For This Architect, the Garage Isn’t an Afterthought
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For This Architect, the Garage Isn’t an Afterthought

Patrick Ahearn designs carriage houses and car barns for automobile enthusiasts.

By Nancy Keates
Fri, Aug 27, 2021 11:45amGrey Clock 6 min

When Patrick Ahearn was growing up in Long Island in the 1950s and 1960s, he became obsessed with cars. He knew every model down to its hub caps, which he would render in intricate drawings.

But a high-school guidance counsellor discouraged his dream of being a car designer, telling him he’d need to get an engineering degree, and suggested architecture instead.

Now, Mr. Ahearn, 71, is a nationally known architect, famous for his many hundreds of often large, New England style, classic houses that stylistically blend into the background on Martha’s Vineyard, Wellesley and up and down Cape Cod. His goal is to make the homes appear timeless and authentic, as if they have been there forever—to give them what he refers to as “implied history.”

His projects tend to look alike, and they are easily identifiable as his work. They often include large, luxurious car barns and carriage houses filled with vintage cars. Many of his clients are baby boomer men who share his automotive enthusiasm and become his friends.

“The garage has to be as nice as the rest of the house,” says David Malm, 57, managing partner of a private-equity firm, who has owned several homes and car barns designed by Mr. Ahearn. “You don’t want to go from a house with millwork and brick into a garage with slab concrete and plaster on the walls. It’s jarring,” Mr. Malm says.

Mr. Malm’s Ahearn-designed, stand-alone car barn on Martha’s Vineyard is on a property he bought for around $4 million in 2019. It has brick floors in a herringbone pattern, wood beams and a club-like area with leather chairs, a bar and a television and living spaces upstairs. He is currently renting it out, but usually he keeps his red 1971 MG there. He also has a carriage house in Dover, Mass., part of a $2 million home renovation and new garage project, where he keeps his three Aston Martins. “They’re such beautiful cars. You have to put them somewhere nice,” he says.

Mr. Ahearn says the lines of his garages, like many of the homes he designs, are inspired by classic cars, with roof overhangs that nod to streamlined headlights and windows with frames like the teeth of a 1960 Corvette’s grille. He is inspired by the simple, timeless designs and the time period they represent. “The world was a better place in the 1950s,” he says.

He matches the car a person drives to the project he designs for them, using it as part of the narrative, or script, he creates for how the person lives, which he says helps them pick appropriate fixtures and materials.

“I can tell a lot about a person by their car. Sometimes it determines whether I do their house or not,” says Mr. Ahearn, who has blue eyes, a thick moustache and wears button down shirts and blue blazers.

He tells of one client, the CEO of a major office supply company, who drove a beat-up Toyota Corolla. “That told me a lot about how cheap he was,” says Mr. Ahearn. Throughout the design process, the client was always questioning the cost of the materials and fixtures. “I had to educate him on why it’s not just a vanilla box,” he says.

He recently asked the client, did he still own the Corolla? He did. “He says he’s just not a car guy,” says Mr. Ahearn, throwing up his hands.

Chris Ruggles, 52, a retired software engineer who is a “car guy,” hired Mr. Ahearn to design a 1,200-square-foot carriage house in Wellesley. He knew about Mr. Ahearn’s affinity for cars because every carriage house he liked was designed by him. “He has an easily recognizable style,” says Mr. Ruggles.

The one Mr. Ahearn designed for Mr. Ruggles, for about $600,000, has brick floors, white beadboard walls, a high ceiling and leather chairs for hanging out. The exterior, with its dormers, shutters and shingled roof, makes it look like another house. The doors look like old fashioned carriage house doors but swing open automatically.

Mr. Ruggles likes to spend time sitting quietly in the carriage house, sometimes listening to music, just being around his Albert Blue 1970 Porsche 911E, his Signal Orange 1984 Porsche 911 RSR Tribute and his Old English White 1960 MGA Roadster.

“It’s a Zen thing. It’s relaxing,” he says. His wife, Christina Ruggles, has recently started having dinner parties in the garage among the cars with her friends. “It’s turned out to be a nice little event space,” he says.

The parties that Martha’s Vineyard real-estate broker and contractor Gerret Conover, 58, holds in his Ahearn-designed car barn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard are wilder: he dresses up mannequins and seats them in his silver 1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible and his Pearl White 1967 Pontiac GTO.

