Home Design: The New Cozy

With “going out” and “getting away” feeling like relics of a more carefree era, today’s homeowners are creating all-inclusive retreats within their own four walls.

Happy Hours

When you open a pub in your living room, a great night out is one spent staying in.

Peter Rhys-Jenkins: software architect by day, publican by night. (Photograph by Matt Kalinowski)

It started out simply as a way to fill space.

While studying the plans for their new South Dartmouth home six years ago, Peter Rhys-Jenkins and his wife, Dee Borba-Jenkins, saw that the cavernous living room would need a substantial conversation piece. “Our architect talked about bookcases and boring things like that,” Peter says. “I thought a pub would be much more fun.” So he logged on to eBay and, without checking to see if it would fit, bid on a showroom model of a classic British tavern bar. He won it as the lone bidder, paying a mere $4,000.

Dubbed the Three Feathers—a reference to the fleur-de-lis, which figures in Peter’s Welsh heritage—the handcarved 10-by-12-foot mahogany pub features an illuminated panel of leaded glass above and mirrors along the back. Peter’s custom touches include a welcome sign (bought in Wales by his niece) and a working absinthe fountain he bought online from a seller in the Czech Republic.

The bar sat in storage for years while Peter and Dee’s house, originally the century-old Gulf Hill Dairy milking parlor, was being renovated. Creating a family residence from a 12,600-square-foot building that had once been home to a herd of Argyle cows called for some radical transformations: What is now the great room was where farmers stored up to 200 tons of hay, and huge concrete feeding troughs had to be demolished to make way for the bedrooms and a library. Also, the original concrete-slab-over-fieldstone foundation needed to be replaced, requiring the entire structure be raised while that was under way.

Presenting another logistical challenge was the pub itself. Even broken into six sections, it was still immensely heavy and had to be lifted in with a crane during construction. “Magically, it fit,” says Peter, who finally moved his family into the repurposed barn last July.

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Clockwise from top left, the Three Feathers, awaiting its daily 6 p.m. opening time; the antique absinthe fountain, an online-auction find; Peter and Dee at the bar, which can comfortably accommodate about six “customers”; a half-pint of Guinness—which is always on the house. (Photographs by Matt Kalinowski)

The workings of the home are controlled by a computer, named Natasha by the couple, that gives audio reports in a subtle English accent. At 6 o’clock each night, Natasha says, “The Three Feathers is now open for the evening,” and the lights switch on. The pub is fully stocked, since “every now and then, people ask for a silly drink,” says Peter. Plus, the couple sent their 19-year-old son, Anthony, to bartending school to learn how to mix like a pro. (Which has a side benefit: Anthony is training to be an actor, and “bartenders make more money than waiters,” Peter notes wryly.)

As for Peter and Dee, they prefer having simple vodka and tonics each evening. “We put out our cutting board and limes, and make a time of it,” Peter says. They also like wine, so Peter keeps cases of Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s in a storage area behind a hidden door in the pub. “The cabernet is pretty good. You can open one pricey bottle of wine, then switch to it, and nobody notices,” he says.

Adding a full-service pub has had an unintended, but not unwelcome, consequence for the couple: They now stay home more than they used to. “It’s very social,” says Peter. “Everybody loves hanging around a bar.” As much as they enjoy the pub, however, the family tends to turn in early, like the farmers who preceded them. At 10 p.m. Natasha announces closing time with a famous line by the British comedian Tony Hancock, “You watch, it’ll go dark in a minute, and we’ll have to turn the lights on.” And sure enough, the Three Feathers goes dark. Admits Peter: “I’m thinking of moving it to 9:30, to be honest.”

—By Marni Elyse Katz