New Construction Driveway/Garage Orientation?

cyngarFebruary 15, 2012

We're building a new house in Michigan on 40 acres. The land is level to rolling and the driveway will be 450 ft off the road. There are no neighbors immediately to the front or sides so the views are open and beautiful. The front of the house will be South facing. My question is about our garage orientation and driveway. Which looks better? Should we stick with a side entry or go with a front entry with nice carriage style doors? And should the approach be straight or winding? Both would be options given our building site. I even considered a rear entry like the bottom pic, although that would pose a problem getting guests to use the front foyer. Snow-plowing will be a factor so I'd like to not have too much more driveway than what I already have. We'll also build a detached 28x32 garage to store extras and I'd be interested in your opinions about siting it in relation to either a front or side entry garage. Below are three elevations that we're considering. Thanks.

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I have very strong feelings about this issue, admittedly not everyone does.
When house hunting I wouldn't even consider front facing garage neighborhoods.
I don't like the looks of everyone parked out front or on the street. Its too cluttered with cars, boats, bikes and toys everywhere. I detest the front opening garages because the whole world sees the inside of the garage every time its open and people who don't park their cars in the garage park out front or on the street often blocking sidewalks too.
It just makes a place look trashy to me. YMMV.

My first choice is rear garages.

Second choice is the side entrance/swing drive. Its less cluttered looking from the street, your garage insides are kept more private and you have longer driveways to accommodate guests so they don't have to park on the street.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 11:43AM
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Hands down, hands down, hands down NOT the front entry! ...because of everything Melvalena said.

The rear entry is great looking, but it invites the need for a separate guest parking area, thus more expense and more drive. ...which is fine if the resources and desires are there.

The side entry is a fine compromise... looks good and costs less than rear entry.

The only reason front entry has become "popular" is not because of improved appearance, but because of cost savings. It's definitely a sacrifice of appearance--and looks it--in today's pricier world.

Btw, love your "Southern Living" looking home styles...especially the first one.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 12:09PM
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Thanks Yardvaark and melvalena - That first one is my wife's favorite also. As to seeing everything inside of open garages, I hate that look too, although since we keep our garage doors closed and we'll have a 450 ft long driveway which sits off a dead end road, I wouldn't expect a front entry garage to be that bad looking. Additionally, I have a two-stall detached garage to site somewhere in relation to this side entry attached garage. Typically it's faced 90 degrees and slightly to the rear of the house with garage doors facing the street so that you can back out of the attached garage onto the apron of the detached garage. Any thoughts on that? Here's the plan for the detached garage.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:46PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

The fine thing about having 40 acres is be the ability to turn the house to face any view or direction you wish, with plenty of guest parking at a convenient location along the drive, and utilitarian spaces such as garages tucked around the side or back. There is no rule that the front of the house must face the street.

If I think of all those Masterpiece Theater opening scenes of the vintage car driving up to "the house". Would yours be glimpsed through the trees and beyond a rise as the car follows the contours of the land? Or would it be the imposing stately home at the end of a long, straight, tree-lined drive with the servants all turned out to greet the Lord of the land? Yes, I'm exaggerating, but there are reasons for these cliches -- as far as design goes, they work. It just depends on what you want. Oh, and the carriage house is never out front in a Masterpiece Theater episode. ;-)

Of the three house designs, 1 and 3 are better than 2, but they all look standard-issue, nothing really grabs me about any of them. Who's going to wash all those little windowpanes? ;-)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 2:18PM
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Washing windowpanes? Ha. That's for the hired That'd be me although we'll go with more the craftsman style window with fewer panes. The way our land is, the views will be great with the front of the house facing South so a nice deep front porch is crucial. Noted on the detached garage...out back it goes. Thanks.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 2:27PM
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Another possibility for the detached garage is OPPOSING the attached garage so that the drive way between the two becomes like a courtyard. It could be backed with some nice landscape feature, such as a lattice screen (not the junk, of course!) with nice columns/posts, if privacy beyond it were desired. Or that back-of-courtyard space could frame a nice view beyond, if an "invitation" into the beyond were desired. With such an arrangement, you would always be looking at side of garages (which can be made to look very nice) as you approach the house.

...although since we keep our garage doors closed ...I wouldn't expect a front entry garage to be that bad looking. Front entry garages tend to become the predominant architectural feature of a home since they are so large. Unfortunately, garage doors (unless one spends great big bucks) are generally not an interesting feature. And little trees cannot be planted in front of them to make them look better.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:35PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

The problem with having the detached garage directly opposite from the attached one is that it limits the maneuvering room between the two. The normal arrangement around here is for the detached garage to be at about a 135� angle from the attached one. That way it isn't facing straight down the drive, but isn't blocking getting in/out.

Part of this may be because the second garage is for towed toys, which can require some tricky driving.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:45PM
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I'm not a fan of what I call "garage houses", where the (usually huge) attached garages are facing the street and set forward such that the garage is the dominating feature of the house (and the driveway pad takes up half or more of the front yard). BUT, I don't think that street facing garages are ugly as a rule either. I think front facing garages can be tasteful and attractive, but if you have the flexibility (which you obviously do) and don't want to see garage doors from the street, then of course side facing is a great option.

