A garage is a special place for "car guys." Many of us seek homes solely on the basis of garage space. (When I went looking for my first house, I told the realtor the ideal place would be a three car garage with a loft apartment; of course I ended up with something more conventional - a normal single family house with a two car garage. But my heart was in the right place.)

But getting a garage is only the beginning. Once you've cinched the deal, you've got to make it ready - logically arranged, free of clutter and pleasant to work in.

A good beginning is a thorough cleaning; if it's an older home you've bought, this will probably be the biggest job. Remove old boxes and whatever accumulated garbage has stacked up.

Use Clorox bleach mixed with warm water (half-half in a bucket) to scrub the concrete and get rid of oil spots and grunge. You can stop there if you want, but it's nice to take things to the next level by painting the floor with a special coating (such as Thompson's Garage Floor Paint) which not only looks great but seals the concrete and makes it a lot easier to clean up messy oil spills. It also protects the underlying concrete, sealing out moisture that could, in time, lead to cracks.

The stuff comes in gallon cans just like regular paint and is applied with a roller brush. You'll need 3-4 cans ($34 at Home Depot) to do a an average-szied two-car garage. Application is a snap; from start to finish about two hours.

The can has detailed instructions, but you'll want to be sure the surface is totally dry and free of loose dirt. Old oil stains have to be gone as the paint won't adhere if the surface is greasy. For best results, lay down a topcoat, then, after that has had a chance to dry, use a small hand brush to get the corners and edging. When that's dry (let it sit overnight) follow-up with a final topcoat and allow to dry for 24-hours.

You now have the foundation for a truly impressive garage.

Normal people (those who let others work on their cars) are pretty much done at this point. They can park the cars inside, close the door and get back to the TV.

As for the rest of us... well, the journey has just begun!

I favor old kitchen cabinets and countertops as the easiest to get, least expensive and "homiest" basis for an in-garage workshop. If you remodel your kitchen, save the old stuff and you'll have everything you need. That's one way. Another is to get these pieces from a neighbor who is remodeling; at a yard sale, etc.

Old kitchen cabinets can be mounted on on wall and are a great place to store tools - and a lot cheaper than store bought storage units. Countertops make for great workbenches. And best of all, most of this stuff will be your favorite price - free!

You'll also probably want to improve the lighting in your garage. Usually, the contractor/builder leaves a couple of bare sockets for 100 watt bulbs and that's it, baby. But at Sears and similar stores you'll find easy-to-install workshop-type lights that will be just what the doctor ordered. There are "track" systems that allow you to move the light source around - and stationary fixtures with tubular phosphorescent bubs that provide diffuse (e.g., non-glare) illumination that will give you enough light for all except close-up chores. For these, you can use a smaller, portable shop-lights or even a flashlight. You might consider having an electrician come out and add a few outlets, if needed - especially so you have easy access to power points near your work bench and for stationary power tools, such as grinders.

For areas subject to long cold winters, a small space heater is worth the investment. These either work using electricity or propane. With propane (and kerosene) heaters, make sure you are extra careful and have adequate ventilation. The basic concept here is to maintain "liveable" temperatures in winter - about 50 degrees is usually fine. Anything below that will require gloves and heavy clothes to keep you from being uncomfortable - and those items will make it hard to do any kind of work because they are bulky and limit movement, especially of your fingers.

Another nice thing to have in the garage is an old stereo or TV to keep you company. Most people still have non-digital 70s-era receivers that are just the ticket for this kind of duty. A pair of cheap speakers, some wire - and you're in business!

Perhaps the most important garage update is to have a sink with hot and cold running water.

You'll need this to wash up and clean off the worst part of the grunge you'll be covered in after spending a few hours underneath your four-wheeled friend. But few things alienate a significant other more than tracking used motor oil onto the carpet or leaving a thick film of slime in the kitchen or bathroom sink.

Even if it's just a hose connected to an outside faucet, make use of it.

The ideal thing is to have a plumber come out and install a utility sink in the garage itself; usually, this isn't very expensive - a few hundred bucks, in the worst case. There are usually water lines already in the walls, so it's just a matter of tapping into these. If you pull the drywall yourself and have the pipes accessible, the cost of having a plumber come in and splice in the lines will be less.

Get hot and cold water if possible, because the warm water will greatly ease cleaning up, especially as it gets colder. You may have to turn off the garage water in winter to avoid freezing pipes if you live in an area that gets really cold.

These are just the basics - and a good beginning. But they'll give you some food for thought, hopefully.

Great projects are not done in backyards (usually). A great place to work is much more likely to lead to great results.