Once upon a time, the noise level in my house was such that you could only hear the refrigerator or central air running. Of course, the daily arrival of the mail would rile up our dog. Otherwise, it’s like a library over here. That was before electric guitars, amps, and full-throated vocals crashed the party. When my husband and I had to face the fact that there wasn’t a wall or closed door thick enough to stifle our budding rock star’s impromptu jam sessions, we knew something had to give.
Here's how we converted a garage used as storage into a teen-approved music studio for a few hundred dollars.
1. Accept the Fact That, at a Certain Point, Multipurpose Spaces Have Their Limitations
My husband Matt, our 16-year-old and I have always floated between the living room, our shared office space, and our respective bedrooms, in order to suit our various daily needs.
Matt and I had worked from home long before the pandemic and had found a rhythm that worked for us. And when our then-ninth grader started remote learning last spring, we were all able to work pretty harmoniously then, too. In the case of a prolonged phone call, oral school presentation, or Zoom meeting, we’d simply shift to one of the other designated communal spaces. But the daily game of “musical rooms” hit a snag when singing and music became our teen’s passion over the summer.
After a few frustrating weeks of me angrily banging on walls, trying to set scheduled times for rocking out, and sampling various noise-canceling headphones, it became clear that we needed a permanent change, not a workaround. Much like many other quarantining Americans, we were going to have to rethink our living arrangements in order to keep our sanity intact.
2. Think Outside the Box … or, in This Case, the House
Sometimes, the most obvious thing can still catch you by surprise. The solution to our problem was right in our own backyard, and it took a laughably long time for us to realize it. We’ve never parked a car in our detached garage. It was just a 256-sq.-ft. space in which we shoved Christmas decorations, a deep freezer, gardening supplies, and dozens of Tupperware tubs filled with a hodgepodge of “life” stuff.
There was no rhyme or reason to where all these things were stowed, mainly because we’d never assigned a greater purpose to the space. All of a sudden, we had designs for this oversized junk drawer to play the lead in our new garage rock project.
3. Realize That, Sometimes, a Husband Can Be Right
Once we all got on board with the plan to convert the garage into a studio, I figured we’d just pull a Marie Kondo—sort everything, junk the joyless stuff, organize what was left, and be done with it. Matt, on the other hand, wanted to repaint the walls, pressure-wash the floors and reconfigure the wall shelving. Activities that couldn’t be done in just a single day.
Waiting is not my jam and patience is not my brand. I wanted the window-rattling Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski covers moved out of the house post-haste.
But I didn’t get my way and, ultimately, I’m grateful to him for ignoring my pouty protests and staying the course. An all-around fresh coat did make all the difference, brightening a room that otherwise lacked windows. The space was starting to look like a room you’d want to go into, not one you’d been exiled to.
4. Gulp Down Pride and Admit That a Husband Can Be Right More Than Once
While he was busy being thorough with the walls, ceiling, and floor, I figured the kid and I would go online and order some furnishings befitting an at-home music studio. Again, Matt threw a monkey wrench in my plans, proposing that we rummage through the “as-is” section at IKEA instead. If we weren’t in a pandemic and avoiding in-store shopping, I might have agreed with him (despite my disdain for sorting through that department’s chaotic heap of cast-asides). He bravely volunteered to mask up and take the plunge solo. Though it looked like he brought home a giant blue reusable bag full of scraps, Matt clearly had a vision.
The “as-is” goldmine yielded a solid beech wood table top for $25, down from its original $100 price tag. He also scored some modular table legs, blackout (a.k.a., clutter-hiding) curtains, as well as oversized light bulbs and cords, all for half-price, coming out to about $75. Lastly, the extra-long curtain rod was $12 after a 40% discount and the “fancy” (his word, not mine) overhead light was a mere $15. With a cart full of clearance finds, he only needed to buy a few items at full-price—the matching beech table bases were $100 for two, the floating wall shelf was $20, and the $8 coat hanger would act as a hook for cords and cables.
The additional white wooden table top was upcycled from who-knows-where and the “disco” ball is actually a $10 LED Christmas light from Target’s post-holiday clearance section. He initially intended to staple some discount rugs to the wall, to soundproof the room, but found a box of acoustical sound-dampening ceiling tiles for about $30 on an online auction and decided that was a better bet for our needs.
What’s more, he was able to repurpose a lot of flotsam that I’d been asking him to throw away for years — planks of wood, random hooks and brackets, corkboard panels, etc. His MacGyver routine not only fit the brief, it also saved us big bucks, and helped to whittle down an unsightly clutter pile.
Total Out-of-Pocket Costs: $295
5. Accept That My Role in This Family Is to Be “Functional,” Not “Fun”
I surprised my little music-lover with a couple of cool band posters I found on Society 6, and that was the extent of my design input. Rather than go overboard imposing my own style (which was so tempting to do), I opted to stay in my lane and stick to “mom stuff.” That meant practical contributions like reorganizing, dusting, sweeping, hanging a wall clock, supplying a box of tissues and a wastebasket, and plugging in a space heater for those chilly (read: 50-degree) L.A. days.
All told, the project took longer than we expected. We initially aimed to get it all done before school started, but those plans were dashed when a string of California wildfires made the air in our area unsafe. We did, however, manage to complete the painting and storage reorganizing stage by then. From that point on, we remodeled sporadically, with our respective work projects and life trials frequently pulling our attention away. We didn’t complete the rest of the project until winter break. But that still left plenty of time to practice wailing away at some new tracks before school started back.
6. Acknowledge the Fact That the Best Gift for a Teen Is the Gift of Private Space, Especially Now
With enough room for an ever-growing inventory of instruments and no grown-ups around to complain that the music’s too loud (thus, proving they’re too old), our teenage client is one happy customer. It’s not pristine or polished, but it’s still pitch-perfect. You don’t have to take my word for it; here’s a testimonial (texted to me from the garage):
“Being in the music space is perfect for me because I can be as loud as I want, and I can experiment with all sorts of cool instruments like the autoharp (which sounds so pretty)! I especially like the posters because I can look up and see the people that inspire me to create music. In general, having a quiet place to myself helps me reflect on my thoughts so that I can turn them into meaningful lyrics. (The acoustics are also gorgeous.)”
7. Feel Proud, Because This Kid Can Really Hold a Note
I know this because I can hear said note through the living room window as I’m typing this. The timing of our garage makeover couldn’t have been better; rehearsals for the high school spring musical just started. Clearly, the garage is not quite as sound-proofed as we’d hoped. It’s still been a godsend to me, my jittery nerves, and my delicate eardrums.