I personally don't mind the garage elevation of house #2, though there is no reason why, if you went with the street facing option, you would have to do away with an attractive front entry walkway (as in pictures #1 & #3) and replace it with a walkway cutting across from the driveway to the front door. Also, if they were mine I would probably paint the garage doors the same color as the body of the house so as not to make them focal points. I like how there are 2 garage doors rather than one big wide one... maybe because it reminds me of our garage :) Our (two car) garage faces the street, but it is set back further than the front of our house and detached from the house. Also, our driveway is one car width from the street, only widening to two car width up near the garage doors, with a strip of pea gravel between the concrete treads at the street end of our driveway to break up the monotony of the concrete. I know that option isn't for everyone (kids like to play and ride their bikes through the pea gravel strip so it does need occasional sweeping), but to me it's way more attractive than a wide strip of of concrete so it's worth it. And of course the narrower driveway allows a lot more space for gardening ;)

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 5:05AM
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All - Thank you for the inputs. Last week, DW and I decided on a completely different floorplan. We'll most likely reverse the plan so the garage is on the right. This suits our site much better and it will give us a nice approach to the house from the road. We're going to hold-off adding the outbuilding for now, but give consideration to its placement when siting this house.

I know there's been some discussion on garage doors and how they can be ugly. Our plan will be to have two separate wood or wood toned carriage style doors with attractive finishing. They will be very complimentary of the overall elevations, which I don't have yet. We hope to get those from the architect very soon.

Uploaded with

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 7:39AM
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Should have posted this on the previous post. This first picture is facing NW. Although not shown in this picture, the approach to the house will from the left of where this picture was taken and the build site is on a level area in the upper left corner. The woods in the distance will be 30-40 yards behind the house.

The second picture is pretty close, not exactly, of what our view will be from the front of the house. We'll actually be sited well-right of that scrubby stuff. I'll post better pics later. Thanks.

By dcranger at 2012-02-22

By dcranger at 2012-02-22

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 8:05AM
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I have a couple of thoughts. From an aesthetic perspective I agree with the earlier statements about the garage doors being on the side or back of the house. If they are on the side, that makes for a very good snow plow situation in which the area in front of the garage doors can be cleared without back dragging. If you put the garage doors on the side, you will have to shovel or snowplow a path the entire length of the garage for guests/deliveries to the entrance. I have lived in houses with both situations and for the shoveling reason I greatly prefer the garage doors on the front of the house, with minimal shoveling. Perhaps the snow is not as much of an issue where you are, but here it the main issue. I have worked on landscapes where the plow guy was consulted about the driveway arrangement (and some pretty bad situations where he wasn't consulted).

I am assuming construction hasn't started and I wonder whether you considered have your house face the other way. Generally most of the living goes on towards the back of a house like this, there are more windows in the back and there is a deck. Why would you not want that part of the house south facing? Not only is it more enjoyable, it helps with passive heating if the southern exposure hits more windows. A deck on the north side of a house is probably not a great idea. If you do change the orientation of you house, also consider that you do not want the entrance of the garage on the north side also, unless you are a fan of permafrost along the garage entrance.

Here's a video that kinda relates - entertaining, but it may be too many inside jokes?

Here is a link that might be useful: In NH we take our plow guy pretty seriously.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 10:58AM
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Hee, our modern lives are held hostage by burly guys with power tools - snowplowers, contractors, plumbers, mechanics....

I think that I am in a minority here. Function over form for me, especially if the style of the garage is coherent with the rest of the house.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 11:56AM
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drtygrl - Not sure if you read the entire post, but the front of the house will be facing due South. It might have been confusing on my previous post. All the porches and living areas will be in the front.

And growing up in northern MN I know all about shoveling.:) This house will be built in Northern MI and yes snowplowing my 450 ft driveway has been factored in. However, I do all my own plowing and snowblowing... none of this being held hostage by others.... :)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 12:43PM
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I did read the original post - I just thought the back of the house should face south. There are a lot of ways to look at it, but with a deck in back, a larger square footage and the kitchen in the back, that is the side I would choose to have facing south. I might even revisit the floor plan and put more of the "utility rooms" towards the front of the house so you could take more advantage of the southern exposure.

Its a fun journey you are on, keep telling yourself that! This is just the beginning of thousands of decisions you will have to make and you just really have to take measure of your own personal value of aesthetics and function. It hard to be really honest with yourself; but thats part of the process too.

I have to confess that I lived in a house for 10 years that had a north facing back, a side garage and a long walkway to shovel. Now we live in a house in which the back faces south. The garage is on the front. We 'snowblow' the drive and 10 feet of walkway. In the winter, the heat rarely comes on during the daytime, because we have so much passive solar heating. 90% of our time in this house is spent in the kitchen, bedroom and living room(with no tv) which face the south. When its not winter, and sometimes when it is, we spend so much time on the deck that the house painters suggested I move my bed out there(unfortunately its too buggy for that- but when i build a screen room... :)
In this house in which the back faces south, not only do we save on heating costs, I believe we have on average an hour more of daylight each day across the year. Partially because it is much more open than our old house in the same town, but also because the house was designed to take advantage of the southern exposure.

If you are a reader I would check out The Pattern Language in designing your plans. Its a strange book, but addresses patterns of design that enhance living.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 1:07PM
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Thanks drtygrl. That's an interesting perspective. DW and I have been on this journey for a very long time. We absolutely love the build site and the floorplan the way it's oriented. It took us a long time to find a plan that we both loved. It's exactly the way we envision living on that space. In the back of the house, which will get pretty decent northern exposure, we'll have a large uncovered patio for entertaining. Covered decks and patios on the North side of the house, as you know, make for very dark interior rooms. The front will have covered porches to entertain and to keep the hot sun out of the living room and the bedrooms, but yet allow plenty of light.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 3:08PM
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