Up to the bar
Want to add a home bar? Here are some questions to consider from Crown Point Cabinetry of Claremont, N.H., a nationally known designer of custom bars.
•How many people do you usually entertain? Allow 2 1/2 feet for each seat.
•What shape do you want? Straight run, L-shaped, C-shape, island?
•Do you want a sink for clean-up? Dishwasher? If so, remember to allow for placement of plumbing and enough space for the dishwasher door to open, generally 22 inches, plus 18 inches of walkaround.
•How will you refrigerate ingredients and make ice? A full-size fridge? Undercounter fridge? Wine chiller? Draft beer refrigeration? A couple of ice bins or buckets might not bode well for storage longer than an afternoon.
•How will you store your bottles? In open view or in cabinets? On shelves? Behind the bar? Under it? On a rack overhead? Under lock and key?
•What about entertainment? Big-screen TV? Music? Game table?
•How will you light your bar? Overhead? Underneath? From the wall? From a wall switch?
•Where will you put your supplies? Glassware and dishes? A blender? Juicer? Ice shaver? Pitchers, knife, corkscrew? Slow cooker? Silverware? Napkins, coasters, towels? Cleaning products? Don’t underestimate storage needs.
•Do you want a microwave or other oven or cooktop for making dips and snacks? After all, your guests can also get hungry.
New Year’s Eve is perhaps the most obvious time of year when the bar’s the star.
But, with many folks unwilling to risk driving to and from watering holes throughout the year, the home bar more often is taking center stage in area residents’ decorating plans.
Big walkout basement family rooms with big-screen TVs and cushy reclining seats demand a bar with personality as “a focal point,” Fort Wayne home designer Cindy Friend says.
The owner of Cindy Friend Interior Design Boutique in Covington Plaza sees residents putting more effort into home bar designs.
“It’s definitely a trend,” she says.
These days, some are choosing an L-shaped bar with leather-upholstered armchair-style seating instead of stools. Those with smaller spaces are turning movable serving carts, sofa or entryway tables into mini-bars with upscale accessories: shiny metal or mirrored trays, crystal decanters and glassware or retro-style ice buckets, according to recent postings on Pinterest, where the creative can share photos of their ideas.
“Bars aren’t what they used to be,” agrees Mike Thomas, owner of Copper River Cabinet Co. in Fort Wayne. “Bars used to be hidden in the corner of the basement, but now people are putting wine bars in their great rooms or family rooms and coffee bars in the master suite.”
Drawing on the popularity of breakfast-bar seating in open-concept kitchens, many home bars now are more than just a place for imbibing one’s favorite adult beverage.
They’ve become a center for socializing – the bar top doubles “for family gatherings, birthday parties, pizza boxes and watching football. A lot of people use them like a buffet space,” Thomas says.
Copper River, known for installing upscale kitchens, has adapted to fill the niche. It carries an array of cabinet styles and woods for bars and bar backs that look like furniture, and customers can choose from Formica, granite, quartz, concrete and glass and even two-tiered designs for bar tops.
“How you light it makes a big difference, too,” Thomas says. “Is it for function, or is it a showpiece? Some people just want function, and some people are, ‘I want it lit from underneath. I want a trophy. I want a display.’ ”
Friend says the best bars combine function and aesthetics. One of the favorites she’s designed was for a northwest Fort Wayne couple who turned their lower level into several entertainment “zones” – the bar, a comfy conversation area, an area for games and a separate room for watching a supersize TV.
The bar features a refrigerator and sink. Clubby, dark wood cabinetry, a textural backsplash made of metallic tile, a granite countertop and pendant lights round out the look.
Friend’s favorite touch – the bar chairs, which have clear acrylic carved-out backs in the shape of a martini glass, complete with olive and stirrer. Martinis happen to be the drink of choice for the hostess, who added a couple of pieces of martini-themed wall art. Her husband gets to display his Green Bay Packers memorabilia in a bookcase at the back of the bar, and a Margaritaville neon sign splashes the bar with multicolored light.
“There’s a lot of ‘Wow!’ statements,” she says.
But, Friend adds, don’t overlook the functional in planning a bar. One of the big decisions when adding a bar is whether it will be “wet” or dry because of the need to put in proper plumbing, she says.
A basic “dry” bar can cost as little as $600, but those who really want to belly up can drop $10,000 or more, depending on cabinetry and accoutrements, she says. But most bar areas come in between $3,000 and $6,000.
“One of the first things we’ll ask you if we’re creating or designing a bar for you is if it’s important to have all the appliances. Is it important to have a refrigerator, a stove cooktop, a sink and a dishwasher, or a built-in wine cooler? Some people just want to have a stand-up bar area with a microwave,” Friend says. “It can be as minimal or as maximal as you want it to be.”
A few trends in bar design? Stainless undermount sinks and black or brown composite sinks with built-in amenities such as a cutting board or drain board. Wire racks and overhead racks for wine bottles and glasses remain popular.
In sink hardware, oil-rubbed bronze has joined stainless and brushed nickel, while large stainless recessed pulls on cabinetry look chic.
“I always look at the style of the home and coordinate the look,” Friend says. “But getting personal with the look and design of accents and accessories is what is trending and what I recommend for clients.”
At Ace Game Room Gallery in Fort Wayne, owner Bret Almashie says customers sometimes opt for L-shaped bars because they provide a bit more seating in less space.
“One bar stool requires 2 1/2 feet, so for four people you’d need a 10-foot straight bar. But because of the corner you can get by with a little less,” he says.
A popular feature of one bar is a locking cabinet to keep alcohol away from underage fingers, Almashie says.
“What I’m hearing from families is that … they want to be the house where the kids hang out,” he says. “Having a bar at home is cool, even if you’re not drinking alcohol at it.”
Among the more unusual spots where Thomas has seen a home bar is in the loft area above a great room. Homebuilders built lofts as “computer areas” a few years ago, he says, but now that laptops and tablets and smartphones have taken over, a home bar can reclaim the space.
Thomas says one bar customer was keen on having a big-screen TV behind the bar, while another wouldn’t be satisfied without a kegerator – a refrigerator-like appliance with a keg on the inside and a beer tap on the outside.
Thomas put in his own home bar, a modified L-shape with oak cabinets, about 10 years ago – “ahead of the curve,” he says. The bar got a lot of use during an election night party in November and will likely host upcoming football-watching.
“I think in these economically challenging times, … we’re going to continue to see a lot more people remodeling and getting exactly what they want in their home,” he says, “and that includes a nice, cold drink.”