Basement bar ideas – how to turn an underutilized space into an entertaining hotspot
Try these design-savvy basement bar ideas to mix, stir and shake up your guest-hosting spaces
These basement bar ideas might just inspire you to take a different direction with this subterranean space. After all, more often than not, basements become storage spaces for junk and are never given the design attention they deserve. But in any house, every square inch is precious and should be put to good use. If you love hosting guests, then a bar in the basement makes complete sense.
Having a cocktail bar at home is a wonderful luxury and the options are plenty when it comes to fun basement ideas. A bar design will create a whole new space for seating, entertaining, and drinks prep. You can branch away from your home's overall mood and look, and try something completely new – maybe even adding a bit of nightlife elegance to your home.
We look at how the basics of home bar design can be applied to a basement, plus get design inspiration and layout ideas for the experts.
How to design a basement bar
'When creating your home bar, assess your current living space,' says Jarret Yoshida, principal designer, Jarret Yoshida, Inc. 'A few questions can help you screen your home. If you’re renting, then built-in cabinetry isn’t for you – it's all about a cool bar cart. If you own the house, choose stylish cabinetry for a dedicated entertainment space that will wow your friends and family.'
You can also consider repurposing an existing cabinet to hold drinks, assorted glasses, and all the accouterments. Colored, glass-fronted cabinets give an interesting look to storage units.
The next question you need to tackle is – how organized are you? 'If you’re organized, then your bar can be open with multiple tiers to display your liquor and your beautiful vintage glassware. If you’re not, then we suggest doors to hide it all until you’re ready to use it,' says Jarret.
Depending on the size of the space, you will also have to determine whether you want to make your bar a permanent basement addition or one that can be moved around. If you have limited space, you'll want to locate the bar in a corner or even choose a collapsible design to free up space when it’s not in use.
Created in one corner of the house, this bar (pictured above) is an ideal design for compact areas. 'I think we would all love to have a room like this in our home but it was the location that made it work,' says Helen Parker, creative director, deVOL. 'It was an area rather than a room and it had access into the garden so we fit it against a small wall and made it functional.'
1. Research on wet and dry basement bar designs
'The first step is to decide between a wet bar and a dry bar,' says Noorein Kapoor, creative director, Noorein Kapoor Design. 'The primary difference is that a wet one incorporates a small sink while a dry bar is without one. A wet bar gives you the convenience of emptying and rinsing glasses. This is very handy if you plan on making a lot of cocktails. When designing a wet bar, there should be provision for plumbing and the faucet should be at a height so that it is easy to wash the tall wine glasses.'
A wet bar adds more convenience and functionality to your space; it also helps you when it comes to cleaning up your home bar. However, these tend to increase the cost of a home bar. Along with plumbing, you'll also need to purchase a sink, faucets, and other accessories such as hand towels, soap, etc.
A dry bar can simply be a small bar with a counter on the interior side, stools, and a shelf with alcohol bottles and glasses. These are cheaper to install and maintain. You’ll still need barware, spirits, and a small refrigerator, but without dealing with plumbing. These can be set up in practically any room.
If your basement extends outside, then consider setting up a garden bar perfect for alfresco entertaining. You can have a bespoke bar with lighting that's going to add some ambiance and suit the vibe of your garden. Consider adding a shelving unit here to keep glassware and drinks so you don't need to keep running indoors. Here too, both, wet and dry bars work perfectly.
2. Choose the right shape of the basement bar build
The most common basement bar plan involves an L-shaped design because it can be incorporated in small or large spaces and is roomy yet versatile. An L-shaped one can fit perfectly in the corner so if you have a roomy basement and want to fit more functions than one (perhaps a bar plus a small living room), then choosing this design would be ideal.
A round or horseshoe one is a good design when you have a wet bar, as it incorporates the concept of a ‘golden triangle’. This means, it positions the fridge, the spirits, and the sink within reachable distance of each other, allowing the user to move between them with ease.
