At-Home Bars: Entertain Stylishly

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to inspire changes within the home. Here’s a toast to one of the latest: the return (and update) of the at-home bar.
Home bar in living room next to patio doors

©Zeke Ruelas - Lori Gilder design

Key Takeaways:

  • Homeowners should find the best spot for mixing and pouring, with room for all the bar accessories.
  • Decide if it’s mostly for liquor storage or if they want to provide full service with a sink and refrigerator.
  • They can add some glam to the decor with a luxe stone countertop, mirrored backsplash, and good LED lighting.

Antique white buffet with wine fridge

©Kitchen Magic

In addition to spurring designated work-from-home spaces, larger kitchen islands, and more relaxing outdoor living areas, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought back the at-home bar trend in a renaissance of home entertaining.

What started with Zoom cocktail gatherings and mixology events has stirred more homeowners to create an at-home bar.

In its 2021 Houzz Emerging Home Design Trends Report, Houzz, an online design source, found that searches for home bars and wine cellars both were up nearly four times from the prior year.

“People have been relying on their homes to provide new avenues of activity and entertainment since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Julie Noble, senior communications manager.

The concept isn’t new, however. At-home bars were a centerpiece for entertaining guests in the 1950s and 1960s. A certain cohort may recall the scene in the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” when Mrs. Robinson sat down at her home bar and asked college grad Benjamin what he wanted to drink.

Today, homeowners have adjusted their room designs and decors themselves to bring together the furnishing needed for a bar. Some are as simple as bottles of liquor and wine, along with an ice bucket, glasses, napkins, stirrers, and coasters on a counter or big tray. Others are professionally designed with added features such as shelves, cabinetry, a sink, and a refrigerator or wine cooler.

Hallway home bar

©Jennifer McNeil Baker - Maestri Studio

The interest in home bars also led to the return of stylish bar carts, which can roll into different rooms and outdoors.

Dallas-based architect Eddie Maestri of Studio Maestri is among the professionals who have found the at-home bar to be an increasingly popular client request.

“Every single project we have currently involves a bar of some sort,” he says. “We are doing a lot of floating shelving on brass, incorporating mirrors into the back wall, for sure. Whether it has a sink just depends on the space and if the client wants one.”

Maestri, himself, has an at-home bar with a sink and ice maker. He also just completed a project for a client converting a dining room into a bar.

The styling of home bars has also evolved, says real estate salesperson Jennifer Ames Lazarre of Engel & Volkers in Chicago.

“They used to be a formula: base cabinets, upper cabinets with glass doors, granite top, sink, and refrigerator,” she says. “Now, they are often more artfully designed with floating shelves, LED lighting in a channel on the underside of the shelf, and beautiful hardware.”

Professionals like Chicago kitchen designer Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design agree that the at-home bar is being requested more often. He prefers to call it a beverage center. In addition to the pandemic trend of entertaining at home, De Giulio believes homeowners are also seeking an organized arrangement of living areas in an open plan.

Beverage station next to kitchen

©Dave Burk, Hedrich Blessing Photographers - Mick de Giulio design

“Beverage centers can include not only traditional barware, ice makers, sinks, and liquor storage but also refrigerated drawers for beverages and wine storage,” he says. “Companies like Sub-Zero have manufactured modular wine and refrigeration units in many more sizes and configurations, and now have the ability to mask the fronts with cabinet and furniture-like facades, allowing for bars that don’t look like bars but blend seamlessly into the surroundings.”

And Los Angeles–based designer Lori Gilder of Interior Makeovers Inc., who has seen an increased interest in home bars over the last few years, thinks the trend simply is another way homeowners reassessed their living spaces.

“We repurposed and redesigned unused living rooms by transforming them into new areas to entertain family and friends, indoors and outside,” she says. For some clients, Gilder has nestled dry bars into existing nooks, and for others, she set up more elaborate wet bars that included a sink, refrigeration, and display shelving for barware.

People’s “entertaining aesthetic tells a personal story,” Gilder says. To make the areas attractive, she carefully chooses finishes, woods, metals, stones, glass, wall coverings, integrated lighting, and hardware.

Creative spaces for home bars

©Michael LeFebvre/ - KitchenVisions design

Where to put a bar varies according to how homeowners use their homes. Designer Jodi Swartz of KitchenVisions in Natick, Mass., has one large installation going into a basement. Typically, she places bars in a kitchen as a beverage center, or outside that room in a butler’s pantry, in an alcove, along the buffet wall of a dining room, or even behind a door in a closet. She tends to include a sink and refrigerator and often a dishwasher. For decoration, she might line a backsplash with tiles, a full splash of quartz, or a mirror, possibly an antique. She rarely uses wallpaper since it can easily get splattered.

Designer Krista Watterworth Alterman of Krista + Home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., considers a custom bar to be a terrific way to use a fun nook or an unused area in a living room. “I like to add a bar to break up a very large space—it adds zones that are perfect for entertaining and connecting,” she says. Other additions include a lot of storage, open shelving, and an ice machine or wine fridge.

Dining room to bar conversion

©Jessica Glynn - Design by Krista Watterworth Alterman/Kirsta+Home

The popularity of the at-home bar has also helped designers boost business. Case in point: Renee and Marc Simon, owners of foo-BARS Designs in Ocala, Fla., experienced a 100% year-over-year sales increase for their furniture business, which started out making reception desks, then shifted to handcrafted bars. The bars vary in shape and size up to 14 feet. Most use pressure-treated lumber when designed for the outside and pine for bars inside a home; some are stained and others are painted. Others incorporate corrugated metal. And while many clients live in Florida, the couple has worked with homeowners in New York and California.

For now, nobody seems to know whether the home bar will remain an important part of more homeowners’ wish lists or fizzle when the pandemic ends.

How to stock a home bar? The site The Spruce Eats, offers suggestions. Cheers!