In Mr. Conover’s garage, which cost about $450,000 to build, the signature Ahearn brick floors accommodate a car lift, the cathedral ceiling houses a massive chandelier, and the walls—premium grade pine with eight coats of varnish—are crowded with what he calls “automobilia”: early to-Mid 20th Century enamel and neon service station signs and vintage calendars. An old Mobil gas station pump and a soda machine complete the look.

Mr. Ahearn’s own 2-acre compound in Wellesley has three separate garage spaces and centres around a 1936 farmhouse he bought for $525,000 in 1991 and renovated, adding two wings, all painted it in his signature Ahearn white (half Benjamin Moore Linen White, half Benjamin Moore China White).

In 2011 he bought an adjacent property for $825,000 and built two new garage spaces: A carriage house and a car barn, for a total of around $2 million. The carriage house’s old-fashioned looking Essex Green stable doors automatically swing open to reveal the four most-prized of his 18 cars (a number that’s always changing, as he buys and sells them): a 968 American Motors AMC AMX in Matador red, a 1956 Ford Thunderbird in peacock turquoise, a 1953 Studebaker Commander in regal red and a 1964 Studebaker Avanti in turquoise.

Mr. Ahearn’s car barn is 4,000-square-feet and has two-stories and a loft. The lower level is what he calls his sanctuary—where he works and hangs out, amid his 1958 365A Porsche Speedster in fjord green, his 1964 356 C Porsche coupe in dolphin grey and his 1970 280 SL Mercedes-Benz in beige grey. Three leather chairs, a big flat screen TV, an electric train set with a model Porsche dealership and dozens of little Porsche model cars, among a sea of other car memorabilia, set the mood.

The intersection of car design and architecture, sometimes dubbed “carchitecture,” goes back to when the first automobiles hit the road over a century ago, leaving a “lasting imprint on the design of our built environment,” according to the introduction to the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s current Automania exhibit. Le Corbusier compared car design to that of ancient Greek temples, while Frank Lloyd Wright, who was obsessed with cars and designing spaces for them, incorporated garages into signature homes like the Robie House in Chicago and Fallingwater outside Pittsburgh.

Nowadays, architects design condo buildings around cars, such as the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., where each of the 60 units has built-in parking in the apartment, separated from the living area by a glass wall to allow views of the vehicles.

Born in 1950, Mr. Ahearn grew up in Levittown, the planned production home community on Long Island developed by William Levitt that was composed of nearly identical Cape Cod—and ranch-style houses created for GIs returning from war. It was to the suburb what the Model T is to the car, says Mr. Ahearn: a pioneer of mass-produced good design that changed society. He credits the community for influencing his designs by making him appreciate the balance between density and scale and that warmth can accompany sparseness.

After graduating in 1973 from Syracuse University with undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture, the first in his family to attend college, Mr. Ahearn packed up his lime green VW Bus and headed to Boston, where a girlfriend was attending law school. He was hired at Architects Collaborative in Cambridge and Benjamin Thompson & Associates, where he worked on the adaptive reuse of Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

In 1978, he started his own practice, converting buildings to condos in Boston’s Back Bay and working on national and international hotel projects. He pivoted to renovating and building single family homes, expanding his now 21-person office to include Martha’s Vineyard in the 1990s, where he has designed hundreds of homes. His projects, ranging between $500,000 and $5 million, now span the country and Canada.

His second and current wife, Marsha Ahearn, had three young children when they met in 1987 and drove what Mr. Ahearn describes as an unremarkable blue Volvo station wagon. He married her anyway in 1989. “Í thought I could correct that,” he says.

Mrs. Ahearn doesn’t go into the garage spaces at her home in Wellesley very often. The series of 15 Chevrolet Suburbans she’s owned stay in the driveway. That is partly for convenience: Since the carriage house and the car barn aren’t connected to the house, they wouldn’t help protect her in rain and snow.

But it’s also that her cars just don’t fit. “I don’t get garage space,” she says


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Home values across Australia rose by a median 8 percent in FY24, delivering the equivalent of $59,000 in new capital growth to the two-thirds of the population that owns a home, according to CoreLogic data. Investors received total returns of 12.2 percent over the year, including capital gains and gross rental income.