'The height of the counter should be 42 inches, and the stools should be 30 inches from the ground. There should be at least 3 feet space behind the counter and sufficient space around it for placing the stools,' adds Noorein.
3. Opt for layered lighting when building basement bar
One of the most important aspects of good basement bar designs is lighting. This area in the home is usually dark and dingy, and simple, subdued illumination usually doesn't cut it. Light it with a single, standard bulb and it will look stark, lacking character. The latest lighting trends dictate a layered lighting approach.
Build up the room with recessed lighting strips or LED spotlights, multiple fittings suspended over the length of the bar, and colored lighting and reflective surfaces for an overall fun look.
'Light the inner glass cabinets with recessed lighting or focus lights, install rope lighting under the cabinets so that there is sufficient task lighting for the preparation of drinks. Install pendants above the bar counter,' says Noorein.
When it comes to showcasing your glassware, use 2700K lighting for a warm glow. 'The dimmer is key: too bright and there will be glare on your glassware and bottles,' says Jarret.
4. Go for a striking splashback for your home basement bar
Splashbacks are practical additions to a basement bar area as they help protect the walls from staining. In a bar area where spirits of all colors reside, having a sturdy splashback helps. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on aesthetics. Splashbacks can bring in pattern, color and style to a space. Don't be afraid to experiment with bold shapes and textures.
If you're wondering how to choose the right splashback style, look at your cabinetry and choose a hue on the opposite end of the colour wheel for a striking and pleasing contrast. If your bar isn't going to be a super busy area, you could choose glossy tiles that bring sheen and depth to the area. Remember glazed tiles are less susceptible to staining than something like an raw encaustic tile.
Marble veining on splashbacks also have real show-stopping impact.
'Use smoked mirror instead of clear mirror on a splashback for an interesting look. Alternatively, consider a gorgeous lacquer in cinnabar or tangerine,' says Jarret.
5. Give the basement bar cabinets a stylish update
One of the most important elements of a home bar is the storage unit. This is what on-lookers first notice as you open the cabinet and enquire about their spirit of choice for the evening.
If you have a small bar, you end up storing glassware and other accessories inside cabinets. Ideally, a combination of open and closed cabinets works. Opt for open racks to store the wine and gin bottles. A closed one would be best for single malts and liquors.
'Consider clear glass cabinets for the bar as it allows one to see the contents of the cabinet easily and use a mirror splashback to create an illusion of a larger space. It's all about disguising the functionality with color and pretty details,' says Noorein.
Don't forget to jazz up the storage area. If you have an overall muted aesthetic for the bar, bring in color through stained glass cabinets. You could even consider painting the woodwork for a striking effect.
'Install lights inside the cabinets – your bar will glow when you open the doors like you just opened a gorgeous jewelry box. We often use bold wallpaper inside the cabinets too. Whatever you do, don’t leave it just white unless it’s part of a very disciplined minimalist look,' says Jarret.
6. Install a sturdy stone countertop for a durable basement bar
While designing your basement bar, don't skimp on the countertop – this is the most visible surface in your bar. Stone worktops usually do well as these are durable, hard, resistant surfaces that can take spills and weight. Granite, marble, or natural stone slabs although can be expensive, will last you longer and give your space a top-tier bar appearance.
If stone isn't your favorite look, adding a butcher's block to your bar, or even just a solid wood worktop would be the next best option. Finally, if you're looking for an extremely authentic, industrial look, a stainless steel countertop could be the best bet.
7. If the space is small, try a DIY basement bar design
Trolleys or bar carts are the answer to small space issues. These are tiny, versatile, and can be wheeled in and out of areas, serving large needs, while taking up minimal space.
Whether you want it to double up as storage or if looking to create your DIY home bar, consider a few things before buying a bar cart. Choose a size that is slim but with multiple shelves. Also think about the material and design – it should correlate with your interior scheme.
