This Designer Turned a Rundown Garage into a Charming Guesthouse

Stimpson Fairhope, AL Guesthouse Before
Photo: Courtesy of Ginny Stimpson

Living on Alabama's Mobile Bay means frequent visitors are a given for this family, who converted an outbuilding into a relaxing retreat.

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Stimpson Fairhope, AL Guesthouse Before
Courtesy of Ginny Stimpson

Ginny and John Stimpson lucked out when they found an early 1900s home on the bay in Fairhope, Alabama. "It's just like living on a lake, except we're about a 45-minute boat ride from the ocean," says Ginny, who planned and oversaw the house's renovation herself. She kept the updates authentic and didn't add on any rooms. While the result is a breezy waterside cottage that's the ideal size (2,300 square feet) for Ginny, John, and their three sons, it can fall short on space when company arrives. Youngsters can bunk on the main house's sleeping porch, but she believes the adults deserve creature comforts (like air-conditioning and a private bath), so she turned to the property's sturdy stand-alone garage. Careful to stick within the confines of the existing structure, Ginny came up with a smart plan: 70% of the garage's 480 square feet would be used as a guesthouse; the remaining 30% would be dedicated to storage. Read on to see how she turned the building around.

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Ginny Stimpson Fairhope, AL Guesthouse Garage Makeover
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

The structure had some handsome proportions going for it but needed to lose its obvious garage look. First, Ginny swapped out the original front door for a pair of French doors she salvaged from the main house. Decorative brackets topped with a panel of wood and metal roofing add interest to the entry without much effort. The pair of lanterns (which were a secondhand purchase) flanking the doorway provide the building with a distinctive entry. Last but not least, a fresh coat of glossy, gray-green paint (Farrow & Ball's Down Pipe, No. 26) adds more character to the exterior.

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Ginny Stimpson Fairhope, AL Garage Guesthouse Makeover Kitchen
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

"I wanted to have a guesthouse, not just a guest room," says Ginny, who was adamant about adding a small but full kitchen. She managed to pull together the L-shaped space with a one-piece stove-and-hood set (which was bought from neighbors who were also doing a renovation) and cabinets purchased right off the floor at The Home Depot. The kitchen doesn't get enough use to justify buying pricey materials. "The countertop is actually made of plywood that's covered with several coats of a high-gloss varnish," she says. "It's not exactly "proper," but it works."

Ginny used light blue epoxy paint (Serene Sea, PPG1158-4; to dress up the original cement floor without too much effort.

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Ginny Stimpson Fairhope, AL Garage Guesthouse Makeover Bedroom
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

"Every guest room needs a mattress as nice as one you'd buy for yourself," says Ginny, who dressed the bed with a beachy, bohemian mix of all-white linens from Target topped with an assortment of blue batik-printed textiles and pillows. "I keep nice soaps and razors in the bath, and I stock the fridge with fruit, beer, and water. There should always be amenities in a guesthouse."

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Ginny Stimpson Garage Guesthouse Makeover Closet
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

A permanent ladder with a handrail, instead of a typical pull-down ladder, provides easy access to a storage loft. "It's a minimalist touch," says Ginny. The two reclaimed swinging doors (shown above) were originally intended for the main house but turned out to be too big. Always resourceful, she used them here for the closet and dressing room.

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