Very tight supply and demand in most capital cities except Melbourne and Hobart was a significant driver of the capital growth, with the smaller and more affordable capital cities of Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide experiencing the most price appreciation over the year. A lack of properties for sale trumped the usual dampening effect of higher interest rates.

As usual, some areas outperformed their city’s median growth benchmark. Here are the top SA3 areas for capital growth in each capital city of Australia in FY24. SA3 areas are large suburbs, or districts incorporating clusters of suburbs, with more than 20,000 residents.



Home values across Sydney rose by a median 6.3 percent in FY24. The No. 1 area for growth was Mount Druitt. Its median value rose by 13.96 percent to $859,939. Mount Druitt is located 33km west of the CBD. It incorporates the suburbs of Mount Druitt, Ropes Crossing, Whalan and Minchinbury. The Mount Druitt community is very multicultural with almost one in two residents born overseas. It is home to many young families, with the median age of residents being 33 compared to the NSW median of 39.



Home values across Melbourne rose by a median 1.3 percent in FY24. The top area for capital growth was Moreland-North with 4.71 percent growth. This took the district’s median home value to $746,488. Moreland-North includes the suburbs of Hadfield, Pascoe Vale and Glenroy. It’s a multicultural community with a particularly large contingent of residents with Italian ancestry. One or both parents of 66 percent of residents were born overseas, according to the 2021 Census.



Home values across Brisbane rose by a median 15.8 percent in FY24. The No. 1 area for growth was Springwood-Kingston in Logan City. Its median value swelled by 25.55 percent to $710,569. Springwood-Kingston is approximately 22km south of Brisbane CBD. It incorporates the suburbs of Springwood, Kingston, Rochedale South and Slacks Creek. It is a multicultural community with one or both parents of 55 percent of the residents born overseas, according to the 2021 Census. More than 15 percent of residents have Irish or Scottish ancestry.



Home values across Adelaide rose by a median 15.4 percent in FY24. The best area for capital growth was Playford in Playford City. Its median value soared by 19.94 percent to $530,991. Playford is approximately 40km north of Adelaide. It incorporates the suburbs of Elizabeth Downs, Elizabeth Grove, Angle Vale and Virginia. It is home to many young people under the age of 40. The median age of residents is 33 compared to the state median of 41.



Home values across Perth rose by a median 23.6 percent in FY24. The No. 1 area for growth was Kwinana in Kwinana City. Its median value skyrocketed by 33.19 percent to $618,925. Kwinana is approximately 37km south of Perth CBD. It includes the suburbs of Leda, Medina, Casuarina and Mandogalup. Henderson Naval Base is located here and there is a significant community of servicemen and ex-servicemen living in the area. It is home to many young families, with the median age of residents being 33 compared to the state median of 38.



Home values across the nation’s capital rose by a median 2.2 percent in FY24. The best area for capital growth was Weston Creek. Its median value rose by 5.24 percent to $937,740. Weston Creek is approximately 13km south-west of the CBD. It includes the suburbs of Weston Creek, Holder, Duffy, Fisher and Chapman. Approximately 43 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree, which is on par with the ACT median but much higher than the national median of 26 percent. Household incomes are about 35 percent higher than the national median. Almost one in five residents work in government administration jobs.



Home values across Hobart fell 0.1 percent in FY24. The top performing area for capital gains was Sorell-Dodges Ferry with 2.78 percent growth. This took the area’s median home value to $615,973. Sorell-Dodges Ferry is approximately 25km north-west of Hobart. It incorporates the suburbs of Richmond, Sorell, Dodges Ferry, Carlton and Primrose Sands. The area has a large community of baby boomers and retirees, with the median age of residents being 43 compared to the Australian median of 38.



Home values across Darwin rose by a median 2.4 percent in FY24. The No. 1 area for growth was Litchfield. Its median value moved 3.21 higher to $672,003. Litchfield is about 37km south-east of Darwin and includes the suburbs of Humpty Doo, Acacia Hills and Southport.  It has a high proportion of middle-aged residents, with the median age being 39 compared to the territory median of 33. About 12 percent of residents are Indigenous Australians. The biggest industries are government administration and defence. Median household incomes are about 35 percent higher than the national median.



This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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