Image Credit: Lucinda Sanford
Without doubt, it’s a styling (and furniture) decision that’s all about luxury and pizazz over function and necessity, but what a home bar brings to a scheme is a clear sense of fun and glamour.
Blame it on the Art Deco era; opulent, Great Gatsby-esque entertaining in the home has an irresistible quality that home bar designs serve in droves. Keep it compact with an antique-inspired bar cart stationed in the corner of the room, topped with crystal decanters and bottles of spirits, or go maximalist with a full-scale bar setup that will keep the party going all night long.
Building a home bar into an interior design plan can be as complex or straightforward as you like. If you want it to melt into the rest of the room and not dominate, treat it as a piece of occasional furniture that will slot in easily, much like a console table would.
On the other hand, if your home bar plans are much bigger and bolder, consider a bespoke commission that will transform your entire room into something that people will be forming a queue outside of.
This is the most extravagant of home bar decor ideas when it comes to scale. A built-in home bar is anything but run-of-the-mill in domestic interiors. It replicates what you’d see when going out for drinks – a tall counter with fully-stocked fridges and shelves behind and perhaps stools on the other side.
It’s for serious entertaining, which is what makes it better suited to a part of the home whose sole mission is to host. Put a built-in home bar in a living room or dining room and it’s hard for any other activity to take place because it absorbs all focus. Keep this sort of design for additional reception rooms or basement excavations that have been turned into games rooms. It’s a path to establishing your house as the ultimate party pad.
The only downside with a home bar like this is that it very much marks you as being the host. As soon as you put up a taller counter, it acts as a barrier that might put people off helping themselves to drinks. If that’s something you want to avoid, go for a lower height and use lots of mirrors around the room which will make your room feel much more open and all of the zones within it more connected.
One level down from built-in designs and one level up from the drinks trolley is a liquor cabinet. These are still a larger piece of furniture to bring into the room, making a sizeable contribution to how you’re furnishing the space, but they don’t shout out what their function is, which helps them to stay under the radar.
Lots of drinks cabinets are taller, with an open base and then the storage section starting from about hip height. This is very much an Art Deco aesthetic. Stay on that luxury home bar theme by picking high-gloss, polished materials or lavish metallics like brass or copper cladding. Or, head down the more classic route by choosing wooden cabinets that could be mistaken for an antique.
With drinks cabinets, you can have either concealed doors or glass ones. Go for concealed if there isn’t too many other large pieces of furniture in the room, plenty of space and natural light, otherwise it can make the room feel hemmed-in and heavy.
Solid doors also keep the contents hidden, so they’re a good idea if you want your drinks collection to be out of sight. On the other hand, Glass will make a showcase out of your spirits, making them become a bit of a feature and adding another decorative dimension to your room’s design.
Another point regarding drinks cabinets is that there are purpose-built versions that, when opened, have hanging racks for wine glasses, indents for placing bottles and slim pull-out drawers for corkscrews and cocktail accessories. But you can also create a drinks cabinet using any style of cabinet, closet or dresser – it’s all about what you fill it with.
Image Credit: Kelly Wearstler
Perhaps the most trend-led of all the home bar options, drinks trolleys actually hark back to Victorian era tea carts. The same design later evolved into cocktail carts in the 1920s, before being cemented as a drinks showcase in the 1950s. It’s why so many of the designs fuse the glamorous material mixes (like antiqued mirror and bronze) of the 20s and 30s with angular, minimal form – it’s a Mid-Century meets Deco look. The popular TV series Mad Men glamourised and popularised them further with its use of curvilinear bar trollies in almost every episode, helping this entertaining essential to regain its stardom.
What makes a drinks trolley so appealing is how it’s so easy to fit in to any sized room. They’ll gladly sit like a side table, or, if you want to make it a bigger focus, position it in the room like a console table or chest and place an oversized mirror behind it. And being smaller in size, they’re one of the best home bar ideas on a budget.
You could even take a drinks trolley into the bathroom, but instead of displaying bottles of liquor on it, you’d keep bottles of cosmetics, bath oils and salts and bundles of towels on the lowermost shelf.
Image Credit: Spinocchia Freund London
Home bar design decided, the question that follows is what other pieces of furniture do you need to help it fulfil its destiny. The most obvious is the bar stool – a necessity for built-in home bars because it turns it into a social spot and not just somewhere to be served. Bar stools with a backrest mean that people will stay there for longer because support and comfort are covered. Backless chairs are more of a perch.
Bar stools are also another opportunity to turn up the glamour, especially if sumptuous. tactile textiles like velvet and suede make the cut. And if the home bar is a room itself and not just a feature within a room, it’s got to be dressed to encourage people to linger there. Generously sized, decadently deep sofas, a few simple footstools dotted around and a few side tables that provide a space to put down a drink helps everyone to settle in for the night.
Style and location sorted, the final talking point is home bar decor, which can elevate it considerably. A beautiful bar trolley is quickly undone if it’s stocked with an uncoordinated assortment of glasses and uninspiring collection of bottles. The secret is to show just a sample of what’s on offer. This means that when people flock it – which they will because a home bar is like a moth to a flame – they’ll see the span of drinks and the different types of glassware revealing that you know your stuff when it comes to entertaining. If there’s a space for wine glasses then include them, but prioritise tumblers for short servings like a Negroni and Old Fashioned, a few high-ball tumblers for long cocktails and Martini glasses or champagne coupes or saucers as they’re a vintage touch that complements the theme. The same goes for decanters, cocktail shakers and ice buckets – fit them in if you can because a home bar is often the only place where you’ll realistically be able to show them off.
Image Credit: Design: Drake Anderson, Photographer: Stephen Johnson
Depending on how many shelves in your cabinet, on your trolley or behind the bar counter, you can choose to keep all of the bottles together or to integrate them with the glassware. For example, you can nod to what concoctions await by keeping a tall gin and tonic glass in the same section as a few varieties of gin and tempting tonic waters along with a glass bowl with lemons and limes.
A small marble slab and cutting knife finishes things off because it shows you can create the entire drink including the garnish there and then. Dressing your home bar is also a question of whether you want it to appear uncluttered and curated, with just a few spirits and a few glasses on show with a decorative accessory or two, be it a candle that suits the colour scheme or a stack of bar-related books.
Or fully-filled and professional with almost every drink variety covered, from whiskeys and wines through to dark rums and tequila, combing well-known and esteemed brands with curious labels that will intrigue and delight in equal measure.
Like with any area of home styling, there aren’t really any rules except for this one – be sure that most of the bottles have been opened and tried at least once or twice. A home bar with no broken seals will look staged and uninviting. And where’s the fun in that?