The car has been one of the major influences on home design since World War I. Recently, however, there has been an effort to de-emphasize the garage in the design of single-family houses.

Buyers want as much as a three-car garage, but because of security and aesthetic concerns they don't want it to be as visible as garages have been in the past. They also want part of those garages to be flexible space - for home offices, playrooms, or guest bedrooms.

Builders and architects are responding accordingly. Garages are being built on the sides of houses or in courtyard arrangements, if the lots can accommodate them.

If they are being built facing the street, they are designed to appear as if they are separate from the line of the rest of the construction, or to replicate the "carriage house" quality of older residences.

Before World War II, most single-family houses were built with detached garages. People who owned existing single-family houses, especially those with large lots, built one-car garages behind their homes, connected to the street by driveways carved from side yards.

There were a couple of reasons for this. Early garages were modeled on the stables and carriage houses of the well-to-do. The rich had acquired automobiles first and had merely stored them in these outbuildings.

The second reason centers on the income of the home buyer in the first five decades of the century. Now, about 67 percent of Americans own their own homes. Until World War II, only 25 percent did, according to U.S. Census figures, because mortgages were not widely available and most people had to save for years to buy a house.

The postwar building boom changed that. A mass-produced house in Levittown, N.Y., in 1947 cost $7,000, purchased with a Veterans Administration loan. It also came with a garage attached, because houses were being built on smaller lots to keep down costs.

In 1950, more than half of the houses built had no garage or carport. By 1999, only 12 percent of residential construction came without a place for the car.

Forty-one percent of all houses built in 1950 had one-car garages. By 1970, 22 percent had one-car garages, while 39 percent had two-car garages.

By 1990, 72 percent of new houses came with two-car garages, and the two-car garage was standard in 55 percent of American homes, census figures show. By 1995, 76 percent of new homes had at least a two-car garage.

Many houses are being built with three-car garages, but the extra space, especially in areas where houses don't have basements, is readily convertible to other uses.

Price range dictates the size and flexibility of such spaces. The ideal location for two-car garages is now on the side of the house, out of view of the street. Whether buyers get that depends on whether they can pay for it.

Though the two-car garage is standard, many higher-end buyers, $400,000 and above, want three-car garages. It remains an option for most builders.

Two-car garages are fast becoming standard features in townhouses, which have long had a garage for one car. Again the issue is enough room for storage and housing one car.

The tendency to de-emphasize manifests itself in different ways.

Some upper-end builders have left the two-car garage in front of the house, but they have designed it so the space looks like a separate building. These garages often have flex space above the bays and are designed to look like old-fashioned carriage houses rather than garages, which meshes with the home-buying public's longing for tradition in design, construction and decor.

In other areas of the country, flex space is standard in garage areas, especially if a third bay in a garage is involved.

Older houses without garages have a built-in disadvantage when they go up for sale, especially in urban areas where on-street parking can be a risk. Insurance rates tend to be lower for homeowners who can house their cars off-street and in garages.

If you have additional space on your lot to accommodate one, you can either purchase a kit to build a garage yourself or hire a contractor to do the work.

A typical job for contractors specializing in this market involves adding a second garage or enlarging an existing structure.

Cars have gotten bigger over the years, so some 10-foot-wide garages are too small. Even some new houses have smaller garages than they should.

Experts suggest that a good one-car garage should be 12 feet by 22 feet, while a two-car garage should be 22 feet by 27 feet.

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