Design By Case Design and Remodeling
Having a space in the house dedicated to sitting back and enjoying a refreshing beverage continues to evolve into quiet niches off the kitchen, beverage centers near the pool and full-blown, lower level lounges. Design professionals are constantly sharpening their skills and pencils to delight clients in conceiving spaces that are all about fun.
“I think home bars are even more popular than they used to be,” says Diana Bales a designer with Design House Kitchens based in Savage, Maryland. “I think the economics of the situation has made entertaining at home much more popular,” she says. Most of the bar projects that Bales works on are in basements but not all of them. “I have done some very elaborate bar areas on the back side of the kitchen,” she says.
The numbers involved with designing a home bar relative to the size of the room are somewhat fluid but there are some rules of thumb. “We always start by reviewing what spaces are available in the home,” says architect Neal Hodgson, principal of Neal Hodgson Architects in DC. “A bar doesn’t have to take up that much space. We allow a minimum of two feet per bar stool, so if you want to seat four people we design an eight foot bar,” he says.
Image Courtesy of Design House Kitchens
Hodgson has designed bar tops from scratch and used actual bars purchased from architectural salvage companies. The other big determinant for size sometimes hinges on appliances. “Usually there’s a ‘his and hers wish list,’” he says. “Sometimes the clients want a dishwasher behind the bar and some want two dishwashers.”
There’s some other key numbers to keep in mind. The typical height of a bar top is 42” which is six inches taller than counter top height and a foot taller than a typical table top. Having 36” to 42” in space behind the bar is also a good idea. “Numbers don’t show up in my head right away,” says Charles W. Craig of Charles W. Craig Interior Design in Arlington, “but I will ask clients questions like, ‘how frequently do you entertain, how many guests typically show up, are you going to be the bartender or are you going to hire a bartender?’”
If the bar is going on a lower level additional lighting might need to be added. “The last one I designed in a walk-out basement we put in a dropped soffit so we could add lighting fixtures,” says architect Lorena Checa of Lorena Checa Associates in Takoma Park, Maryland. “Then we curved the soffit to mirror the curve of the bar to create a sculptural element,” she says.
Image and Design Courtesy of Lorena Checa
Fun spaces invite artistic treatments but there are essentials a bar has to have to make it a bar. “You need a sink, dishwasher, storage for bottles and glasses, and ideally a concealed space for trash,” says Checa. The other side of needs is desires and some bar upgrades include elements imported from the commercial side of design.
“We’ve done some with keg coolers, taps and beer chests,” says Christopher Dorsey, senior designer of Kenwood Kitchens in Lutherville, Maryland. “Lighted cabinets with glass shelves are popular, flat screen TV’s are nice and so is having space to display objects. People want all the bells and whistles at home so they don’t have to go out,” he says. Saving money by having the option to entertain at home is a good concept but building a home bar can be pricey.
Image Courtesy of Kenwood Kitchens
“When you think about it, you have a countertop, a fridge, cabinets, you basically have a new kitchen,” says Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodeling based in Bethesda. Richardson has seen some of his clients recycle cabinets from a kitchen remodel by using them in a basement- based bar. Budget calculations should be carefully considered in conjunction with thoughts of bellying up. “Begin with what you’re yearning for. Is the bar the focal point of the room? Ask yourself if it’s what you need or what you want?” says Richardson.
All the designers agree that a home bar should blend in with the rest of the house. Dorsey says, “If the bar area is adjacent to another living space it needs to make sense, it has to be big enough to look like it was done on purpose as opposed to being tacked on.” Color, fabrics, finishes and décor should all complement whatever is going on next door to the bar.
The biggest challenge to making the space look like it was always there at an acceptable budget is usually a mechanical issue. “Plumbing access is the real scary part,” says Bales, “if I can get plumbing I can do anything.” In order for a wet bar to be wet you need running water and a drain. If plumbing does not exist in the right location for a basement bar, using a jackhammer on the floor becomes a real and unattractive possibility.
The upside to home-based bars include solving an age old entertaining conundrum. “Bars can be used to remove guests from the kitchen so cooking can occur,” says Hodgson. Having a separate area specifically for entertaining is a nice thing to have and the process has built-in benefits. “All renovation projects can be fun but nobody really needs a bar, it’s something they chose to do,” says Richardson. “Because of that, they tend to be fun projects.”
Text and images originally appeared in the February/March 2009 issue of Chesapeake Home Magazine.
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