Monday, May 30 , 2016, 6:16 am | Overcast 58º

Gals & Garages: At Lisa Rivas’ Home Office, Open Door Is a Window to World

In a family of guys, this mom has a corner office in a space that's part locker room, part bike shop — and she wouldn't have it any other way

By Helena Day Breese, Noozhawk Columnist |

Guys and Garages may be the name of the book, but it’s not a gender thing. Gals love their garages, too. Lisa Rivas is a case in point.

“It’s my space until the kids get home at 3 p.m.,” Rivas said of her two-car garage office in Santa Barbara. “I walk in here, close the door to the kitchen, and get a great deal done.

“I didn’t plan on having an office in a garage,” she explained. “We bought a three-bedroom house thinking one room for us, one room for the baby we were expecting, and one room as a guestroom and part-time office.

“Then I got laid off work when I was 9 months pregnant,” she said, rolling her eyes at the memory. “But I was very fortunate; I was immediately offered a part-time consulting job, and that meant I needed a home office that was mine.”

Any busy executive needs a gatekeeper, and for Lisa Rivas it's her faithful companion, Lacy, who she says 'loves to lie on the driveway at the garage doorway and alert me to foot traffic.'
Any busy executive needs a gatekeeper, and for Lisa Rivas it’s her faithful companion, Lacy, who she says “loves to lie on the driveway at the garage doorway and alert me to foot traffic.” (Helena Day Breese photo)

For Rivas and her husband, the answer to the office space dilemma was to take a serious look at the garage.

“We were going to put cupboards up,” she said, “so we thought, why not use office-style cupboards and build in a desk and make it my office?”

That is exactly what happened. But the office conversion took place only in one corner, leaving the remainder just a plain old garage. The semi conversion suited Rivas, the mother of two boys. Swiveling around in her executive chair to survey the impenetrable fortress of bicycles and sports equipment that blocks the garage door, she paused.

“I like the way the garage contents reflect where we are in time as a family,” she said. “The equipment’s gone through many stages — all the baby stuff, double bike trailer, strollers and tricycles. And now the bicycles are getting bigger, and there’s even some manly presence with my husband’s motorcycle in here.

“The elliptical rider represents the space between babies — time for us,” she laughed, adding, “The only constant in here has been the washer and dryer.”

Rivas acknowledges that some people find the juxtaposition of a smart office and cluttered garage hard to accept.

“A neighbor came by and said ‘Why not make it into a real room?’” laughed Rivas. “But I thought, that’s no fun. It won’t be a garage anymore.”

And a garage can be a place of fond nostalgia, too.

“I like the connection it gives me to my childhood,” said Rivas. “I would walk into the garage and say, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ because he would always be tinkering away at his workbench, fixing something. And his response was always, ‘I’m flying a kite — got any string?’ He never gave me a straight answer until I walked over to see for myself what he was doing.

“A garage is a different space from other rooms in the house. It’s OK if this room is not clean. It’s kind of nice. I give myself permission to walk past the clutter and the dirt,” she said with satisfaction.

And despite the apparent disarray, she added, “Everyone has their own space in here — even the dog.”

Rivas likes to work with the garage door open, making her office a room with a view that most cube dwellers would envy.

“Of course, it can get cold, but I just set up my beach chair outside in the sun,” she said. “Living in the front yard; it’s not that bad.”

And an al fresco-style office has changed Rivas’ life in ways that could never have been anticipated — for the better.

“My dog, Lacy, loves to lie on the driveway at the garage doorway and alert me to foot traffic, and this made me a part of the world that is out there,” she said. “I got to know the neighbors. I saw the kids walking to school — I could see my future there. I got to know the name of my mailman and found out that he has two kids himself.

“Working out of my garage helped me become part of this home and my neighborhood,” she said with a big smile.

These days Rivas is a company employee again, spending more time in a traditional office than in her garage. But memories of garage office life and its associated quirks still make her smile.

“I couldn’t take or schedule conference calls on a Monday morning because of trash pick up,” she said. “And if a neighbor started trimming a hedge or blowing leaves while I was on the phone, I would have to say quickly, ‘Sorry, I’m going to have to put you on mute,’ and I’d think, ‘Oops, now they know I’m not in some high-rise office building.’

“But most of my clients knew where I was working from and, anyway, doesn’t everyone expect you to be in your PJs if you work from home? It just completes the picture.”

— Noozhawk columnist Helena Day Breese is a freelance writer and photographer, and author of Guys and Garages. Click here to contact her.

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