohibit leaving cars on the street or in the driveway overnight.

Yet "buyers want architects to stop practicing garage architecture," Orlando architect Don Evans of the Evans Group said last weekend. He spoke at the Southeast Building Conference, an annual get-together of those who work in the residential construction industry in 10 Southeastern states. "They're tired of the auto and the garage directing their lives."

He showed a slide of a Texas house: a 1,900-square-foot home with a 1,370-square-foot, six-car garage.

Evans and other architects offered suggestions on providing the garage space buyers want and need, yet hiding it and keeping it from dominating the exterior of the house.

Here's one way: a one-car driveway that leads to what Evans called a sports court _ essentially a playground where you might put up a basketball backboard or paint some street hockey stripes _ in front of a detached two-car garage.

Evans also offered a design he said Inland Homes will be building at Westchase: a one-car garage separated from a two-car by that same sports court.

Both designs get the garage away from the front of the house and create a protected place for kids to play.

Deryl Patterson, regional director for Bloodgood Sharp Buster architects in Jacksonville, suggested pushing the garage back from the front of the house and creating a porte-cochere, or covered parking area, in front of it.

She also likes tandem garages, where one car (or boat) parks behind another rather than side by side. And as the parent of three children, she likes to design garages with a bike zone, where cars and bicycles are not on a collision course.

All this, she said, isn't just for lavish mansions. Just because people live in smaller houses, she said, "doesn't mean they don't have cars."

Broom closets sweep back in style

The clutter and practicality of daily life came in for some rethinking as architects exchanged design ideas at the builders' conference. Patterson and her fellow panelists liked the idea of kitchen pantries, where, she said, "you can add storage cheaper than installing cabinetry." But they acknowledged that those wire shelves everybody installs require a clear plastic liner so items don't fall through or fall over.

"We forgot about brooms and vacuums," admitted Greg Wissman, an architect with Barton Associates in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., outside Philadelphia, as he took up the cause of the broom closet.

How about a place for all those rechargeables: the flashlight, the screwdriver, the cordless vacuum? We need a shelf with a strip of outlets.

And those separate toilet rooms that are virtually universal in every master bathroom: Has anyone ever thought to install storage there, Patterson asked. Don't you need an extra roll of toilet paper there as much as anywhere, if not more so?

As for entertainment centers, great idea, the design team said, but don't forget room for all the associated stuff: the tapes, the TV magazine, the remotes, the CDs.

In a sign of the times, Wissman said his 4-year-old daughter, who has known nothing but compact discs, asked him the other day, "Daddy, what's the flip side?"

Inside assessment: weathering storms

Florida's Department of Community Affairs last weekend announced another step in making homes more hurricane-worthy. Several homes in South Florida and the Panhandle will be inspected and retrofitted to withstand natural disasters. Then they'll be equipped with a monitoring system: pressure sensors, a non-interruptable power supply, and a video camera to capture how the house reacts to hurricane-force winds and to track any damage to the house.

The idea is that by comparing the retrofitted homes to others, it will be easier to see what works, what helps and what doesn't.

Meanwhile, speaking of natural disasters, marketing to consumers' fears won't disappear with the end of hurricane season in November.

A vendor of solar-powered products was recommending them as a way to dodge the potential Y2K "threat of rationed power." Happy new year!