Imagine the perfect garden getaway: a modern and minimal cottage, surrounded by climbing vines and butterfly bushes, where you could escape everyday life and reconnect with nature. Now, imagine that this serene place is not in the English countryside, or the Icelandic highlands, but in your very own yard. How could that be? The answer, according to act_romegialli, is simple: You can renovate your detached garage or shed.
The Italian architectural firm did just that for Green Box, a project in which they converted a disused garage—in the back of a home in the Rhaetian Alps in northern Italy—into a lush retreat. For the transformation, act_romegialli preserved the existing walls of the garage, but built a lightweight steel frame around it; landscape designer Gheo Clavarino disguised the structure with greenery. European honeysuckle and Russian vines conceal the metal supports, and ferny foliage and blooming wildflowers blanket the ground. “Vegetation is the essential part of the Green Box,” explains Erika Gaggia, who co-founded act_romegialli with Gianmatteo Romegialli and Angela Maria Romegialli.
The interior of the shelter was divided into a place for cooking, room for gathering and space for potting (gardening is a passion of the client), with a simple design: metal countertops and exposed pipes in the kitchen; concrete ceilings, reclaimed wood paneling and rustic plank floors throughout. The result is clean, contemporary and cozy, and feels like a horticultural haven rather than a once-neglected garage.
Below, act_romegialli shares a few renovation tips, which can help guide you in transforming your own shed or garage into a green place to escape.
Find the context
“Look around and find out if there can be a relation with the context,” explains Gaggia. For Green Box, act_romegialli added a large window, which provided views of the surrounding valley and inspiration for the project. Even if you don’t have a view, you can create your own. In front of windows, plant vines and vegetation that have different life cycles. For the Green Box project, Clavarino selected a mix of deciduous and perennial plants that bloom at different times, so that there is always a “light but continuous flowering.”
Let there be light
The architectural firm recommends working with light sources, both natural and artificial. If you plan to add windows to your detached garage, make sure they are oriented to the movement of the sun (in the Northern hemisphere, for example, south-facing windows work best). For Green Box, act_romegialli added a large window to its southern wall, which bathes the interior in light, and is also useful for cultivating plants. The sun also helps warm the space, an important feature since there are “only a few hours of sun in the winter season.”
Choose materials wisely
“Use materials that can transmit warmth and positive feelings,” Gaggia says. For act_romegialli, it’s also important to select materials that reflect their surroundings. “The firm is driven by the sense and feeling of a place, it’s history and the cultural value of architecture,” Gaggia explains. “The essential and historical characteristics of a site are carefully considered and reinterpreted in contemporary language.” In Valtellina, where Green Box is located, the interiors of traditional homes often feature wood, so for this project, act_romegialli used larch wood for the floors and covered the indoor walls with reclaimed wood panels.
Back to basics
“Simplify the existing space,” Gaggia advises, “and find basic ways of living.” This means forgoing amenities like a microwave and dishwasher and only adding what is absolutely necessary. Green Box, for example, has only running water and a place to make a fire. There’s no need to overdo it—everything you need is just steps away in your home. Remember, this is not a place to recharge your phone, it’s a space to rest and recharge your mind.
Photos by Marcello Mariana, courtesy of act_romegialli