Wet bars and wine cellars are becoming key features in Calgary homes, putting a new twist on those gaudy, circa ’70s basement lounges

Basements are going upscale.

If you’re looking to make your home stand out in Calgary’s real estate market, it’s no longer simply a matter of having a finished basement with some storage, an extra bedroom, full bathroom and a media room.

These days, Calgary’s better homes are stealing a page from the 1970s – complete with wet bar and wine cellar to create an air of hospitality.

But make no mistake, these aren’t your basement lounges of yesteryear, says Brad McCallum, CEO of Urban Abode.

“Generally, the main floor is already somewhat occupied by the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms and mud rooms,” said McCallum.

“As a result, the basement is so much more of a blank canvas today where people have the option to create a space for entertainment that, in years past, was an afterthought.”

Gone are the gaudy tiki bar designs with beach wallpaper and small wine cellars with homemade wine stacked in old clay weeping tile tubes.

“People are using quality materials like quartz countertops, marble mosaics and glass tile on the backsplash,” he said.

Modern wet bars and wine cellars are often smaller than those of the past, simply because homes are smaller. However, homeowners also want these features to flow with the media room so refreshments are easily on hand during the big game.

McCallum adds wet bars are a little more popular than standalone wine cellars, but almost every bar feature his company builds contains a wine fridge or a mini-cellar.

Wine is a growing obsession for many Calgarians. Some are willing to pour tens of thousands of dollars into their home to have a fully climate-controlled wine cellar that can store a few hundred to more than a thousand bottles.

The basement is so much more of a blank canvas today where people have the option to create a space for entertainment that, in years past, was an afterthought

“The wine culture continues to grow, especially now that the Okanagan continues to expand and its reputation increases,” said Steve Trutenko, owner of Tru Woodcraft, which specializes in traditional wine cellars.

“Canada is becoming known for having some pretty decent wines and people are really getting into collecting wines, so people want to have some sort of a wine feature in their homes.”

The cost can range from a few thousand dollars for some custom racks for wine above a wall bar to tens of thousands for a walk-in, climate-controlled, LED-illuminated cellar with stone and woodwork.

“The average wine cellar for $10,000 with climate control would hold around 300 to 400 bottles,” said Trutenko. He adds the price tag can run much higher.

“I’m doing one in the Kootenays right now where by the time it’s done, it’s going to be around $80,000.”

Still, Trutenko says many clients want a hybrid of a wet bar and wine cellar.

“Walk-up bars in basements seem to be a big trend now,” he said. “With a walk-up bar, everyone just serves themselves. They take up less space as well because they can just be lining a wall.”

Although homeowners are building these features into their existing homes, sometimes at great cost, they should not necessarily be doing so based on the idea they will add value to their home price-wise, says Don Letterio, real estate appraiser with Residential Valuation Services.

“It’s all contextual,” he said. “You take a brand new home with all the best and most modern bells and whistles, and you create an integrated social environment centred around a wet bar and wine cellar. If it’s in the right community, at the right price point, then it would have a significant impact.”

But if you add a state-of-the-art wine cellar to a 20-year-old home where nothing else has been upgraded, “the overall impact of having a wine cellar in the basement would be minimal,” he said.

Still, these features are becoming almost must-haves in middle to upper income areas, in-fills, and estate homes in newer neighbourhoods.

“Just as the trend over the last 15 years had been the developer finishing the basement, it’s fast becoming a finished basement with a wet bar,” said Letterio.

“In certain markets, you almost have to have it.”