Right at home...in the garage!

A dark and drab garage gets transformed into a functional and fabulous living space

Story by Amy Newman
Photography by Residential & Design Photography

Tara and Gary Oberts knew a renovation was in store when they purchased their three-story Soldotna home in 2015. The top floor had two spacious bedrooms for the couple and their young daughter, but the lower level bedrooms were less than ideal for their soon-to-be teenaged son. The second-floor bedroom was small, and although perfect for soaking up the home’s lake views, the wall-to-wall windows made the space too bright for sleeping. The lower level bedroom was even worse – garage space that had been converted into a cramped, poorly lit room with a Murphy bed.

Key Contributors

Design, Furnishings & Faux Painting:
Designer Interiors
Carpentry & Custom Furniture:
Schrock Construction
Painting & Drywall:
Accent Color
Rug Bones
DeWayne's Electric
Bar Cabinetry:
Home Depot
Custom Cabinetry:
Knock on Wood
Quartz Countertops:
North Coast Countertops
Doors & Windows:
South Central Windows, Doors & Hardware
Stace Strouse
Rug Binding:
Scott's Floor Covering
Paint & Stain:
Sherwin Williams

In the end, the bottom level (garage area) got the green light for a renovation. The couple’s goal was to create a spacious bedroom for their son, an inviting space for the family to entertain, and a guest room for relatives. With the help of Chanda Wahl of Designer Interiors in Soldotna, what they got was a beautiful, functional living/entertainment space that incorporates their homesteading past.

A teenager’s haven

Creating a bedroom for their son, Jared, was the couple’s main priority.

“Here’s our daughter upstairs in a princess loft with a nice balcony, and our son down in a cave,” Tara says with a laugh. “It wasn’t cool.”

To create a comfortable sleeping space that could double as a hangout for Jared and his friends, Chanda divided the one-car garage (a space partially walled off from the rest of the garage) into one large and one small bedroom. Jared’s bedroom was set in the front of the space, Chanda says, to take better advantage of the natural light.

A custom-built desk, full-size loft bed and elevated reading nook maximize the bedroom’s space, giving Jared plenty of room to hang out with his friends. A slider door separates the bedroom from the main living space, and the old closet door was repainted and repurposed as a barn door, further maximizing space and adding a rustic element to the room.

“It turned out really well,” Tara says. “It’s cozy, and there’s not all this bright light. And, in the summer it’s cooler. He loves it.”

Bringing the family together

The Oberts wanted a comfortable space for the family to relax, something Tara says was missing from the upstairs levels. The initial plan had been to convert only the one-car garage portion of the lower level, but Chanda convinced them to utilize the entire space. Once she did, the wish list began to grow.

“They love to entertain, so they wanted a bar area, a place to play cards, and that little kitchenette area,” Chanda says.

While the wants were quickly identified, the room’s overall design scheme didn’t come so easily.

Tara says they knew they wanted a rustic-looking wood floor, barn doors, and some way to incorporate an old sauerkraut barrel Gary had rescued from the family homestead. An old pair of snowshoes, a sled, and metal milk jugs the couple unearthed on another trip to the homestead convinced them that rustic Alaska was the way to go.

That rustic feel is incorporated throughout the entire downstairs space, starting with the luxury vinyl plank flooring. Chanda stacked blue and red pallets to create a divider wall in the kitchenette, decorating it with hubcaps from the homestead. An old wine barrel was repurposed into a two-person table. Corrugated metal Gary and Tara dug up from the homestead covers the front of the 10-seat curved bar; blasting the sheet metal on the bar’s back side gave it a rusty patina that complemented the vintage metal on the front, Chanda says.

Adding to the room’s homespun feel is a ceiling beam wrapped in used cannery wood; Chanda used the same wood to create a custom television cabinet.

Darker colors on the walls and ceiling made the room warm and inviting, and “visually brings that ceiling down and gives the room more proportion,” Chanda says. Pendant lights replaced the fluorescent bulbs throughout the space, completing the transformation.

Tara says the space is exactly what the family needed.

“It’s worked out so that we can have a place where we can all come together,” she says. “When we go down there we can all get cozy, we can play games, we can eat dinner. We didn’t have that in this house before.”


Having space for visiting guests and to entertain was as important as creating a family space. To accommodate that, Chanda moved the Murphy bed into the smaller bedroom, which now doubles as a guest bedroom and storage space for Tara’s teaching supplies. Chanda gave the sliding doors in the room a distressed look to tie in to the level’s new rustic feel.

Adding the bar and kitchenette brought an added bonus the Oberts hadn’t considered at the start of the project – the patio is right off the garage, making backyard entertaining that much easier.

Tara says when renovations began, she and Gary were simply looking to make a divided space more functional. What they got was so much more.

“It’s gorgeous,” she says of the space. “I look at it and think, ‘Wow.’ We didn’t want it to be beautiful, but it turned out that way.”