“Where shall I put the golf clubs?” became a pressing question for the world’s super-rich about five years ago, when high-end property developers first added swanky garages to the list of must-have extras. Today, agents from London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Singapore juggle particulars of ever more gaudy “super-garages”, designed to display and show off cars rather than merely protect them from the elements.
The trend owes most to the growing appeal of supercars to the super wealthy, which, even when not being driven, must be shown off. “These are pieces of art, treated like the architecture to enhance the aesthetic of a home,” says Billy Rose, of real estate brokerage The Agency in Los Angeles.
Car fleets are expanding, says Paul Finnegan of Savills UK’s country division. In St George’s Hill and Wentworth, north Surrey’s dacha-mansion inhabitants typically have at least three vehicles: a sports car — most likely a Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin — a Bentley and one of the latest Range Rovers, together worth £500,000. In Los Angeles, that is abstinence. “Here it’s more like a watch collection: you will have several sports cars and several SUVs, driving out the one that fits your mood for the day,” says Rose.
Frequently, a feature garage exhibits the show cars while the workaday vehicles are stowed out of sight in a more utilitarian underground lock up.
Dwindling driving opportunities may also be to blame. Owners are more shy about taking their prize cars out these days, says David Lillywhite, editor of Octane Magazine. The reasons are that such cars tend to be worth more today (Bonhams auctioned a vintage Ferrari 250 GTO for $38m in August last year), there is more traffic on the road, and most classic-car owners now lack the confidence to get under the bonnets when their prized vehicles break down.
In the finest super-garages the prize of any collection is presented on a mechanical turntable. Whether turntables should ever have been released from the strip-lit confines of the world’s motor shows is debatable. In the UK they tend to be restricted to cramped driveways, addressing tight turning circles for stretched Mercedes or aiding those too busy ever to have learnt to reverse park.
Yet in the garages of super-affluent petrolheads across the US, prized motors are set in perpetual circular motion on rotating plinths. The owners and his (invariably) male friends gaze respectfully, holding cocktails mixed at the bar of the adjacent “men’s lounges”, themselves a far cry from the man-caves their fathers once tinkered in.
The interiors of these garages owe more to premium nightclubs than automotive history. Walls are lined with bevelled mirrors, suede, and metallic crocodile tiles finished with rose-gold grouting. Lighting follows nightclub rules, too: multiple LED-states range from the brilliant to the moody, each designed best to flatter the inhabitants, and help composite-plastic look natural and authentic.
Go big on the interior and a new garage in Los Angeles could set you back $1m. Those designed by Gavin Brodin, Beverly Hills-based creative director of property developer Domvs London, sell for between $500 and $1,000 per sq ft. If you are somebody who needs eight cars (to match all those watches and moods), you’ll need at least 1,000 sq ft to park them. Prices in the UK are more restrained, says Finnegan, but don’t expect to find a super-garage on a Surrey property for less than £8m.
Vintage supercars, which are increasingly popular holiday-home accessories, impose special challenges on villa garages. The recent boom in vintage car prices has added an investment case — not that one were needed — to a favourite indulgence, and buying briefs for holiday villas increasingly require housing for classic car collections, says Alasdair Pritchard at Knight Frank. The land that gave the world the Ferrari (and, in The Italian Job, got minis from Michael Caine in return) is a magnet for vintage car rallies beloved of the super-rich, many of whom favour Tuscany as a base. But, potholed roads, ubiquitous dust and salt air make conditions treacherous for classics in Italy. Many of Pritchard’s buyers trade the rustic charm of cobbled or dirt drives for paved road access and line their garages with air-conditioned inflatable plastic shells, quarantining the contents from dust and moisture.
Recently, the super-garage has taken to the skies. In the centre of Singapore, the Hamilton Scotts development, where units start at $10m, lays claim to being the world’s leading garage in the sky. After drivers have got out and had their fingerprints scanned, twin lifts simultaneously deliver them to their sitting room and their car to the adjacent garage. A glass wall separating one from the other means owner and vehicle need never lose sight of each other; the garage itself even has external windows.
In New York, 200 Eleventh Avenue has seen its sky garages embraced by celebrities to stay ahead of the paparazzi. Owners, who have included Nicole Kidman, drive off the street and straight into the lift, without having to leave their car, before ascending to the garage, which is — as in Singapore — situated next to the apartment. Twilight star Robert Pattinson toured the three-bedroom penthouse last November but couldn’t be tempted; following a recent £3m price drop it is still on the market for $19.5m.
