With the “Garage Gem”, Craig Follett and Office Ou Prove a Garage Can Be So Much More

The first thing I see when approaching Craig Follett’s garage from the sidewalk near Trinity Bellwoods in Toronto is a set of floating orb lights. The shining globes beckon me like a lighthouse draws in fishermen. On closer inspection, the two sides of the garage consist of floor-to-ceiling glass doors that fold out, dissolving the boundary between outdoor and indoor space. In this way, the sleek garage reminds me of a greenhouse — a feeling cemented by the thriving plants nestled next to Follett’s Porsche 911. “The car came first; it was part of the justification for the garage,” says Follet with a laugh.

The garage was designed by architect Sebastian Bartnicki of Office Ou. Bartnicki and Follett met in second grade, where they became best friends. “When people asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer was always an architect. He actually went and did it,” says Follett. Prior to co-founding Office Ou, whose current projects include the National Museum Complex of South Korea, Bartnicki worked at NGA Architects in Toronto.

Office Ou garage

The space, referred to as “the Garage Gem,” was once a gravel parking pad but now triples as a place to host parties, park, and work. “[Sebastian] came at it from the angle of what it’s for, the spirit of it, not just to build a shiny object. Though it is aesthetically beautiful, it’s also useful,” says Follett. “Initially, it was meant to be a space for socializing, but during COVID, it became an office. My co-founder and I built our startup in this garage every day last summer,” he continues.

Follett is currently using the garage as a place to work on his second startup, Peggy, a secure marketplace to buy and sell investment-grade art. Follett’s first startup, Universe, was acquired by Live Nation Ticketmaster in 2015. “We believe art is so important, especially in years with so much societal flux and change, because artists have messages to share and they provoke thinking. We want to make the art market more accessible to collectors, and make it possible for more people to thrive as artists,” says Follett.

Office Ou garage

The garage, which took two years to materialize, went through multiple phases. The original concept was a bit more ambitious and included a peaked roof made of glass and stained-glass windowpanes. “The vision really changed and ebbed and flowed over time,” Follett says. For one, Bartnicki convinced Follet that glass panelled doors would be more practical — Follett acknowledges that a glass roof wouldn’t have been the best choice for a frigid Canadian winter. The garage currently exists as a three-season space, with an indoor-rated fireplace to keep guests warm during the cooler shoulder seasons.

“I’ve heard people compare it to a Japanese pavilion, with the lights and the ratios. The strips in the terrazzo line up with the cabinetry and also the lights and the doors. There’s this very thoughtful grid system,” says Follett. Close attention to detail and materiality is a constant throughout the garage: hand-poured terrazzo, stained black OSB that allows the plywood texture to show, the cedar exterior cladding that is slowly blending into the surrounding fence. The lighting I first noticed is replicated in the garden, a custom design by Bartnicki. The boundary between inside and outside is constantly being challenged, creating an oasis a stone’s throw away from the bustling city.

Office Ou garage

While COVID prevented Follett from using the space to its full potential, it’s easy to imagine parties hosted in the Garage Gem weekly, visitors overflowing into the garden and outdoor kitchen space — an updated version of an old-school garage party.

Images: Adrian Ozimek