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Raising the bar
The bar has become an important asset in a homeís lower level

Photos by Doug Edmunds

November 2015

A bar designed by Waukesha-based Collaborative Design Inc.

The bar has been set higher than ever. Homeowners seeking a convivial space to enjoy a beverage and much more are turning to design pros. Bill Koehnlein, president of Collaborative Design Inc. in Waukesha, and Tara Wilke, owner of McNabb & Risley Fine Furniture and Interior Design in Thiensville, served up their home bar expertise. They says itís all about personalizing by combining practicality and inspiration.

"A lot of my clients are putting them in," Koehnlein says. "Inspiration can come from all parts of the world by travel or access through the Internet. People are always looking for unique ideas that will make you feel like you are somewhere else."

Wilke says homeowners are looking to use more and more available space for entertainment. "A lot of homes now have completely built-out lower levels with huge open spaces with taller ceilings. Itís perfect for a bar."

She notes bars complement the rise of informal lifestyles that include adjoining media rooms and even play areas for youngsters.

"They love comfortable groupings for cheese and crackers and informal small-plate dinners," Wilke says. "Todayís lifestyle means not much time for larger, complicated dinners on a regular basis. Bars fit that well."

To fit that style, Wilke adds that bars are adorned with comfortable furniture for bellying up to the bar or lounging nearby. Selecting long-lasting, easy-to-clean fabrics is a must. "If a client wants carpeting, I advise using a low pile, commercial grade with a light pattern (to mask inevitable stains over time)."

While lifestyles may lean informal, there is no shortage of glitzy touches. "I like to do things that are off the beaten path," Koehnlein says. That includes installing an onyx bar top illuminated from below with durable LED lighting, bringing out the materialís translucent quality.

The lower level of this River Hills home includes accent pieces from McNabb & Risley

Both designers have utilized granite, quartz, concrete and wood as bar tops. The other wow factor can be the cabinetry and lighting.

"Custom wood cabinets are common," Wilke says. "There are so many options for lighting the cabinets as well as the bar, including pendants hung above the main counter. Lighting can be important, especially because lower levels often donít have the same amount of natural light as upstairs."

Depending on what the homeowner wants to display, Koehnlein says liquor bottles strategically arranged in those cabinets can become "displayed jewelry."

Options also extend to water source and appliances. A sink may be installed at the barís service side, but hidden by a higher counter level or in a counter behind the actual serving area. There is a growing use of microwaves, dishwashers, beer tappers and wine coolers of all sizes up to the walk-in variety that include coolers for food.

It all fits a pattern of moving the typical informal gathering place from the kitchen to the bar/entertainment area.

Bars are not restricted to lower levels. Self-serve bars are common as extensions of main-floor kitchens with adjoining casual great rooms, Koehnlein says. He and Wilke also say they are aware of the emergence of the freestanding bar, either as an enhancement to Wisconsinites taking advantage of limited outdoor living or a need to preserve space for other functions.

"Those who have downsized to condos or to other limited space have turned to bar carts," Wilke says. "Itís a good alternative." She adds that itís also a nod to midcentury style.

Both designers say homeowners who opt to add or refresh a bar enjoy more than the obvious entertainment amenity. "The payback is that it increases the value of your home," Wilke says.


This story ran in the November 2015 issue of: