America’s New ‘Trophy Room’

by WOHe

America’s New ‘Trophy Room’

Combining elements from kitchens, great rooms and pantries,
the Wine Room offers an exciting opportunity for kitchen designers
to see their cup runneth over with profits.

By Lis King

Now that we are all oenophiles, the wine cellar or the “wine room,”
as it’s known in baby boomer vernacular has become America’s new
trophy room.

The wine room is a room that combines elements from kitchens,
great rooms and pantries, so it presents a natural opportunity for
kitchen designers and dealers to claim an extra share of the
high-end home market.

Glowing reports of the wine room as a profit-builder are coming
in from all corners of the country. One example is the Michigan
subdivision of homes selling for $1 million to $5 million. There,
every house ordered includes a wine cellar. Another example is a
New Jersey home remodeling firm, which recently added a wine cellar
to its showroom. In short order, this venture inspired seven
contracts for lavish rooms devoted to wine collecting, storage and

More proof was offered at recent builders’ shows, where tour
guides pointed proudly to temperature-controlled wine rooms,
luxuriously appointed with brick and iron work, finely crafted
cabinetry and rack systems, gleaming counters, stone floors and
grape-inspired art and accessories. And, interior and kitchen
designers with a nose for trends are fairly bubbling over with
tales of tapping this new slice of the luxury market.

Designer Diane Boyer’s description of a recent estate home project
proves just how high-end a wine room can be.
“We created an entire complex devoted to wine,” Boyer explains.
“The storage area for the wine was just the beginning. We also
designed a bar, a dining room and an adjoining kitchen strictly to
serve this area.”

According to Boyer, the complex was designated for the basement,
and it was designed with vaulted ceilings, iron gates and
chandeliers hand-crafted in Portugal. Finishes were stucco, stone
and terracotta.

“When it was all done, one would never guess that this was new
construction,” Boyer said. “The rooms looked like they had come
straight from a medieval chateau. The homeowners are so serious
about fine wine and dining that they employ a French chef and a

In a Michigan subdivision built by Cambridge Homes, the wine
cellar is a temperature-controlled room lined with wood or brick,
where the walls are covered with racks of redwood, mahogany or
cedar. According to Matthew Hatz, sales and marketing director, the
wine room in the model home also features a tasting bar and chairs,
plus such amenities as murals with vineyard themes and a special
locker for extra-
special wines.

“People love to show off their wine cellars and collections, but
they don’t want guests helping themselves to a rare bottle,”
explains Hatz. “The locker provides a way for guests to admire such
wines, but not get their hands on them.”

Bob Lamond of Cornerstone Design Company, a residential
remodeling firm in Bridgewater, NJ, observes that his clients ask
for rooms or areas to store and display collections of anywhere
from 500 to 5,000 bottles.

“There’s no question that the wine cellar has become today’s
status symbol,” Lamond says. “It has taken over where the hot tub
left in the late ’90s. Typically, our clients ask for such features
as Old-World iron gates, masonry walls and tile floors. One of the
flourishes that we’ve come up with is wine labels that are
hand-painted on some of the tiles.

“I suppose that if you spend $300 on a bottle of wine, you want
to keep it in a room that costs $300 per square foot,” Lamond adds.
“And, some people spend a lot more than that on a bottle. I was
amazed to learn that one of our clients owns an 1855 port wine
worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s the only one in

Further evidence that private collectors take their wines
seriously is offered by David Parker, head of the West Linn,
OR-based Brentwood Wine Company. The firm is a major purveyor of
wine and wine accessories and operates, the premier
business-to-consumer Internet auction site for wines.

Parker tells of a client who called to order 300 cases of wine.
Discussing shipping arrangements, Parker learned that his customer
would be quite ready to accept shipment by refrigerated truck. He
had a loading dock and fork lift installed at his home for just
this kind of eventuality.

“His collection consists of 12,000 bottles,” says Parker.
“That’s the largest private collection I’ve heard of.”

