clock menu more-arrow no yes

Bars Straight Up

These built-ins are popping up in more and more homeowners' remodels, whether as a fully equipped kitchen in miniature or just a niche carved out for bottles and glassware.

Photo by Bruce Van Inwegen

For many homeowners, it's an answer to the old, 'Every time I have a party, everyone ends up in the kitchen,'" says Jay Haverson, a Greenwich, Connecticut, architect who has designed half-a-dozen built-in bars in the last year. But that mental image of a paneled basement rec room, foosball tables, and Uncle Herman's beer mug collection? Forget it. Today's bars sit in high-visibility areas off the kitchen or great room and often feature custom cabinets and top-of-the-line fixtures and fittings. Some are plumbed butler's pantries that stand ready to serve up snacks and hors d'oeuvres, while others are nothing more than doorless closets with access to a waterline. And there's still a call for sit-down bars—whether connected to the kitchen or a home theater.

Wet or dry, large or small, built-in bars suit time-pressed homeowners who want an inviting and accessible entertaining zone for friends and family—and who appreciate dedicated storage for all the accoutrements. Because behind those cabinet doors aren't just shot glasses and single malts, but also wine coolers, keggeries, icemakers, dishwashers, plasma televisions, and other accessories that transform an ordinary space into the life of the party.

Butler's Pantry Bar

Constructed as built-ins or to resemble oversized furniture pieces, these wall-spanning wet bars (sometimes called buffets) transform a transitional space near the kitchen or dining room into an efficient entertaining area. While it's obvious that upper cabinets hold wine glasses and beer steins, guests might not know that icemakers and bottle-cooling drawers are often concealed behind the fine cabinetry. And that's the idea: great-room polish with kitchen function. A long countertop with the sink positioned at one end makes party-food prep more convenient. Handsome stone countertops provide a durable, stain-resistant work surface that's easy to wipe clean. Often, materials are slightly upgraded from what's in the kitchen, since here they're on public view.

How's the Wiring?

Electrical capacity is an important reality check when designing a wet bar that's going to include appliances. Just as your plumber will work out waterline and drain access, an electrician will determine whether your circuit will be overloaded if you put in another fridge, microwave, or other energy-eaters. You might need to add a new circuit, and if your bar's going to include an oven, don't forget the 220-volt line. Also, plan as many electrical outlets as you'll need for small appliances such as a blender.

<p><strong>RED OR WHITE?</strong><br>The idea here: Build a 7-foot-wide bar that opens to the great room and looks like a polished piece of furniture. One Sub-Zero wine cooler is regulated for red (1), while the other is strictly for white (2). Greenwich, Connecticut, architect Jay Haverson ran glossy cherry cabinetry the length of the wall (3), but didn't go up to the ceiling (4). "Leaving space for the exposed beams gives it that furniture effect," he says.</p>

RED OR WHITE?
The idea here: Build a 7-foot-wide bar that opens to the great room and looks like a polished piece of furniture. One Sub-Zero wine cooler is regulated for red (1), while the other is strictly for white (2). Greenwich, Connecticut, architect Jay Haverson ran glossy cherry cabinetry the length of the wall (3), but didn't go up to the ceiling (4). "Leaving space for the exposed beams gives it that furniture effect," he says.

Photo by Jim Franco

The Pull-Up-a-Chair-Bar

The seated bar is still a favorite, especially where it can double as a spot for morning coffee or after-school smoothies. Sit-down bars can range from a freestanding front bar that accommodates eight in an entertainment room to a peninsula with two tuck-under stools off the kitchen. Since the inner workings of these bars are hidden behind a counter, their fixtures and materials tend to be more casual with basic countertops and simple bar sinks and faucets that favor function over decoration. What is seen is the base of the seating area, which may be covered with wainscoting, barn siding, stone, or brick—stuff that stands up to shoe scuffs. Open shelves or glass-front cabinets show off stemware and serving pieces.