For instance, while gold bar carts are all the rage, if you have a more minimalist interior, a bright, shiny cart may look out of place. If your basement extends out to a garden, and you plan on hosting outdoors during the summer, then a wooden bar cart would look fantastic.
Style the cart with different sized and shaped bottles, sculptural decanters, and the best champagne glasses. Dress it up with a decorative tray, nut bowls, and coasters. If you still have room on the trolley, add a vase of fresh flowers and a few candles to add to the charm.
8. Keep it subtle with a hidden basement bar
Have a tiny basement that can barely fit two people, let alone a whole basement bar design? Don't worry. There's always a solution for super tiny spaces too.
Hide a wine cellar inside and create a magical, hidden space inside your very own home. This is the perfect idea for people who love collecting spirits or fine wines. Convert your basement into a whisky cellar or wine room idea and enjoy your collection in style.
How do you build a cool basement bar?
Whether you want to build, design, or decorate a basement bar, your budget is the first consideration. All your decisions (basement extension ideas, decor, other frills) will depend on it. If you want a luxury home bar with top-of-the-line cabinetry, materials, and a sink, then you need a significant budget. Plus, if you are adding plumbing or electricity or breaking down walls, you will need a permit.
If you don't mind going down the DIY route, you can build one with crates, wooden planks, and existing cabinets. The market also has ready-made home bar units that can be installed on walls. Or, you could bring in bar carts for a flexible design.
If you don't want to commit the full basement to a bar, then carve out your design in a corner and use the remaining square footage to put in a seating area or a pool table.
While designing your basement bar, consider the size and shape of the space before committing to an L-shaped or curving design. You could even have a bar designed at a 45-degree angle at two corners for a little extra space for sitting or standing. The typical bar is usually 41 to 43 inches from the floor, so the bar stools need to stand at 29 to 32 inches from the floor.
Choose stools that have at least a small back for support. If you have limited space and a tiny bar, skip the stools and make the bar countertop easy to lean against with rounded edges.
In case of lighting, give the bar a snazzy look with cluster lighting – three or four pendant lights centered above the bar, fixed with slightly lower wattage bulbs to create a pub-like atmosphere. Recessed lighting is ideal for inside cabinetry, so you can see the spirits and glassware through the storage units.
The bar countertop needs to be chosen carefully, as you require a material that is durable, stain-resistant, and will last you a long time. The classics like granite and marble slabs are a good choice. You could even go with wood but remember you need to seal it often so it doesn't stain. A versatile mini-fridge is needed for any home bar.
What should you have in your basement bar?
Basement bar design ideas are aplenty but you require a few essentials to make this area functional. Depending on your collection of spirits, you want to make sure you have enough space to store them all, along with your glassware and other bar accessories. Consider investing in a carved, ornate cabinet for all your expensive liquors and another space for wine storage to make your basement bar look professional. Also, install some open shelves to store any extra bottles or knick-knacks.
No bar is as enjoyable without seating. You want to make this area as inviting as possible so bring in stools and place them in front of the bar counter. If you have an informal seating area in the basement, consider swivel stools so the conversations can flow from the bar to the other seating area.
If you have a large collection of wines but not enough space for a wine cellar, you could bring in a wine cooler, and fit it under one of your cabinets. With simple cabinets and a wine cooler, your little basement bar will serve its purpose without taking up too much space.
When it comes to bar accessories, you should ideally have a carafe, a drink dispenser, stirrers, corkscrews, quirky trays, an ice bucket, bottle stoppers, jigger, and spoon and cocktail glasses. These will help elevate the quality of your bar, the drinks, and the way you serve.
A great addition to a home bar is the classic signage. You could add a little bit of a pub staple by hanging up a custom sign to make your basement bar seem like a real country inn. If you want, you could even hang a blackboard with 'cocktails of the day' to give your guests a fun time.
If your basement bar is spacious, you could consider increasing its functionality by adding an oven and large fridge here to create a kitchenette. This will make hosting a party a breeze since your food and your drinks will be available in one place.
Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.
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