ATLANTA — What could be more delightful than adding something to your home that gives you nothing back but hours of enjoyment, relaxation and memories?
"I've seen grown men shed tears, they're so excited," said contractor Bob Wilson, the principal of Smyrna's Classic Bars who has installed 600 bars in a variety of homes.
During almost two decades building bars, Wilson has seen a more recent shift toward larger and more complex bars. Where a 6- to-8-foot bar was once the standard, now bars tend to range anywhere from 8 to 16 feet.
The majority of Wilson's bars are done in mahogany, his preferred material. Wilson said older folks reclaiming their home after children move out and men — most often — are the bulk of his business.
And the features contained within those bars would put any neighborhood pub to shame.
"There seem to be more amenities going in a bar than there were 18 years ago," Wilson noted. "Used to be, it was a sink and a refrigerator. Now it's sink, refrigerator, dishwasher, wine cabinet, beer tap, flat-screen TVs."
Wilson has even created bars with movable mirrored panels hiding antique gun rooms and disappearing doors leading into safe rooms.
Cindy Lites, the owner of E.A. Star Interiors in Johns Creek, Ga., had clients who incorporated a wood-burning pizza oven into their bar that opened to the outside pool area.
"In good times or bad times, everybody still wants a bar in their house," affirmed Lites, who has created a variety of such structures, from full-scale walk-behind wet bars to armoires cleverly retrofitted to create a dry bar. "There are a lot of people who don't want the bar to be as visible. They want the bar to serve multi-functions, not just to serve as an alcohol-serving bar."
But that's not always true.
West side interior designer Joel Kelly said, "I think bars are becoming more elaborate, having most of the features of an actual bar." Some of his clients have even included high tables and bar stools to lend more of the ambience of a true watering hole.
The type of bar you install depends most often on the space allowances of your home and whether you have room for a sink and refrigerator, or if a dry bar is more practical. Atlanta designers and contractors have located bars in kitchens, foyers, libraries, in the great room, off the dining room and outdoors by the pool.
"Home bars don't have to have be an entire room," Kelly clarified. "They can be a dedicated cabinet in the kitchen with a small countertop and possibly a small sink. If there is a butler's pantry between the kitchen and dining rooms, often you can retrofit this into a service bar."
But the majority of home-design experts said basement-level bars are still the top choice when homeowners want a full-size bar experience and all of the amenities that entails.
"Some of our clients with huge houses want a full bar in their basement that feels like a bar in a nightclub," said interior designer Michael Habachy, who also has created a number of commercial bars for nightclubs.
"It makes sense with more and more houses being in the suburbs, for homeowners to entertain their friends without having to leave home," Habachy said.
"Personally, I feel that more and more men are going back to the roots of having a classic bar," Habachy said. "There is nothing more masculine than dark rosewood and an antique mirrored cabinet with all the finest bottles of cognac and bourbons proudly displayed."
Whether your bar is a kitchen hutch that does double duty as a dessert station or the 16-foot mahogany centerpiece of your man cave, designers and contractors offer these tips for making it stylish and functional:
• How much you entertain is something to consider when planning the amenities that will be featured in your bar. For clients who plan on frequently hiring a bartender or caterers, Classic Bars owner Bob Wilson recommended features such as warming drawers, two refrigerators and a larger ice maker be added to the bar.
• Think about a beautifully shaped, decorative — but still functional — sink in your bar, which can make for a great way to keep beer, water or wine cold and nicely displayed, interior designer Cindy Lites said.
• If space or budget is a concern, convert a piece of furniture into a bar. A skilled carpenter can modify an armoire or other piece of furniture and add features such as cabinets, drawers, a mirrored back, a rack for hanging wine glasses and a laminate or stone top, Lites said.
• Countertops are crucial. With the amount of potentially damaging and staining water, acidic citrus juices, red wine and alcohol involved, a durable work surface is critical. Corian stains and scratches too easily, said Lites, making it a less appealing option. Concrete, granite (make sure it is sealed) and hardwoods that are sealed appropriately can work well.
• If you are looking to put some wow factor into your countertops, consider anything from zinc sheet metal-clad countertops to leather-wrapped surfaces, said Michael Habachy, an interior designer. "When the budget allows, I love to integrate backlit countertops or surfaces behind the bar using translucent materials and LED lighting."