Caroline and Mark Tuttle were ready to pack up their belongings and move to the United States. Having set their sights on a small community about 45 minutes outside Las Vegas, they were ready to live and retire far from St. Albert.
But when the city approved garage and garden suites last February, everything changed.
“I'm feeling excited. We've been waiting for this for a long time,” said Caroline.
The duo instead decided to put their money towards transforming their garage in Sturgeon Heights into a garage suite. With around 800 square feet for the two-car garage and another 800 square feet for the home upstairs, the suite has more space than their home, which sits only a few feet away.
Mark says they first wanted a suite on their lot around 11 years ago. They created a binder full of concept drawings and had their neighbours sign a list, signifying their approval of the building. But when the duo brought their idea to council, it was rejected at the time.
St. Albert’s Land Use Bylaw didn’t permit garage or garden suites to be built at the time.
When the two visited Mark’s brother for three months in Mesquite, Nev., a small community of 18,000 people outside Las Vegas last year, they fell in love. Caroline took a few painting classes, where she was able to practise her favourite art form.
To them, it made sense to sell their home and move to the community. They had saved enough money to live comfortably, and were ready to say goodbye to Alberta’s harsh winter season.
As soon as the city approved garage and garden suites, their plans changed. Caroline said the duo decided to fulfil her dream of having a summer home, right next door.
A home next to home
Caroline grew up on a farm, which had two homes on the property. One of the houses was used as a summer home, where the family would spend the harvest season cooking, canning and eating.
“You come in from the field or you're doing stuff outside, you wash up, it was kind of so you didn't get the main house all dirty,” she explained.
When the weather started to turn chilly, they moved back into the main house.
She says it’s always been her dream to have a similar concept in St. Albert. Now the garage suite won’t only serve as a summer space for the two, but it has the capacity to house family members when they come to visit.
When a person walks into the suite, they’re welcomed by a six-foot-wide staircase. The extra wide staircase not only creates an illusion of a larger living space, but allows the potential for a wheelchair lift to be installed later.
The staircase makes way to a large kitchen and living room, which is lit up by natural light sweeping in from wall-sized patio glass doors and windows along the walls.
Thomas Lukaszuk, managing director at Urban Mews – the developer behind the suite – says the Tuttles were able to have their home specialized above Alberta’s building code standards.
Instead of building the suite with two inches of insulation, the entire home – including garage – has six inches of insulation. The windows are triple-pane, which means they can’t open.
The extra insulation not only keeps the house heated, it completely soundproofs the unit.
Although the suite sits just a few feet away from St. Albert Trail, no cars can be heard from the other side of the fence.
“They are very close to an intersection where semi trucks can, you know, gear down and gear up. It could be noisy. They wanted to make sure that their home is like a tomb inside. It's quiet, silent,” Lukaszuk said. “You cannot hear anything in that house.”
The Tuttles also had the suite built to meet their specific wants and needs. While laundry is important to Caroline, having a working space for the garden was important to Mark.
The 100-square-foot garden workshop is located on the ground floor, on the other side of the garage space. The room has yet to be completed.
A washing table and toilet will be located in the room, giving Mark the ability to pick fruits and vegetables from the garden and wash them in the workspace without having to take off his shoes or tidy up.The washroom also allows easy access to a bathroom while he’s hard at work.
Lukaszuk says each suite is crafted, rather than built. Since every unit made by Urban Mews is specialized for the family buying it, no two units are the same.
In the Tuttles’ garage suite, the furnace was moved into the garden working space, which freed up the back of the laundry room. Now a small area in the back of the room has a sliding privacy wall, where a twin bed and closet are located.
As family travels from across Canada to visit the Tuttles, the suite is available for them to sleep in.
“Now you know, as the family gets bigger, they can have their own place to stay,” Caroline said.
The two were also provided a list detailing the brand names of every door and cabinet handle, light and kitchen fixture, paints used, piece of kitchen stone used and floor boards installed.
Since the Tuttles are retired, they were able to watch every step of the house being built. Lukaszuk said Mark would show up wearing work gear, ready to double-check the builder’s work. If anything wasn’t up to standard, it was swiftly reported and corrected.
“At the end I want him to be happy, and I want him to be hopefully telling everybody that he had a good experience, and he has a good product,” Lukaszuk said.
Urban Mews is a company that specializes in garden and garage suites. The company is based in Edmonton, but completes projects across the region.
The company built the Tuttles’ garage suite, which was the first one built in St. Albert since the bylaw changed.
The business is in the process of finishing a garden suite in Akinsdale and are getting ready to construct two garage suites in Grandin, on the lots of two homes owned by one family. The company will also be building another garden suite in Erin Ridge.
Not only are the suites sustainable, they increase a property's value in the ballpark of $100,000. The cost to build a garden or garage suite depends on the materials selected and the square footage of the property.
Lukaszuk said many buyers are searching for homes with the extra suites, which they can either rent out for extra money or move a family member into.
Some families want to move an elderly parent into the unit, which is the case for the garden suite being built in Akinsdale. Instead of putting the older family member into a seniors facility, they’re able to live just a few feet away.
“Considering the monthly cost of a senior facility, what you pay to live in a seniors home, this garage suite would pay itself in a very short period of time,” Lukaszuk said.
Others are looking to move their children into the units, helping them achieve more independence. While some children may be entering university, others may be looking for a their own space instead of moving away.
In some cases, such as the garden suite in Erin Ridge, families are looking for a space for extra activities. Lukaszuk said the two units will feature pool tables and other recreational games that wouldn’t fit in the family home.
Whatever the need, for families like the Tuttles, it’s nice to have another housing option in St. Albert.