Wine cellars are intended to duplicate the temperature and humidity
conditions naturally found in the “caves” of legendary French
vineyards. A “cave” is often part of the subterranean regions of a
centuries-old chateau, or it might be specially constructed
underground to hold the wines that continue to be France’s coolest

The French “caves” provide temperatures of 50-60 degrees
Fahrenheit and humidity of 60%- 70%. Under these conditions, the
wines are able to mature slowly, a process that generates the
various aromas and flavors that make them special.

So, in designer-speak, a wine cellar is “an environment that
prevents fine wines from spoiling due to environmental stress, such
as temperature swings, odors, vibrations, light and dryness.”

The cellar might indeed be in the basement, but it may be
located elsewhere in the home as well, even in the garage, as long
as it duplicates the conditions in those French caves.

The cellar doesn’t even have to be a room per se. Cabinets
outfitted to provide perfect wine conditions are now widely
offered, and, of late, major appliance manufacturers, such as
General Electric, Sub-Zero and Viking, have joined the fray with
special wine coolers or wine chillers. These appliances are often
under-the-counter units, perfect as part of kitchen or family room
layouts. They are even finding their way into today’s elaborate
master suites.

Companies like Brentwood, Vigilant Inc. and Vintage Cellars offer a
variety of storage options. There are rack systems and cabinets for
50 bottles or 1,000+ bottles. Materials used may be redwood,
mahogany, cherry, maple, oak and other fine woods that look great
against stucco, brick or stone walls and special cabinets designed
to provide just the right environment for wines are available in
designs from traditional to contemporary. Cabinets often have glass
doors to offer delicious views of the Sauternes, Rieslings and
Burgundies within.

If a kitchen client suggests he or she might store wine in an
ordinary refrigerator, your response should be a resounding no.

“Standard refrigeration is designed for good preservation, not
for wine storage,” explains Richard Walsh of Wine Cellars Unlimited
in Houston. “What works for hamburger patties and tomatoes is not
appropriate for fine wines. Standard refrigeration must chill food
as quickly as possible. This is achieved by blasting cold air to
reach a desired temperature. Once that temperature is reached,
standard refrigeration shuts off, only to blast on to high later
on. These changing temperatures are harmful to wines.”

Walsh adds that conventional refrigerators are also designed to
remove the heat and moisture that food products give off. That
leads to shrinking corks, leaky bottles and spoiled wine. The
vibrations given off by standard refrigerators will harm fine
wines, as well.

There are wine fridges in sleek stainless steel, and there are
others that masquerade as antiques. Alvin Patrick of Westside
Winecellars, in Rancho Dominques, CA, says his favorite is a custom
cabinet crafted to look like a Provencale heirloom.

“It was not that large, but we styled and distressed it so one
would swear this was an antique armoire,” he says. “Yet, it was as
scientifically correct as one of those French cellars.”

There is more to specifying and designing a wine cellar than
knowing how many bottles a collector has or craves.

Walsh explains that designers and specifiers need to consider
the location of the wine cellar (house, garage, basement); climate
conditions (hot dry/humid, for example); what size bottles must be
stored, and if wine is ever stored in their cases.

“The location in the house and the climate will determine the
cooling system needed,” he notes. “A built-in unit must be
constructed with front venting, and you really don’t need a wine
room unless you expect to collect over 700 bottles. Any less, and a
freestanding unit or a special closet will probably be perfect.

Designers and their clients should also remember that a
half-empty wine unit won’t work properly.

Walsh also points out that designers often forget that bottle
sizes differ. “Many of the rack systems fit only American bottles,”
he warns. “But some foreign wines come in different sizes, and
champagne bottles are always different. You won’t fit these bottles
into the average rack not unless you’re Houdini. So, rack systems
have to be modified to suit the client’s collection. There should
be room to store wine cases, as well. Adjustable shelves are often
a good idea.”
Walsh cautions designers that some clients have overly romantic
expectations from a wine room. “They see the wine room as a place
to have a party,” he explains. “But the temperature and humidity
that wine needs aren’t comfortable for people for any length of
time, so wine tasting and dinner parties are best held in an
adjoining space.”

Often, Walsh notes, this problem is solved with a glass wall
separating the party space from the wine cellar. “This way, guests
can admire the wine room without shivering and suffering from
wilted hairdos,” he says.

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