Profit potential in small spaces

While kitchens and bathrooms typically garner the greatest returns in a remodel or new construction project, there’s profit potential in smaller spaces, too. Wet bars provide a perfect example of this.

“Wet bars are a great extension of what we do,” says Jackie Smith, senior designer, Dream Kitchens in Nashua, NH. “They really fit into the world of kitchen design. And, they are great spaces for clients’ personalities to show through because clients tend to be a little more playful and relaxed in these spaces.”

By adding wet bars to their repertoire, designers can incorporate products that can boost their bottom line, such as high-end lighting, cabinetry and faucets; ornate corbels, carvings and mouldings; unique backsplashes, and specialty glass and countertops. Typically these spaces don’t require as much of these products and materials as do kitchens, so clients may be more willing to make the extra investment in the project.

Personality and function

Wet bars can range from extravagant rooms all their own to small nooks integrated into the kitchen or other room in the home. One of Smith’s recent clients added a 36'x36' addition just so they could have a bar for entertaining. The space has its own sound/lighting system and comes complete with a refrigerator, cooktop and seating for 14 people. Other amenities include a pool table, a fireplace and a deck that leads to the lake.

For George Ritter, Sr., CKD, of Knight Kitchens in North Clarendon, VT, sophisticated wet bars are a must for upscale homes. Among those he has designed are one in St. Croix where the bar opens off of the kitchen into a veranda, and another for a 30,000-sq.-ft. home in New York for homeowners who enjoy entertaining on a large scale.

While most wet bars are less grandiose, design goals are similar…create appealing, functional spaces for clients to entertain guests.

For Shannon Baldwin, at The Little Red Barn in Calabasas, CA, storage, display and an adequate amount of work space are overriding customer concerns.

For Greg Young of Sterling Kitchens, with five locations in the greater Philadelphia, PA area, a more casual atmosphere accented by dark-stained cabinets is a popular request.

Location, location, location

Dan Thompson, president, DDK Kitchen Design Group in Wilmette, IL, indicates that wet bars are typically located adjacent to the kitchen and oftentimes they become part of a kitchen remodel.

Smith sees similarities, yet notes that wet bars are going just about anywhere in a home. “I’m also finding that some people want to move some of the entertaining out of the kitchen and into areas around it,” she says.

Whatever the location, designers indicate there are several ways to enhance a project, starting with cabinetry. Some clients choose finishes and styles that match those in the kitchen, while others use the opportunity to introduce a dramatically different appearance, albeit adhering to a complementary look.

Regardless of the chosen style, cabinet accessories are a great way to add some extra details – and income. Everything from specialized storage, glass and soft-close drawers to elegant decorative hardware and wood trim can add to the bottom line.

“Because it’s a bar, you can incorporate just about anything as far as hardware,” says Smith. “Some of my clients have used martini glass hardware and crystal knobs. They don’t have to match the kitchen, just complement it. We’ve also used more unusual door hardware such as tip-up doors that open upward to allow quicker access to lots of glasses.”

High-end mouldings, corbels and carvings can add a distinctive look that sets off the cabinets. These additional wood details are popular in Ritter’s designs. “You can certainly get more ornate with mouldings and appliqués,” he says. “But it really depends on the size and budget of the project. It’s important not to over-design and price yourself out of a job.”

Young adds that door panels and wainscoting on the outside area of the bar can also add to the design.

Incorporating glass – ranging from seeded to stained glass – in cabinet doors can also draw attention to the bar, notes Thompson, who frequently adds glass to his designs. “My clients want the space to be utilitarian, but they also want it to look nice,” he says.

Baldwin agrees. “If space is tight, I love to add upper glass cabinets for display,” she says. “It allows you to have more work space on the bar top, but have a great open display that is also used for storage.”

Glass cabinet doors also provide great flexibility for incorporating light, which is another nice add-on, designers indicate. “Lighting is very important,” says Ritter, who notes that lighting inside a cabinet can be especially beautiful when used with glass shelves, which allow the light to filter through from top to bottom.

Smith notes that lighting is a great way to personalize the space, especially since manufacturers offer such an array of interesting options, particularly in the area of specialized LED lights and programmable lighting. “I recently designed a martini bar with white and black cabinetry and incorporated LOOX lighting that can be set to one color or programmed to display through a whole spectrum of colors, fading from one color to the next,” she says. “It really sets it apart.”

Must-have appliances

In the appliance and accessories departments, designers indicate that there are several “must haves,” including wine chillers and coolers (oftentimes with framed or glass doors), especially those that offer multi-zone storage; refrigerators (full-size as well as undercounter models); and dishwashers (including full-size, drawers and narrow 18" models). Beer meisters and warming drawers often make the design list, and televisions are growing in popularity.

“I recommend a full-size refrigerator, which can be in another area out of sight, for bagged ice, mixers and extra beer and soda,” says Young. “I also like to include a dishwasher and a trash/recycle cabinet. A lot of bars we do are in the basement, and we don’t want clients to have to keep going up and down the stairs with trash and dirty dishes and glasses after a big party.”

For Thompson, a high-end faucet is often included on the list. “Because the wet bar is usually in an area that’s exposed, it’s nice to show it off,” he says.

Smith is finding that manufacturers are also offering some unique takes on some same-old, same-old products. “We’re doing more with wine racks,” she says. “In particular, we’ve been doing more with a company called VintageView, where the wine bottles lay in the cabinet so you can see the labels rather than the cork. It’s a great look.”

Color, texture and unique touches

Countertops and backsplashes are other areas where designers can enhance the project and personalize the space.

“Upgraded stone countertops, a great sink and faucet, and a nice backsplash add in color or texture,” says Baldwin, who indicates it’s also a great place to create something entirely unique, such as the backsplash made out of corks that was incorporated into one of her designs.

According to Ritter, the traditional look of a wood bar top is often requested. “Combining wood with granite or Corian near the sink is often called for,” he says. “If properly coated, a wood top is resistant to water and stains and makes for a resilient and highly repairable top.”

Smith also believes wet bars are a great place for unusual backsplash treatments, including materials such as mirrors, stainless steel, copper and tin. “This adds some different textures,” she says. “Since it’s a small area, you can use something a little more unusual, but not overpowering. It’s a design statement. We also designed a bar with a self-contained, re-circulating wall-mounted waterfall on the back wall of the bar. These personalized features really tend to be important.”