Space Requirements Clearance follows an easy rule of thumb, says cabinetmaker Bill Nickerson of Tilton, New Hampshire, who's built bars for 30 years: "You need two feet per stool. So an eight-foot bar will seat four." Most bars sit 42 inches high with a 12-inch overhang for stools.

<p><strong>LOADED WITH HIDDEN EXTRAS</strong><br>First came the rustic home's massive pine support columns.<br> Then came the wet bar by kitchen designer Larry Frasier of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, that fit snugly in between them. The homeowners, a three-generation family that likes to get together at their lake cabin on weekends, wanted an atmospheric, highly functional bar area across from the kitchen. So Frasier took the 6-foot-4-inch space and, using Wood-Mode cabinetry, designed a fully stocke

LOADED WITH HIDDEN EXTRAS
First came the rustic home's massive pine support columns.
Then came the wet bar by kitchen designer Larry Frasier of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, that fit snugly in between them. The homeowners, a three-generation family that likes to get together at their lake cabin on weekends, wanted an atmospheric, highly functional bar area across from the kitchen. So Frasier took the 6-foot-4-inch space and, using Wood-Mode cabinetry, designed a fully stocked bar with a built-in wine cooler (1), refrigerated drawers for pop and beer (2), pull-out bins for standing liquor bottles under the sink (3), and a Sub-Zero icemaker (4). The slate countertop and backsplash repeat materials used in the kitchen.

Photo by Post Archittectural Photography/ Frasier's Kitchen Showplace

The Anywhere-It-Fits Bar

Follow your waterline and you just might discover a ­closet or convertible space that has wet-bar potential. Of course, not every bar needs a sink, but smart architects and homeowners have discovered that closets and unused areas ­adjacent to powder rooms, kitchens, even laundry rooms, can be converted into drinks centers by tying into the ­existing plumbing. Quick and casual, these bars typically have just enough work surface to slice a lemon, just enough of a fridge or wine cooler to keep the after-work chaser chilled, and just enough storage to handle the liquor cabinet and some basic barware.

Find the Existing Drain

This goes hand-in-hand with tapping into a water source when it comes to an easily installed wet bar. You'll want to run a waste line into the wall, tying into the one already in the powder or laundry room. Of course, if access is a problem, you can install a new drain, but hooking it up to the existing sewer or septic line might be more complicated. And since wet bars often involve water and electricity, make certain that your electrical circuits have ground faults for protection in the event of a short.

The Old-Fashioned

For purists who want the look and feel of an old pub in their home, a reclaimed bar is the way to go. Finding one might not be as difficult as you think. Some dealers specialize in bars, receiving stock from dismantled saloons and apothecaries in the U.S., Britain, and Ireland. They'll even work with you to figure out how to retrofit them with a bar sink, fridge, or flat-screen TV. Some owners buy just a back bar to add atmosphere, says Mark Charry, owner of Philadelphia's Architectural Antiques Exchange. Others go all out with a canopied bar (like the one shown above) for a saloon room. Carved of oak, cherry, walnut, or mahogany, these bars may even bear the original brass plaque with the maker's name.

...and the Sidecar

For those with space (and budgetary) constraints, manufacturers are busily turning out stylish, storage-intensive bar cabinets. Neatly containing glassware and bar accessories, these furniture pieces start at about $300 and range from a tabletop model, such as Bernhardt's Georgian Bar Cabinet ($1,000, shown below), to a 7-foot painted-wood hutch by Pottery Barn ($1,549) that could sit in the dining room. Among their extras: pull-out serving trays, grooves for hanging stemware, and concealed casters.

Floor plan by Patrick Ojeda

Where To Find It:

Custom Cabinetry:

Hibernian Millwork

Hopewell Junction, NY

845-227-1939

Mirror:

All Glass

Cos Cob, CT

203-629-2446

OPENER:

Designer:

Dan McFadden, Past Basket

Geneva, IL

630-208-1011

pastbasket.com

Construction manager:

John G. Harty Ltd.

Highland Park, IL

847-266-1845

Cabinetry:

Quality Custom Cabinetry

New Holland, PA

800-909-6006

qcc.com

Sink:

Franke

Hatfield, PA

800-626-5771

frankeksd.com

Faucet:

Rohl

Costa Mesa, CA

800-777-9762

rohlhome.com

Wine cooler:

Sub-Zero Freezer Co.

Madison, WI

800-222-7820

subzero.com

Backsplash tile:

Chadwicks

Libertyville, IL

847-680-3222

chadwickssurfaces.net

RED OR WHITE:

Architect:

Haverson Architecture and Design

Greenwich, CT

203-629-8300

haversonarchitecture.com

Cabinetry:

Hibernian Millwork

Hopewell Junction, NY

845-227-1939

HIDDEN EXTRAS:

Designer:

Larry Frasier, Frasier's Kitchen Showplace

Rhinelander, WI

715-365-3333

frasierkitchens.com

Cabinetry:

Pin by Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry

Kreamer, PA

877-635-7500

wood-mode.com

Cabinet Hardware:

Classic Brass

Jamestown, NY

716-763-1400

classic-brass.com

Wine cooler and icemaker:

Sub-Zero Freezer Co.

Madison, WI

800-222-7820

subzero.com

Sink:

Oregon Copper Bowl Company

Eugene, OR

541-485-9845

oregoncopperbowl.com

Tumbled-slate backsplash:

Ann Sacks

Portland, OR

800-278-8453

annsacks.com

BRIDGING THREE ROOMS:

Designer:

Kathy Marchall, CKD, K.Marshall Design Inc.

S. Hamilton, MA

978-465-7199

kmarshalldesign.com

Backsplash beadboard and hardware:

Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry

Shaefferstown, PA

800-447-9006

plainfancycabinetry.com

Sink and faucet:

American Standard

Piscataway, NJ

800-442-1902

americanstandard-us.com

Honed black-granite countertop:

Gerrity Stone

Woburn, MA

781-938-1820

gerritystone.com

THE OLD FASHIONED:

Architectural Antiques Exchange

Philadelphia, PA

215-922-3669

architecturalantiques.com

THE SIDE CAR:

Pottery Barn

888-779-5176

potterybarn.com

Bernhardt

877-205-5793

bernhardt.com

SOCIAL SERVICE:

Contractor:

Clark Remington, Clark Remington Design and Planning

Pacific Palisades, CA

805-496-3630

Base cabinetry:

PWN Carpenters

Duarte, CA

626-303-2016

Faucet:

Price Pfister

Foothill Ranch, CA

800-732-8238

pricepfister.com

Special thanks to:

Bill Nickerson, Northern Millwork Corp.

Tilton, NH

603-286-4235

northernmillwork.com

STARTED AS A CLOSET:

Cabinetry:

Cow House Designs

Atlanta, GA

404-452-5154

cowhousedesigns.com

Glass-front wine cooler:

The Home Depot

800-553-3199

homedepot.com

Faucet:

Delta Faucet Co.

Indianapolis, IN

800-345-3358

deltafaucet.com

Sink:

Franke

Hatfield, PA

800-626-5571

frankeksd.com

Special thanks to:

Jeff Conefry of Incurvature Furniture

UNDER THE STAIRS:

Architect:

Stuart L. Disston, AIA, AustinPatterson Disston

Quogue, NY

631-653-6605

apdarchitects.com

Cabinetmaker:

Joshua Friedman & Co.

New London, CT

860-439-1637

Sink:

Bates and Bates

Paramount, CA

800-726-7680

batesandbates.com

Faucet:

Harrington Brass Works Ltd.

Allendale, NJ

201-818-1300

harringtonbrassworks.com