When you throw a party, you can count on one thing: Everyone will cluster in the kitchen. So these days, that’s where you put the bar.
But first, let’s stop calling it a bar. And let’s stop thinking of it as three stools and a tacky stand in some darkened corner. That version started going the way of the formal living room 25 years ago.
The new bar is called a beverage center, according to local designers. It’s as beautifully designed as your kitchen and dining areas. It’s better equipped than the old bar with the small sink and mini-fridge. And it’s appropriate for entertaining everyone—even kids.
“Specific areas have evolved into multi-use spaces,” says designer and design book author Ellen Cheever-Giorgi of Wilmington. “Formal dining areas are going away. Living rooms are becoming small libraries.” Kitchens flow into dining areas and family rooms, which makes them perfect for the beverage center.
The kitchen center pulls guests away from the cooking and prep areas. No host needs a crowd around the refrigerator while cooking. That means designing a space that directs traffic elsewhere, one that’s distinguished by different, but perhaps similar, cabinets and counter materials, as well as amenities.
Those amenities have changed as our drinking habits have been refined. With the interest in bottled microbrews, keg systems have yielded to extra refrigerators. Those refrigerators also hold bottles of water or the specialty sodas that kids love, like Boylan’s and Jones. Designer Biff Barton prefers his wine cool, not chilled, so he stores his in an under-counter refrigerator with drawers.
As wine has become more accessible, and as interest has grown thanks to well-marketed boutique producers, climate-controlled coolers—either small under-counter units or floor-to-ceiling models—have become more popular. So have gas-controlled tap systems like the Cruvinet. A three- or five-bottle model will protect your favorite vintages for days on end, whether they’re from Chaddsford Winery or Napa. “The prettier the bottle, the prettier to have behind glass doors,” says Cathi Hodgins of Kitchens By Design in Wilmington.
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Even traditional cocktails and liquors have given way to drinks made with homemade infusions and custom products from small-batch distilleries, such as the vodkas, rums and “jins” made by Dogfish Head Brewery and Spirits. Yet “No one leaves their liquor sitting out anymore,” says designer Nancy Conklin. So you won’t often see a specially lit shelf or rail full of bottles behind a bar. You may see an infusion displayed prominently in a beautiful decanter from Simon Pearce, perhaps with a stylish touch such as an antique silver tag, says Bree Wellons of Dilwyne Designs in Wilmington. But you’ll find liquor bottles concealed in tastefully designed cabinets.
One bit of common display is glassware. With a different vessel for every kind of wine and cocktail—not to mention beers and ales—serious enthusiasts may choose to feature their collection of bar ware in a lighted glass-front cabinet. It is the one use Hodgins will recommend for glass cabinets “because that’s the one place you can show your Guccis and poochies” in an attractive, orderly way.
Jeff West of Jeff West Home in Rehoboth Beach has seen people hide sinks, refrigerators and storage in the cabinets of built-in bookcases in the family room. “Aesthetically it’s very pleasing,” he says. Yet for the ultimate in tasteful concealment—though not quite as concealed as the martini bar in Barton’s master bath—some homeowners place their beverage centers in the butler’s pantry.
“They’re between the kitchen and the dining room, so that makes sense,” says designer Rose Giroso of Rose Authentica in Wilmington. “If you have a beverage center, you make it as beautiful as a china cabinet.” Barton’s includes a rustic walnut countertop with an exposed bark edge.
More space in a butler’s pantry allows for more appliances. In addition to the wine cooler, extra refrigeration and glass cabinet, there’s often room for a dishwasher, sink and an ice maker. “Who would imagine there’d be all this talk about what ice is better?” Cheever-Giorgi says, laughing. But as people get more serious about quality drinking over quantity drinking, the ice factor becomes more important: Shape and size determine the rate at which it melts. No one wants their lovingly infused blueberry vodka diluted too quickly.
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Of course, no beverage center is complete without a bar-like counter. Though it may not look like a saloon-style fixture, with a high counter and foot rail, it is often distinctive. It may be a different color or made of materials that are a bit different than those of the other counters.
DuPont’s Corian and its newer Zodiaq quartz are popular choices, as are marble and limestone fossils, Cheever-Giorgi says. Copper and zinc have a “deconstructed, more masculine feel,” she says. Giroso has seen concrete, as well as exotic woods and cork.
To further distinguish the kitchen-dining beverage area, Hodgins has incorporated unique features like hammered copper sinks, and she’s used slightly different flooring to create a feeling that flows from feminine to masculine. Says Cheever-Giorgi, “People are willing to be a little edgier.”
P.O. Box 56, Montchanin
Giorgi Kitchens & Designs Inc.
218 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington
BW Design Group
8 Beryl St., Wilmington
Kitchens By Design Inc.
1855 Marsh Road, Wilmington
Nancy Conklin Interiors LLC
P.O. Box 4408, Wilmington
Jeff West Home
413 Rehoboth Ave.,Rehoboth Beach
1700 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington