It's that place in your home that's always dirty. Maybe it has funky windows and no insulation. Or it leaks. But hey, it's four walls, a roof and a floor -- and so it has a lot more potential than just housing your car.

We're talking about your garage. If you've been thinking you could make a lot more out of that extra square footage, you're not alone. For two sets of homeowners, it was worth it to move out the car and move in their passion.

Here's how they did it.

The letterpress studio

For years, Jessica Spring has been a full-time letterpress artist -- creating books, cards, posters and the like by hand with vintage type on hand-crank presses. She and her family bought a house 10 years ago, precisely because it had a huge Dutch-style garage to house all the tables, tools and equipment.

But things were far from perfect.

"Every time it rained, it flooded in here," said Spring.

With just one window, it was also dark, and you couldn't stand upright in most of the loft. There was very little work space and even less for storage. And the antique printing equipment was "really unhappy" with the leaking and the cold, Spring said.

So in 2007, the couple embarked on a remodel -- and discovered things were even worse.

"The walls were just shingle, and the whole thing was hanging from the frame and leaning against the neighbor's house," Spring said.

Spring had the garage gutted on the ground floor because leaving the upper intact meant they could stay with the existing setbacks and keep crucial square footage (the garage backs up against both the alley and the neighbors' property). The structure was jacked up and strengthened, with new siding and roof.

But it was the inside that Spring could really make over to suit her daily work. The staircase was moved and the first-floor ceiling lowered to make the loft useable. The curve of the steps was built to accommodate Spring's three double-height vintage type cabinets. Running hot water was put in, so she could wash her hands between messy print jobs without running back into the house. Windows were added, especially in the roller door -- now double-wide so her five heavy antique presses (some four by four feet, and made of iron or steel) and 14 cabinets could be driven straight in with a forklift.

The final result is stunning. From an entry way that includes an Italian-style terrace (with car parking space) and rock walls curving around the gnarled apple tree they'd insisted on saving, the garage-studio opens up into a butter-yellow interior filled with enough light to grow a potted lemon tree. Wires and metal shelves display Spring's delicately printed work; presses and cabinets filled with thousands of tiny lead-type bits stand in orderly fashion. Tools hug the walls, and work tables offer space enough for a dozen people. Upstairs, the carpeted loft houses modern office equipment and paperwork, with a half-wall to let in more light.

The music playroom

Worlds often collide for professional musicians. You look after your kids while you teach, you squeeze in practice time while dinner's cooking, your friends hang out and jam. So for husband-and-wife musicians John Falskow and Cindy Renander, the chance to buy a house with its own potential music studio/kids' playroom was too good to pass up.

But it needed a bit of TLC.

"When we bought this in 2005, someone had converted the attached garage to a hair salon," said Renander, a clarinetist with local orchestras and chamber groups who teaches privately.

The couple ripped out the water spigots intended for styling stations, put in ceiling tiles and bright work lights, and covered up the "kind of funky" storefront windows with shelving.

But the rest worked well. The garage adjoined the house but had a separate entrance for private music students, and it was far enough away that sleeping kids and noisy musicians could co-exist. A partition naturally divided their teaching area from a home-office area where their three kids could also entertain themselves with art or toys.

The couple decorated the whole thing in cheery primary colors, with royal blue and yellow walls, yellow cupboards and bright red sofas and rugs. A piano supports another rack of music, instruments and stands hang out in all corners, and there's plenty of room for friends to rehearse.

"We can have a piano and music, rehearse a quintet and keep it all separate from our living space," said Falskow, a trumpeter, teacher and chair of music at Tacoma Community College.

Reach Rosemary Ponnekanti at