Mixing up the right home bar

With the holiday entertaining season in full swing, you may find yourself lacking a dedicated space for mixing up and serving the latest cocktail. For some, a box of spirits and a six-pack in the fridge might be enough, but for large-scale entertaining, a home bar may be the answer — particularly if you are trying to get your guests out of the kitchen.

Bar styles and options are as varied as those for sofas. Victorian, deco, urban contemporary, rustic, wood, metal, glass — whatever look you're trying to achieve, a custom cabinetry specialist can build you a bar to the dimensions and specifications you desire.

In the market for more immediate gratification? Home entertainment furnishings manufacturers such as California House, Legacy Billiards, Primo Craft and American Heritage specialize in home bars ready for installation. "The largest selection of bars and bar stools are typically offered in retail stores that sell pool tables and other game room furniture," says Pat Lowery with Family Recreation Products.

"These free-standing manufactured bars accomplish pretty much the same thing as custom-builts, are much more cost-effective and can usually be bought as packages with coordinating stools," says Mathew Lantz, assistant director for the Great Gatherings store in Annapolis. And unlike built-in bars, the free-standing varieties can be moved like furniture if you buy a new house.

When planning a home bar, the first question you need to ask is, "Will it be wet?" A wet bar with a sink, a dishwasher and an icemaker will likely require accommodations for new plumbing and electrical systems, whereas adding a dry bar that provides bottle storage, a serving counter, seating and a concealed space for trash is a comparatively simple task.

"Most free-standing manufactured bars can accommodate wine coolers, refrigerators, kegarators and ice makers, and wet sinks can be added as well for that built-in look." says Robert Dubell III of Home and Company in Parkville.

"Plumbing access is the real scary part," says Diana Bales, a designer with Design House Kitchens based in Savage. "If I can get plumbing, I can do anything."

Proximity to plumbing and electricity certainly are key factors to determining location. If a sink and dishwasher aren't mandatory, there are more options for where a bar might be located.

"Start with space planning," recommends Lantz, "and basic design needs … then go from there. Man caves or basements turned rec areas are the most common [locations] and becoming more popular every day, second to that would be formal dining rooms, which are becoming less and less popular," says Lantz.

Settling on where the bar will be will also help determine the size. "Manufactured bars will come in standard lengths," says Lowery. The rule of thumb for bar size is generally two feet per person per seated space at the bar, therefore a 77-inch bar is made for three people. Thirty-six inches to 42 inches behind the bar is also a good idea.

When considering size, also think about how a manufactured free-standing bar will get into your house. "Will it fit through your door, down the steps [to the basement] and make the turn at the bottom of the landing?" asks Mark Schmidt Regional Manager and Recreation Department Coordinator for Offenbacher's. You might want a bar that seats five, but if you can't get it into your house, you may need to think again.

Appropriate size determined, it's time to consider the options.

"The trends today are toward free-standing bars, some with back bars, which include glass racks, mirrors, bottle storage, wine racks," Dubell says.

According to Dubell, "L-shaped bars [with returns] offer a more built-in feel without being built-in, and help create a more barlike atmosphere."

Depending on the manufacturer, you may also be able to have a free-standing bar custom built. "One of our manufacturers, California House, offers an option for completely customizing the bar. Length, width, finish, interior cabinet design can all be changed to fit the customer's needs," Schmidt says.

But for a custom bar that is truly built-in, it might be wise to consult a kitchen and bath designer or a home remodeling professional.

"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.

Often, a custom-built bar will be just one element of major renovation.

"We've done bars with keg coolers, taps and beer chests," says Christopher Dorsey, senior designer of Kenwood Kitchens in Lutherville. "Lighted cabinets with glass shelves are popular, flat-screen TVs 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.

But whatever you decide — manufactured and free-standing, custom-manufactured or built-in, the bar needs to blend in with the rest of the house.

"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," Dorsey says.

Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home magazine. He can be reached at dhockman@chesapeakehome.com.


Home & Company: 410-661-2636 or http://www.home-and-company.com

Offenbachers (Timonium): 410-666-2270 or http://www.offenbachers.com)

Great Gatherings: 410-266-1111or http://www.mygreatgatherings.com

Family Recreation Products (Bel Air): 410-569-4020 or http://www.familyrecreation.net

Case Design/Remodeling: 800-513-2250 or http://www.casedesign.com

Design House Kitchens: 800-827-0001 or http://www.designhousekitchens

Kenwood Kitchens: 443-823-0294 or http://www.kenwood kitchens.com

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