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Built-Ins That Make Entertaining Easier

Coming up, 12 hardworking built-ins that take a load off busy hosts

Built for Fun

The holidays are upon us. For help getting party-ready, we've assembled a portfolio of bars and servers that pack style and utility into the typical untapped spaces in a home.

All-Access Bar

Photo by Lisa Romerein

This wet bar was designed and built as part of a kitchen addition by handy homeowner and frequent entertainer Aaron Cover of San Diego, California. The doorways on either side were once dining room exterior windows, which Aaron enlarged to create easy passage between the new and old spaces. Structural posts determined the length of the bar, which he fitted with small drawers for corkscrews and other cocktail accoutrements; a double-drawer fridge for mixers under the counter on the left; and, for symmetry, a look-alike panel on the right that tilts out to access plumbing for the sink. In the upper cabinets, puck lights illuminate liquor bottles. Aaron's collection of vintage-look signs announces that this is where the fun happens.

Wet Bars and Drink Stations

Photo by Eric Roth

Mix function and a twist of fun with a built-in bar that encourages guests to gather round and get loose

Entryway Bar

Have 'em at hello by tucking a bar into a seldom-used coat closet. If it backs onto a kitchen or bath, you may be able to tap into plumbing for a sink or an ice maker. Here, base cabinets with an aged patina and a beadboard backsplash tie the bar into its surroundings. Open shelves up top keep the look light.

Kitchen Bar

Photo by Olson Photographic/Cornerhouse Stock

Party guests inevitably end up in the kitchen. So if you give them their own turf, they'll stay off yours. The location of this bar hutch, just outside the work triangle, allows guests to help themselves from the undercounter wine fridge without getting in the cook's way. Painted to match the kitchen cabinets, the unit is highlighted with furniture-like details: crown moldings, divided-light doors, and a glossy wood countertop.

Bookcase Bar

Photo by Mark Samu

No niche to fill? Build out into the room, instead. The shelves of this bar are just one bottle deep to preserve floor space. When not in use, a barn-style door with a wire-mesh window slides in front, offering a glimpse of liquor bottles and a playful, painted diamond design on the back wall.

Tip: Paint the back of a built-in to amp up its style. You can even use a mirror to add visual depth.

Passageway Bar

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Any transitional space near a kitchen or dining room is ripe for a bar. This unit has white-painted recessed-panel cabinets to match the adjacent kitchen's, creating a connection between the two rooms. Beneath its ample wood countertop is a wine fridge and a liquor cabinet with wire-mesh panels in the doors. In the upper cabinets, colorful stemware and tumblers on glass shelves look almost as if they were floating.

Tip: "Nothing says festivity like a fully stocked bar with sparkling glassware. And by building one in, you give guests a place to chat and congregate until food is served." —Julia Mack, Interior Designer, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Sit-Down Bar

Photo by Tria Giovan

A kitchenette can become a full-scale libation station with the addition of bar seating—and spirits. In this small secondary kitchen off a family room, green paint and a wood counter with a fancy ogee edge lend a clubby feel, enhanced by the warmth of a table lamp. Vintage barrister bookcases hung on the wall showcase glassware; a mini fridge, an ice maker, and a wine cooler hide under the counter.

Servers, Cupboards, and Pass-Throughs

Photo by Alan Shortall/Cornerhouse Stock

These built-ins—and cutouts—bring your home's dead zones to life while minimizing the effort to get guests fed and the holidays celebrated in style

Buffet-Style Partitions

In lieu of walls, use cabinetry to separate prime entertaining spaces. These two-sided base units topped with marble provide serving surface and storage that are accessible from the kitchen and the dining room. Windowed doors on the uppers create clear sight lines, making the combined space seem larger and airier.

Radiator Sideboard

Photo by Steve Randazzo

Turn a space-hogging cast-iron heater into a server. Boxed out with paneled silverware drawers and a metal grille that allows warmed air to escape, this cover-turned-sideboard becomes a standout piece of dining room furniture.

Tip: Top a radiator sideboard with heat-retaining marble so that it doubles as a food warmer in winter.

Window-Like Opening

Photo by Nathan Kirkman

For kitchens that are closed off from the action, create a simple cutout to shuttle drinks and hors d'oeuvres. This one spans three studs; the center support was cut and a new header now carries the load. An oak countertop that overhangs the wall by an inch on either side ekes out extra surface area.

Coffee Station

Photo by Ryan Kurtz

Turn a casual eating area into an after-party destination for coffee, tea, and dessert. The central feature of this kitchen storage unit is a recessed bar with a small sink and tiled backsplash. Even during cleanup, the host doesn't miss a minute of conversation, as dirty mugs go straight from table to sink to cabinet.

Butler's Pantry

Photo by Alan Shortall/Cornerhouse Stock

Take cues from the past. This hallway unit, for instance, only looks as if it's from a time when butlers were for real. Designed in a period style for the modern-day host, it offers floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall storage, as well as a counter that's deep and wide enough to double as a self-serve buffet for setting out finger foods.

Corner Cupboard

Photo by David Prince

Use a wedge-shaped built-in—a colonial-era favorite for cramped dining rooms—to squeeze storage into untapped angles. Here, glasses and serving dishes on open shelves are within reach of the table. Cabinet doors below keep less-display-worthy necessities hidden from view.

Tip: "Designed to fit a particular space, built-ins add architectural appeal, plus storage and an extra prep or serving area away from busy kitchen traffic. A piece of furniture can't do all that." —Doreen Schweitzer, Interior Designer, Naperville, Ill.