Friday, March 3, 2017

Basement Renovation: Part 2: A Modest Wine Cellar

Let me first come clean and explain that I am not really a wine enthusiast. I do drink and enjoy it at times; usually at a meal, when paired with the right food. When my wife and I travelled to Napa a couple of years ago, I loved the wineries. I loved sampling the wines—especially when they served them with some really tasty chocolates.

Nevertheless, when it comes right down to it, I am a Beer Guy. Not the vapid swill that passed for beer during most of the last 50 years, but better quality craft beer and exports.

Finding this door for $50 was one of the best
things about this project.
My wife likes wine, but generally she prefers very sweet wines—Muscato, Prosecco, ice wines or an occasional Reisling. For the most part, these are not the kind of wines that hang around very long—or that improve significantly with aging.

So, why a wine cellar, you may ask?

Well, for one thing, we have friends who like to drink wine, maybe before, during or after dinner. So it’s always a good idea to have some on hand.

In addition, I planned to store some craft beers in the cellar as well—in particular, those high-gravity stouts, porters, ales and barley wines that do age and mellow well.

I also wanted a place to store and display related items, like glassware, books on wine and beer, and related memorabilia, in addition to some of my home brewing equipment.

Last of all, I think the house deserved a wine cellar. And why not? I had a perfect space under the stairs, and I thought if done reasonable well, it would be a nice feature in terms of future resale. So there’s the logic.


First I had to enclose the area under the basement stairs with a stud wall, which was pretty straightforward. The main consideration here was the position of the doorway, ensuring plenty of full height opening clearance on the right side while leaving enough room to squeeze in some built-in bottle/book/glassware shelves on the left. Inside, on the right (underneath the descending stairway) I’d have room for an old wooden cabinet that fit nicely into the space, leaving some room for hidden storage behind. The whole space used for the wine cellar was about 3.5 ft deep and about 7.25 feet wide.

Clearly we require more wine. All good things in time.
The stud wall went up without too much trouble; the best thing I did here was finally invest in a nail gun, which made things so much faster and easier. I must admit my drywall skills leave something to be desired—the main problem being that I didn’t use enough mud at first, and then spread it out with a blade that was not really wide enough. This makes it necessary to go over the joints more than is necessary, and sand more than usual. I suppose the results show a little here and there. Next time, I resolve to get the proper tools and perhaps do a skim coat over the whole surface.

Once this part was complete, I set to do some carpentry. Most of the large 22oz beer bottles would store on wooden shelves I was building in—since beer is supposed to store vertically, unlike wine. For reasons I already mentioned, I didn’t require a lot of wine storage, but I did go the dramatic route and build a 6 foot tall vertical display that holds about 12 bottles horizontally against the wall—so you can see the labels. As a supplement to this, I have a small wine rack on top of the cabinet that holds an additional 3 or 4 bottles.

The surfaces of the tiny room feature various materials which all seem to go together. The wood shelves and trim inside are mostly mahogany-stained pine. There is some cork on the back wall between the upper and lower shelves on the left, and about 18” of the back wall (originally sheathed with paneling) is now covered in some 30-year-old wallpaper that I saved from the time I worked at Wallpapers-to-Go. It was a heavy, saddle brown paper with nice images of vintage French wine labels; I knew I’d eventually find a spot for it…and I did.

Most of the remaining back wall is solid concrete in a rough molded brick pattern; this was painted a dark tan. One advantage this offers is that the concrete remains cool at all times, and with the wine being stored on this wall, it remains at a fairly even temperature. I also used a bit of the wine wallpaper underneath the stairs on the right, trimmed out in some mahogany-stained pine. At about the 5.5-foot level, I hung a roll-up blind down from the bottom of a riser, so it extends to the floor. This serves as somewhat of a “false wall” behind my storage cabinet, which is about 30’ high, and I use the 2’ of useable space behind the blind to store (and hide) large seasonal items, like a couple of  Christmas tree boxes.

The shelves provide lots of room for wine & beer books, and
bottled beer storage.
I managed to get a open box of premium vinyl wood planks at the Habitat store for about $10—just enough to cover the 18 square feet or so I needed in a nice dark brown. I haven’t decided what to do for the ceiling yet, but I’m thinking some wood, maybe pallet boards.

Of course, all this effort goes for naught if it’s hidden behind a door, and I hit the jackpot at the Habitat store once again, nabbing a beautiful wooden 30" French door for just $50. It was already painted white (and really didn’t need re-painting) and best of all, it even had beveled panes of glass!

I have tested some temporary lighting, and it’s clear that some nice wall spots inside the little room would make for a very dramatic look, so I’m thinking a couple of small units on the ceiling.

We completed the look with a couple of framed prints I made—they are some of the places we really enjoyed during our visit to the Napa Valley. I’ve added a couple of other chotchkes, like an ancient beer bottle capper, but am still looking for just the right thermometer to hang in here somewhere…

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