There is fun to be had underground, too. With basic above-ground garages in Knightsbridge selling for between £350,000 and £450,000 per space, car lifts supplying underground garages are common. The real engineering brilliance is to be found in “shufflers”. Three of the last five garages that Brodin has built in London have featured these underground rotisseries — typically Italian or German designs that stack between two and four cars after (presumably) the driver has disembarked. You’ll pay between $350,000 and $500,000 for one of these gadgets and easily $1m after you’ve dug your hole and fitted it. The UK’s biggest will be at London’s Rathbone Square development and will be able to shuffle 79 cars for the 142 apartments when it is completed in 2017.
Fortunately — or not — super-garages aren’t only for the super-rich. The spirit of the open road has recently spawned live-in communities of enthusiasts at “private garage condominium complexes”. AutoMotorPlex, in Chanhassen, Minnesota, which founder Bruno Silikowski claims is the original, stores about 1,000 vehicles in 146 garages. These typically measure 1,500 to 2,000 sq ft and, according to Silikowski, cost more than $150,000 for the basic shells, which owners then often kit out with sprawling bars, sitting rooms, bedroom suites and wine cellars. One owner has sunk more than $600,000 into his garage.
The interiors are often lovingly customised combinations of classic auto-enthusiast Americana, deep-pile carpet and scattered plasma screens. Antique livery signs, old fuel pumps and chrome body parts refashioned into tables jostle with diner-themed breakfast bars and home cinemas.
The tenants of AutoMotorPlex may not be able to compete with Jay Leno — the US talk-show host’s huge Los Angeles hangar houses 130 cars (and 93 motorbikes) including some of the world’s oldest and most valuable — but they are an engaging, quirky lot. Gene and Marge Nelson house two snowmobiles, two motorcycles and two scooters in their chrome-lined “fun cave” at AutoMotorPlex. On the promotional video Marge demonstrates the flush on a silver-tiled urinal, while lauding the wonders of the “staycations” the couple regularly enjoy.
Condo complexes may yet arrive in the UK. Bicester Heritage, on an old RAF base outside Oxford, set the tone last year, opening the UK’s first “park for the restoration, storage and enjoyment of vintage and classic cars”, which includes specialist garage storage facilities, club rooms and accommodation.
Even for the super-rich, off-site garages are gaining traction. Joe Macari who sells new and vintage supercars in south London estimates that half of his customers now have garage complexes within a short drive of their home, where they can tinker uninterrupted by family, before settling down to watch a Grand Prix with their friends. Some of them even keep their golf clubs there.
Properties for petrolheads
UK: Saddle Stones, St George’s Hill, Weybridge, £9.5m
What A six-bedroom, new-build mansion on Surrey’s premier private estate, with staff quarters and an outdoor pool. The property is 10 miles from Heathrow airport and 24 miles from central London.
Why There is a car turntable that offers easy access to the property’s plush, mirror-lined triple garage.
Who Savills, savills.com, tel: +44 1932 838 005
New York: Penthouse One, 200 Eleventh Avenue, $19.5m
What A three-bedroom, 3,600 sq ft penthouse apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood with a retractable glass floor providing alternative access to the master bedroom. The property is a stone’s throw from the Hudson river and 17 miles from JFK airport.
Why Beat the paparazzi with the property’s drive-in garage-lift which takes you to the en-suite sky garage.
Who Ryan Serhant, nestseekers.com, tel: +1 646 443 3739
Los Angeles: 864 Stradella Road, $55m
What A seven-bedroom, 12-bathroom, family house in Bel-Air.
Why The nine-car garage has the sheen of a Hollywood nightclub.
Who Hilton & Hyland, hiltonhyland.com, tel: +1 310 278 3311
Singapore: Hamilton Scotts, Scotts Road, $8.2m
What A three-bedroom, 2,700 sq ft, mid-floor apartment in a 56-unit high-rise. Adjacent to the buzz of Orchard Road and 22km from the airport.
Why Twin-berth parking in the sky.
Who Raymond Giam, tel: +65 9067 8042
France: Rue de Grenelle 7th Arrondisement, Paris, €4.4m
What A two-bedroom apartment in a townhouse near the Palais des Invalides.
Why The house can be accessed via an underground garage, so you can come and go incognito — ideal for President Hollande’s night-time scooter sorties.
Who Knight Frank, knightfrank.com, tel: +44 20 7861 5034
Photographs: Sandy Huffaker/Eyevine; Alex Bellus; René Quabbe/Wöhr Parking Systems
Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published