Raising the Bar

Focus On Furnishings

April 11, 2004|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

From the looks of things, there's a lot of entertaining going on. At least that's one explanation for the huge proliferation of home bars.

Look through recent Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and Horchow catalogs and you'll see them. Some are mini-versions of restaurant bars, and others look like armoires fitted with lighted glass shelves and tuck-away spaces. You'll find mobile carts whose wheels allow them to travel where needed, even outdoors, and sideboards or cabinets with cubbies designed for wine.

At the October furniture market in High Point, N.C., home bars bridged tastes and budgets from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. They were the toast of several collections.

Even Antiques Roadshow was represented in a canopied Victorian model designed for its licensed collection for Pulaski Furniture Corp. And J. Peterman included a pulpit bar as part of a group for Jeffco that was inspired by his own antiques collected from travels all over the world.

Whether the party is for one or 20, the guiding design philosophy is convenience and good looks to complement styles of furnishings from dressed-up traditional to casual contemporary. The idea is to create an ambiance for socializing.

The best explanation for the thirst for bars is related to our continued interest in "cocooning." The comfort zone definitely is at home, as it has been since 9 / 11.

"It's about making your home more comfortable and more inviting for entertaining, whether it's the immediate family or guests," says Jackie Hirschaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.

Then, too, the news of health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption has buoyed that beverage's sales. Manufacturers quickly followed with new cabinets that have serving surfaces and modest storage for wine bottles.

Sophisticated pieces

Curiously, this furnishings trend is contrary to a previous preference for built-in bars in new home construction as well as remodeling. The emphasis has been on tucking bars into pantries, dens, basements and even in master bedroom suites. Most were designed in cabinetry to match adjacent spaces and were topped with granite or stone counters, plumbed with sinks and included under-the-counter mini-refrigerators.

But perhaps people are finding this formula a little too predictable, if not sterile.

"It's too cold and institutional," Hirschaut says. "That's what you get in a hotel. What's appealing about the freestanding bars is that they can reflect your personality in a more distinctive piece."

Richard Olmeda, senior vice president of Magnussen Furniture, couldn't agree more.

"Sophisticated consumers are looking for ways to make their homes uniquely theirs," he says. "They aren't content with built-in bars."

One of Magnussen's offerings has a graceful curved front that is decorated with a hand-painted landscape scene within framed wood panels. Marble is the elegant choice for the top.

Manufacturers now are providing components that cater to customer specifications. Sligh Furniture, for example, has blended bar functions into home theaters, including one with a 62-inch TV cabinet and wine rack. Bars, after all, are another element of home entertaining, whether it involves watching a sporting event on TV or schmoozing over martinis or margaritas.

Some features are adapted from pieces by high-end designers who reconfigured antiques for more utilitarian bar use. Substituting glass for wood shelves in an armoire or adding puck lights to show off glassware, sometimes even mirroring the backs, are among modifications that have been made to 18th-century wedding cabinets from Provence.

Romantic elegance

Some new pieces rely just as much on romance for appeal.

The Cortona Armadio, an armoire in the At Home in Tuscany collection inspired by Frances Mayes' best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun, is imposing at dimensions of 62 inches wide, 91 inches tall and an extra-deep 28 inches. What's really impressive about the fruitwood-toned armoire, manufactured by Drexel Heritage, is its ample, well-appointed interior. The back is mirrored and lighted, and there are suspended wineglass racks at the top and an adjustable glass shelf. It features gridlike storage for 30 wine bottles.

Other bars are based on actual antiques. A Palace Bar, characterized by a motif of elongated carved diamond moldings on the front and sides, is modeled after an 18th-century buffet. The piece is part of the Traditions Made Modern collection produced by Romweber Furniture with the Museum of New Mexico and reflects New Mexican, Central American and European influences.

Low buffet styles are especially suited to living and dining areas. The top surface is useful for staging ingredients and glassware.

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