North Shore Folly

“This is the most fun project we’ve ever worked on,” says Cambridge-based Gleysteen Design’s Marcus Gleysteen of the tented structure perched atop a windy ridge in Manchester-by-the-Sea. After all, it’s not every day a client hands him a 1,000-square-foot garage and the sole directive: “Make it beautiful.”  

“Our initial idea was to put a tent over a glass-box garage, and it escalated from there,” Gleysteen says. He imagined a sculptural roof that would be strapped down to boulders, but an early wind-force analysis revealed gusts could dislodge the big rocks—potentially hurling them into the main house, also designed by Gleysteen, about 100 yards away. So he approached Span Systems, a Manchester, New Hampshire, company that normally designs pliable retractable roofs for arenas, airports, and amphitheaters. This would be one of its smallest projects ever.

The firm’s solution allowed Gleysteen to have his light, flexible roof secured to a welded steel frame strong enough to resist the site’s powerful winds. Span Systems applied the same manufacturing techniques it uses for stadiums to Gleysteen’s much smaller specifications, employing a locally made Teflon. “The effect of the roof,” Gleysteen says, “is that of a gigantic sail that wants to fly away.” (Fortunately, thanks to savvy engineering, it doesn’t.)

The designer then channeled the DeStijl artist Mondrian with orthogonal patterns on the translucent plastic panels of the garage doors, which slide open rather than roll up. The tempered glass walls don’t need mullions because the walls and the steel frame reinforce each other. Together, the walls and tent-style roof give the structure the appearance of a pavilion, which is how the building is ultimately used. “The owners are only here on the weekends, so they don’t have the same parking requirements as they would for a full-time residence,” Gleysteen says. The client’s teenagers use it as a hangout spot; the space is also home to gym equipment and a Ping-Pong table. In short, what started as a decent-looking garage now offers something for everyone.