Toast of the Home

The modern wet bar shakes things up with sophisticated martini dens, juice bars, and showcases for wine.

Forget everything you thought you knew about home bars, with their basement rec-room vibe. Today’s home bars have grown up, catching up to trends in bars and restaurants in the outside world. Whether they are built to showcase collections of fine wine and crystal, or for whipping up smoothies, home bars now mix looks, convenience and cool appliances—served with a modern twist.

As sophisticated cocktail menus pop up at restaurants and nightclubs throughout Boston, more people want to re-create the going-out experience at home. “People are entertaining more,” says architect Frank Valdés, owner of FJV Design in Somerville. “And they have sophisticated palettes.”

Finding unused space and turning it into a wet bar—with a sink and maybe a minifridge—opens up a world of entertainment options. Most wet bars don’t require much space to be functional. Dennis Lawlor, principal of the Classic Group in Lexington, says an alcove or an unused closet can be used to create an average-size wet bar, in about five feet of space.

A bar cabinet, specialized for holding liquor and glassware, but lacking a sink, is even easier to work into the room. Eric Roseff, owner of Eric Roseff Designs in Boston, likes the bar cabinets from Ralph Lauren Home, available through your designer at Webster & Company at the Boston Design Center.

Mixing It Up
While many architects and designers are noticing a resurgence of cocktail culture, today’s home bar doesn’t have to involve hard alcohol at all. It can be a celebration of a wine collection. A glass wall displaying wine bottles as objects of art can take the place of a basement wine cellar. Bottles, glassware, even bar surfaces have become focal points. Pinspot lighting can highlight special bottles and add a twinkle to glassware. And fiber-optic color lighting will create a nightclub mood.

Look for lighting to come from anywhere, as backlit glass walls glow, fiber optics throw pinpoints of color and iridescent surfaces shimmer. Even bar tops become light sources. Roseff recently created a home bar out of onyx. Lit from below, “the entire onyx countertop will be illuminated,” he says. “Onyx has a translucency that allows light to shine through it, as opposed to a granite that would be completely opaque. The effect is a beautiful, almost surreal glow. It really makes a statement, and sets a tone in the space.”

The newest mini-appliances are perfectly sized for bars. A single dishwasher drawer makes clean-up easy. A refrigerator drawer will hold bar fruit and mixers, and it can be parked next to an undercounter ice maker or a tiny freezer. Wine captains, tiny fridges with graduated temperature zones that keep your reds, whites and rosés at the perfect chill, bridge the gap between storage and service. All these appliances can be faced with wooden cabinet panels, so the bar can live calmly with the rest of a beautiful house, instead of looking like a prep kitchen.

“A trend that I see in home bars is the use of bar cabinets,” says Roseff, “beautiful pieces of furniture that house glasses, bottles, barware, and incorporate trays and mirrored surfaces into the design. When the piece is closed, it is just a beautiful piece of furniture that does not scream ‘bar.’”

“Sipping martinis is a leisure activity, never something undertaken on the run. There are no to-go cups for a martini,” says Jean Verbridge, principal at Siemasko + Verbridge in Beverly, whose Martini Room in the 2004 Decorators’ Show House at the Commandant’s House opened more than a few local eyes to the potential of the home bar. “Our room was designed to eliminate the exterior world visually and mentally; windows were obscured, a veiled drapery creates an enveloping environment. The deep, rich color denotes quiet. The room is an escape from the hectic world.” The martini lover’s paradise also showcased classic glassware, which Verbridge says has inspiring sculptural qualities. “It’s a sophisticated adult entertaining room,” she says.

“To create a home bar, the most important element is to determine the purpose,” Verbridge says. “More often, home bars are envisioned as the social epicenter for entertaining. In the era of limited cooking and a lot of dining out, they might replace the kitchen as the gathering spot. People have cocktail parties, not dinner parties. People stop by for a beer, a glass of wine, not for a meal.”

Juice and coffee bars, too, can turn a party into an interactive event. Valdés calls these “healthy people’s bars.” Outfitted with blenders and juicers, a small sink, refrigerator and dishwasher drawer these spaces make entertaining even more fun. “It’s conducive for socializing,” he says.

Kids’ snack bars are a prime gathering spot where young children can learn to make snacks and older kids can learn cooking basics. With a refrigerator drawer for juices and fruits, a freezer drawer for Popsicles and an undercounter microwave for popcorn, these bars give children a space of their own. “They keep kids from running in and out of the kitchen,” says Verbridge. “Look for colored lights, colored glassware and even fun-drenched appliances. Why not buy a hot pink blender? Throw in those splashes of color and make it fun.” And in the summer, the building blocks of a snack bar can be moved outdoors into a backyard or poolside oasis.

Ins and Outs
Outdoor bars make the most of decks and yards in our short summers. More and more homeowners are making their yards into living rooms and kitchens, equipped with gas grills, refrigerators and sinks, says Lawlor. Adding a bar space makes for an easy-flowing party inside and out.

There are a few technical considerations to make when designing an outdoor bar. You don’t want pipes in external walls where they can freeze in the winter. “You also don’t want the bar to be in the way,” says Verbridge. “Or so remote that there’s not going to be a draw for people to utilize them.”

“For outdoor bars, stone cladding or stack stone is a great look,” says Roseff. “But it depends on environment and climate.”

“When building or designing a home bar, one should think about how it will fit the space,” Roseff says. “Do you need plumbing for a sink? An ice maker? Do you need a small refrigerator or wine cooler?”

Roseff also says to be sure to make space for glassware, and decide whether your bar is a place to make a drink or to drink it too: “Is it going to be a place to simply mix a drink, or more of a destination, a place to sit, with stools and a countertop?”