Beverage stations don’t have to be fancy to be functional, but when they’ve been created in some unique way by homeowners themselves, they become real conversation hubs.
When Jon and Jean Wisnieski built their home in Waverly in 2011, they left the lake level unfinished as a project for Jon to tackle as time allowed. Intending to create an inviting lake level bar near the foot of the stairs, they had plumbing and electrical feeds roughed in during construction.
The design for the contemporary bar was Jon’s, following Jean’s clear parameter: “Whatever you want as long as it goes with the decor in the rest of the rec room.” Jon played it safe and faced the bar with the same combination of stacked veneer stone and mint-green subway tile he had used for the room’s fireplace surround.
Jean also specified chemically-etched, leather-looking granite for the countertops, something she noticed at a home that was on the SML Charity Home Tour a couple years earlier.
The first step was to lay out the dimensions on the floor with painter’s tape so the couple could evaluate the placement of a full-sized refrigerator, a bar sink and a dishwasher. With that defined, Jon spent about six months laboring on the project.
While he had an established woodshop, Jon had never built anything this substantial before.
“I looked online to see how it was done,” Jon recalled. “Cabinetry is basically just building boxes — and being sure to measure the diagonals to get them perfectly square.”
He purchased a Kreg Jig to guide the drilling of screw holes for the butt joints, ordered cabinet doors and finished them with a stain and wash for a pickled gray look that matched bookshelves he had built across the room.
The cabinetry plywood and red oak framing material came from a home improvement store. “You can buy in bulk and return any you don’t need,” Jon said.
He purchased granite from a store in Eden, North Carolina. “They create a pattern from foam board, then deliver the granite pre-cut, with finished edges,” he added.
The hardest step for Jon was installing the rails for cabinet drawers and roll-out shelves. “Next time, I’d mount those before assembling the boxes,” he said.
LED strip lighting was recessed into routed channels under the bar top for indirect illumination. The plug-in strips can be commanded to dim, flash and change colors with a remote.
The Wisnieskis’ bar is frequently used for serving drinks and hors d’oeuvres, but it was subjected to an unplanned stress test in 2015 when daughter Laura’s wedding reception moved indoors during rainfall associated with Hurricane Joaquin, and 100 displaced guests suddenly gathered in the home for a celebration. “It was able to handle that crowd,” Jean recalled, “so we knew then we had gotten everything right.”
The ambitious bar and wine room in Rick and Pam McKown’s Park Place home features a more traditional design.
“I was after a tavern-style, country pub ambiance,” Rick said. Completed in 2016 as one of the final steps in the couple’s past 13 years of self-finishing a 9,000-square-foot home, the bar stands at one end of a large game room, adjacent to a tiered home theater.
“I love the challenge of creating things from scratch,” said Rick, a retired mechanical engineer.
Part of the project included a faux-painted bar-to-ceiling black-marble column that conceals a structural pillar. Rick had practiced the painting technique on a column on the home’s upper level years earlier, and the result definitely fools the eye.
The bar dimensions already had been figured out when Rick installed the game room’s flooring months earlier and created a defining border line in the tile that follows the bar’s 45-degree plus 45-degree bend — nearly 16 feet in all and room for six bar chairs.
Like Jon, Rick built his own cabinetry boxes, using framing lumber and hardwood maple, stained a rich cherry, for the visible panels and doors. He routed the fluted trim pieces out of maple as well.
An iron footrest is attached to the bar front. “Purchased online,” Rick said, “and definitely among the materials you measure several times before cutting.” In addition, there’s an authentic, rounded elbow rail that Rick sanded and finished with silky smooth lacquer.
Other exquisite details of the bar include corbels at the tops of the columns, copper-colored ceiling panels, indirect LED lighting and hefty multi-layered crown moldings.
Rick also discovered that mounting drawer railings before the countertop was installed would have been much easier. “I love detail work, but trying to squeeze tools and body parts into small cabinets is not fun,” he said.
Rick’s passion for detail is evident in the wine room that is tucked away behind the bar. The cellar door itself is a work of art — an arched plywood core faced with Brazilian cherry flooring that was left over from the home’s main level — and secures silently with a magnetic locking mechanism that is released by a hidden switch.
Inside, Rick has crafted tiers of individual bottle storage racks, jig constructed of interlocked plywood strips fronted with iron-on veneer that creates a solid-wood illusion. There are multi-bottle bins and shelving for cases that features room for more than 500 bottles. Capping the climate-controlled room, at about 11 feet, is a lattice drop ceiling woven with real grape vines plus imitation leaves and fruit. Wall surfaces mimic rust-brown Tuscan-style stucco; the relief pattern was created by troweling a heavy layer of spackling compound over wallboard and faux-finishing with paint and glazing.
While most of the creativity and labor for this project belongs to Rick, Pam also pitched in, along with her cousin, Norman, a contractor by trade, who helped with framing in the area.
“It’s a labor of love,” Rick said. “I get self-satisfaction from creating something to be proud of.”
Pam added, “This has become a spot for friends to congregate — a reason to enjoy our lake level year-round.”