It's hard to pick a household space with, at least to neighbors and passersby, a more public persona. Nowhere do mess and clutter speak louder about the occupant's organizational skills and tastes, or lack thereof.
With more than 65 million one-, two- or three-car garages in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, the potential for residential eyesores is enormous.
The good folks in the enclave of Germantown, Tenn., know the repercussions of junky garages. Homeowner association officials there have floated the idea of mandating garage doors remain closed at all times, lest anyone become outraged by unsightly heaps of stuff.
Tom Baker of St. Paul, Minn., can relate. For Baker and his wife Kathy, the breaking point was "the mess, with everything in total disarray, and we couldn't find anything" among lawn and garden tools and other gadgets strewn across the floor and jammed into corners.
The Baker' epiphany mirrors what Chris Hubbuch sees as housing's trend du jour: the lowly garage has been elevated to room status. Hubbuch, marketing manager for Gladiator Garage Works, cites several factors for the evolution of the garage from also-ran to poster child for tidy homes.
Once household repositories for anything and everything, basements were transformed to media rooms. Surplus stuff had to go somewhere. Clutter simply moved upstairs next to, around and above the cars. For homeowners without basements, the garage is storage central.
But there's a catch once garages go high rent. Hubbuch says as a garage ceases to be overflow storage, "it becomes part of the house and becomes family space" and this is no longer just a "guy place."
"It becomes a shared responsibility and needs to meet the standards the family -- principally the wife -- sets for other rooms in the house."
This puts garages squarely in the bull's-eye of room one-upmanship.
"Ultimately, people have pride in all their rooms, including the garage," says Hubbuch. "And they want theirs to be better looking than the neighbor's."
As they've done in virtually every other room to keep up with the Joneses, consumers aren't afraid to spend mightily to make the garage a showpiece. Hence, the rapid growth in the garage organization and decor category. Companies have been quick to recognize the trend and are trying to make the garage at least work better if not look better.
As with other rooms in the house where big bucks are spent in a heartbeat, consumers can spend a little or a lot on garage upgrades.
Homeowners can spend as little as $50 on basic wall storage. From there, the sky's the limit, cost-wise. The Gladiator approach is a complete grow-as-you-go modular system from walls to corners and ceilings and even snazzy flooring and refrigerators.
Other firms, such as Case Logic, give homeowners a $10 entry price point for basic wall storage that slips between bare wall studs or can be affixed directly to drywall atop studs.
The Bakers started slowly but have spent more than $2,000 on Gladiator products to fuel their garage makeover.
To Tom Baker, it's a matter of organization going high-style.
"It really had to look good, but there had to be total flexibility to add as we went along," says Baker.
Both Baker and his wife make no bones about the newfound status of their upgraded garage.
"It's an integral part of our home now," he says, adding they plan to host the neighborhood block party because neighbors continually comment on the tidiness and style of their garage.