Original article written by Mitchell Parker on Houzz
Janelle Garchie was cooking her granddaughters a snack while they played with paint at the kitchen table when one of the kids decided to see what would happen if she flung green paint into the air. Apart from a lesson in gravity and splatter physics, Garchie and the kids, whom Garchie watches while their parents work, learned that green paint does not come off so easily from expensive new Hunter Douglas blinds. “That’s when I knew it was time to move the art activities somewhere else,” she says.
She hired designer Tritia Gustine to help her turn a three-car garage into a bright and colorful art and science room, shown here, where the girls could make a mess with glitter, clay, glue and erupting volcanoes. Garchie, a retired lawyer, now teaches lessons in everything from nutrition to mathematics. “I knew I just couldn’t sit here and let them come over and turn on the TV,” she says. “If I’m going to retire for this, I had to be true to these kids, and I wanted to try and make this a fun place that’s worth my time and theirs.”
Decades ago when Garchie had her own kids, she was either in law school or practicing law and was never able to stay home with them. She’d drop the kids off to a babysitter on her way to the office every morning. After finding out she was going to be a grandparent, and seeing her own kids struggling to find daycare, she decided to retire from being a lawyer to take care of her grandkids full-time. “I was a fairly senior partner in my prime earning years, but I just couldn’t have anyone else watching them, so I made it happen,” Garchie says. She began with a voracious appetite for books on early-childhood education, language development and critical thinking, approaching her new job as if she were studying for the bar exam. (Her husband, Peter, continues to work as a lawyer. “Someone has to support my habit,” Garchie jokes.)
Some of her go-to books have been Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, by June Oberlander; Your Child’s Growing Mind, by Jane Healy; What’s Going On in There, by Lise Eliot; and Multiple Intelligences, by Howard Gardner. “I didn’t know anything about anything initially,” she says. “But I felt this huge responsibility, and I didn’t want to blow it.” After setting up a music room, classroom and playroom inside the house, Garchie and Gustine set up the new art and science room.
In a world that’s beginning to focus heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, Garchie wanted her grandkids — Taylor, age 6, and Cameron, age 3½ — to have a positive experience with the subject matter. “I wanted the memory of all the fun they were having with glitter or glue or whatever to be connected to science,” Garchie says. The space has a skeleton for anatomy lessons, every kind of science experiment kit you can imagine, easels for art, drawers stuffed with paint and art supplies, tablets for math lessons — and the painted white floor is sealed with an epoxy so Garchie can hose off clay, paint, glitter and more at the end of the day.
Gustine looked at photos online of science classrooms to get inspiration for the custom cabinets. Even the handles are identical to what you’d find in school lab. To keep things from looking too sterile, though, she introduced electric yellow on the cabinets (Dunn-Edwards’ Firefly Glow) and bright green on the wall (Dunn-Edwards’ Lime Sorbet). The cabinets and shelves store books, paint, brushes, chalk, construction paper, craft paper, beakers and packaged science experiments, like erupting volcanoes. There’s a sink on the opposite wall, along with a workbench, tools and other common garage supplies. Garchie estimates a similar project could be done for around $10,000, including materials, labor and design fees. She says hers was a bit more because she went with high-end cabinets.
An inexpensive room divider hides a water softener and water heater. The tablet to the right with colorful beads is for teaching math. “Instead of thinking in just numbers, I always have them think of objects to go with it,” says Garchie, who once bought up all the yellow rubber ducks in her local Toys“R”Us to teach adding and subtracting. If she’s tired after a long day, Garchie doesn’t have to clean up the garage until morning before the girls come back over, something that wasn’t possible when art happened at her kitchen table. “It took four power washes to get the glitter off my big teak dining table,” she says. “Now all science and art happen in the garage.” But the green paint still remains on those kitchen blinds, which is OK with Garchie, who seems to get endless joy from anything that reminds her of her grandkids. “The green paint splatter makes me smile now,” she says.