Shifts in color, subtle design detail, and custom cabinetry help set the mood in this Glen Oaks, Iowa, basement, giving it a comfortable mix of Old World charm and modern amenities so the homeowners can share with guests both their extensive wine collection and love of movies. Careful consideration of views and leading lines creates a logical progression from the basement stairs to a contemporary home theater and back to a traditional wine cellar. 

“The blend between contemporary and traditional was a fun challenge, and it truly flows effectively,” says Chaden Halfhill, LEED AP, CGR. Halfhill is founder and president of Silent Rivers Design+Build in Clive, Iowa. 

Silent Rivers weaved together the two contrasting design styles by blending light, contemporary tones and lines with the rich hues and textures of a more traditional period. The spaces lying between the home theater and wine cellar are crafted to both entertain and seamlessly guide guests to their next destination.

Creating intimate spaces

The basement was originally a large, awkwardly shaped space with a fireplace at one end. The partially remodeled room was “reminiscent of a vacuous bowling alley,” says Halfhill. The Silent Rivers team worked with the clients to define goals and space needs, which led to dividing the 1,183-sq.-ft. area into several manageable spaces: a hearth (family) room, a home theater, a full-service bar, and a 1,000-bottle wine cellar with a small “tasting room.”  The team also took space from an adjoining unfinished room to create the wine cellar area, and remodeled an existing bathroom.

The fireplace became the focal point of the remodel design; it now divides the once cavernous room into more useful proportions. The home theater is situated behind the hearth wall and highlighted by a valance that evokes the idea of a theater marquee. The bar area lies between the theater and wine cellar and adjacent to the hearth room, serving as a transitional space. The line of the theater entryway’s marquee valance travels across the bar transition and becomes an arch that leads the eye through the wine tasting room and beyond to the wine cellar itself. 

For the tasting room, the clients provided a barrel from one of their favorite vineyards to use as a custom tasting table. The Silent Rivers team added a walnut wood top and base to the barrel, and integrated the barrel shape into the space design by creating a recessed opening that curves around the table. The shape also reflects in the curve of the cellar door opening and the “barrel” vault entry.

Using clients’ personal possessions to help finish out spaces brings a narrative to the overall design that homeowners can then share with family and friends, says Halfhill: “A well-planned space will fail to serve a household without loving engagement and the historical context a family brings to the project.” For this project, the team designed and installed a mix of manufactured cabinetry and matching custom pieces finished in the firms’ own shop to showcase the clients’ collection of Crown Royal bar artifacts (pouring mat, glasses, utensils, etc.), a wine-dipped baseball bat, and specific wine bottles that represent treasured memories of past travels. 

These personal touches took on additional meaning after the project was completed, as the wife recently passed away. 

“Her passion for design collaboration and genuine care for Silent Rivers’ production staff during construction was deeply felt, second to none, as we became an extension of their family for a brief time,” says Halfhill. “Her unexpected passing saddened us all.”

Mixing design styles

The combination of uses—entertaining, wine storage, theater and serving—presented both functional and aesthetic challenges, says Silent Rivers Designer Steve Wilke-Shapiro, M. ARCH, MSW. Functionally, the theater room had to be isolated from adjacent spaces to reduce sound vibration between the theater, the living room above and the wine cellar. To do this, the team installed double-frame walls, furring, foam insulation and sound isolation gypsum board on all sides of the theater.

Aesthetically, the team had to navigate carefully between the clients’ desire for both a more contemporary theater room and a more traditional wine cellar. Curves and reveals span across the distinct use areas to lead the eye across the room with minimal visual interruption. For example, says Wilke-Shapiro, the line of the fireplace mantle continues toward the theater entry and ends at a ledgestone-clad pier; it is then picked up in the valance above the theater entry and continues across the room and into the wine cellar barrel vault. This helps link the two spaces together despite their different aesthetics and palettes. 

Thin ledgestone veneer works as a unifying element throughout the space, appearing on the fireplace wall, on columns in the bar area, and in the tasting room and wine cellar. Wilke-Shapiro incorporated the stone veneer into every corner and entryway. The team also worked with the clients to select a family of light fixtures that mesh with the traditional feel of the wine cellar without abandoning the more contemporary detailing outside in the hearth room.

Each space’s color palette was selected to set the stage for its usage, and to complement the palettes of adjoining spaces. For the theater, the team used Sherwin Williams’ Samover Silver (SW 6233) for a cooler, more modern ambiance. Warmer palettes were used for the tasting room (Oyster Bar SW 6206) and the bar, cellar, and hearth room (Latte SW 6108).

Wine cellars and sustainable design

Silent Rivers incorporates sustainable design into projects whenever possible. A wine cellar, however, has different temperature and humidity needs than the rest of a house, and often requires a separate cooling unit. 

The cellar is maintained at a constant 56 F to properly age and store the wine. To minimize the energy impact of the climate-controlled room, the team installed foam insulation on all walls and the ceiling. The foam insulation combined with air-sealing strategies also ensure that humidity is handled within the room without generating condensation that could impact adjacent spaces. Energy-efficient LED lighting was installed to decrease the load on the chiller, since LED bulbs produce less heat than incandescent bulbs.

Humidity-resistant materials were carefully selected to align with the design intent of creating a rich, warm atmosphere. “We used a stained and finished mahogany wine rack system, tile floor, and stone veneer accent,” says Wilke-Shapiro.

Outside of the cellar, LEDs were used for accent lighting in the bar, theater, and hearth room.

The power of collaboration

Silent Rivers uses the design-build project delivery method to cultivate a team approach amongst project participants, and to provide clients with an integrated experience from initial sales call through final punch list. 

“Rather than the designer and contractor butting heads over details and costs, design-build allows us to focus on providing the best results to our clients,” explains Wilke-Shapiro. “From the design perspective, we can integrate input from our estimators and carpenters as the design is developed.  As we transition from design to construction, team collaboration on the final pricing helps to refine any remaining questions. And during construction and closeout, regular internal communication helps to facilitate the process.”

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