A sympathetic driveway for a 1930's Moderne house

Garages and Driveways – Do they Belong with an Old House?

A sympathetic driveway for a 1930's Moderne house
A sympathetic driveway for a 1930’s Moderne house

Here is an email from a reader that I thought I would share:

Dear Johanne: Something that bugs me about some old houses is what people do with garages and driveways. I understand the need for a garage but it is pretty rare that folks give much thought to making it fit with their house. Certainly when garages were first made they were much smaller since cars were smaller. They seemed like just a large shed just big enough to cover the car. Now we use garages for storage and shop space so the old buildings often don’t cover all the things we want a garage to do. Still, there must be some folks who have managed to solve this problem in an attractive, balanced way.

I stumbled upon an idea for my driveway. There is an old driveway design called a ribbon driveway that, once I stumbled on some pictures of, I thought “Well of course! I’ve seen that before.” It’s just a simple strip of grass between two strips of concrete but it solves several problems.

First of all, it’s cheaperthan a full width poured concrete or asphalt slab. Secondly, it’s cooler to walk on and shouldn’t track in grit as a gravel drive does. Thirdly, it’s cooler yet to look at. The few I’ve seen just make me smile.

Lastly, it’s cooler because it’s ‘green’. I’m not really on the ‘green’ band wagon because a lot of what is called green isn’t green at all. But this really is green in that it addresses water retention and runoff, heat generated in cities by hard surfaces and decreases the use of materials manufactured by heavy industry. I located some of the specifications for this type of driveway though code specs may be different regionally. Generally then, each ‘ribbon’ should be two feet wide, three ft wide if it will also be used as a sidewalk, with 3 ft width of grass in between. Concrete should be 5 inches thick, reinforced with 6 inch square welded wire mesh, contraction joints 10ft apart. This is for a single car width driveway and obviously, concrete in Canada would have some other considerations such as air entrainment and so on.

Johanne’s note: The image of the house above shows how a driveway can work seamlessly with the home. Of course given that this house was built in the latter 1930’s cars were more common – at least for those who could afford the gas during the Depression. This garage was originally placed just as you see it.

Any comments? What have you done to address this issue with your old house? Please write your comments on this blog!



6 thoughts on “Garages and Driveways – Do they Belong with an Old House?

  1. We have a 4,000 sq ft. ca1910 house that is built on a corner lot. It has no garage and our yard is small. We are thinking about building a detached “carport” in the style of a covered patio with an arbor-like roof. Hopefully it will have an invisible roof to keep it dry . It will be located about 8 feet from the house convenient to the rear entrance. Our yard is very small and we think we can use it for a covered entertainment area as well. I would like to grow vines up the posts and on the decorative ceiling joists. Problem: how to shape the roof. Would love to keep it flat (sloped a bit for drainage) so it will look like an arbor and it will be easier and less expensive to build. However, the house is 2-story with tall gables and wonder how this flat top would look close to the house. The “carport” floor will be about 22×16 ft. and made of concrete. Thanks for your opinion!

    1. It’s always a great idea to plan for dual uses when space is limited. There’s an excellent book from the 1920’s called “Beautifying the Home Grounds” that is published by Algrove Publishing today. It shows all the ways that lattice was used to beautify homes and yards – you would get lots of inspiration. I got mine at Lee Valley Tools. Having said this I suspect your municipal building codes will tell you what you need to have as a roof – the space you are planning would be quite large and the span of wood if it is unsupported could cause you some issues – so I would check with them. I don’t know where you are writing from so I have no idea if you have lots of snow – but snow load is certainly a problem where we live. Good luck. Let us know what you found out!

  2. We are building a garage this summer in the back yard, unattached to tie in with a bungalow retro-fit we are doing. I talked to my husband about the ribbon driveway idea, as I remember it from when I was a youngster. But he vetoed the idea in favour of a solid concrete slab. The reason: ease of snow removal. And, being as we had 3-4 feet of snow over the winter here, I can see his point. (esp. since we are getting older too). So, for us, in this instance, practicality will win out over period correctness. I might do some kind of decorative rock retaining wall with built in planters or some such thing to tie in the Arts and Crafts style I have going. I have also decided to veto hanging planters and railing planters (dont want to damage the cladding and new woodwork!) So instead of a flower bed bordering the veranda, I am looking for some oversized terracotta pots, in differing sizes to use as planters at sidewalk level. This also ties in with our colour scheme. And I can use them on either side of the garage door too, which will connect the garage to the house decoratively

    1. It sounds wonderful. Does anyone else have ideas on what would work to connect these two spaces? WE too built a new garage two years ago – its style suits the house but we are having some issues dealing with the different levels between house stairs, decking and the need to move the lawn mower across the deck to get to the other side of the yard. I’m ready to pull my hair out!

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