Monday, January 17, 2011

Adaptive Re-use: Bar Cabinet

All species have to adapt to survive. This is true of furniture as well as human beings. When we moved into our house eight years ago, my partner had a lot of inherited furniture that he had gone to great expense to refinish and care for over the years. One tricky problem was that he had two dining room sets, one from each grandmother. We ended up using almost all of the pieces in these sets but this post is about one particular item and how it evolved into a useful and functional part of our lives.
One of the dining room sets dates from the early 1900s;  the style is very old-fashioned William and Mary with baroque stretchers and elaborate carving. It's a good thing he had it all refinished as it's not to my personal taste at all, but the refinishing exposed beautiful wood and inlay.

Early 20th century reproductions prior to the 1930s often copied William and Mary pieces and usually added a lot of imaginary detail with little relation to the historical period. A entire room furnished in this style would feel heavy, overdone, and antiquated. I wasn't sure we could use any of this stuff in the new house. I argued against it even before it arrived from storage on moving day. The only piece I had my eye on was a large two-door cabinet meant for china display in a dining room.  We had selected his other grandmother's set for our dining room, so this china cabinet was up for grabs. He wanted to use it for china and place it in the center hall near the doorway into the dining room. I argued that it was over-scaled for the hall and would look terrible right inside the door, basically stopping traffic whenever anyone entered through the front door. We already had a huge china cabinet, a server and sideboard stuffed with china in the dining room proper. The rest of the china could go into a large basement cupboard. I had another idea.
We like to entertain, we like cocktails, and we are both very good bartenders who enjoy making classic and vintage drink recipes. We have a lot of glassware and bar paraphernalia. What better use to make of the tall standing cabinet than as a home bar? I wasn't crazy about the idea of actually keeping the liquor in the cabinet. I wanted it equipped with all the specialty cocktail glasses we had collected, bar tools, stirrers, shakers, trays, cracker holders, all the serverware needed for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres we would be serving in the living room. I also knew the living room needed a tall case good piece on the far wall to balance out another tall cabinet-desk across the room that contained my partner's collection of porcelain and ceramic figurines and some prized books.
After some initial resistance, my partner saw the light and has been very pleased with our bar cabinet ever since. Guests always peer inside curiously when we open it to take out the cocktail glasses and men always wax enthusiastic when they see it. What do you think?
Bar cabinet at right. A large ottoman used as a cocktail table sits
between the two loveseats and the fireplace (not pictured)

The heavy scrollwork and ornate
stretchers and baroque hardware make a
strong statement.

The base liquors are in decanters on a table by a window.
The cabinet stores glassware, cocktail shakers, some liqueurs,
vermouths, and bitters.

Another view of cocktails shakers, glassware, and
bar tools

Specialty glassware for Manhattans, sours, martinis, sherry, liqueurs
Lesson learned: The cabinet adapted to our way of life and earned its keep in a very prominent place in our home. I learned to get over my initial dislike of the entire William and Mary style and appreciate the strong statement this very personal piece makes and found a way to love it. My partner always appreciated it but more so now that it plays a big role in our everyday lives. A decorating win-win for all concerned.

1 comment:

  1. i think this is incredible! what a great use for such a lovely piece of furniture. just as an fyi, however, the furniture in the dining room is actually colonial revival with elements of william and mary and is from the mid-1920's. this particular piece of furniture you're using as a bar cabinet is considered jacobian revival which is late 19th - through the teens of the early 20th century. it's beautiful!