Room for Retreat

With a little effort and a lot of vision, potential-laden spaces can be transformed into individual home sanctuaries. In a promising abode, locally designed wine cellars and media centers make for the most relaxing of respites.

From Fine Wines to Surround Sound

By Jennifer Shapira

Courtesy of Baltic Leisure Wine Storage

With a little effort and a lot of vision, potential-laden spaces can be transformed into individual home sanctuaries. In a promising abode, locally designed wine cellars and media centers make for the most relaxing of respites.

People love wine. It’s something that reminds them of their travels. It’s kind of hip. And then to have a wine cellar—there’s a little bit of a cachet to that,” said Joe Duffus, owner of Vintage Wine Rooms in Great Falls.
In higher-end homes throughout the area, there is almost an expectation that there will be a space devoted to wine storage, he said. But that “wow” factor is not restricted to large homes—condos and townhouses are putting them in, too.

When it comes to wine cellars, experts are quick to say, if you build it, the bottles will come. All it takes is a little bit of interest before inventory starts stacking up, bottle by bottle, case by case.
“In the first year that a person owns a wine cellar, their wine purchases go up 60 to 70 percent, because you have wine storage that needs to be filled,” Duffus said. So people join clubs and have bottles shipped back from wineries.

Courtesy of eSommelier

Cellar to Cellar
Doug Rosen, owner of the Arlington wine shop Arrowine, agrees. “What people need to bear in mind is, it’s not where you are now, it’s where you’ll be in 10 years.”

In a short time, Edwin Penick’s collecting changed. “You’d be surprised how much wine you could start buying,” said the principal of Silver Hammer Design Plus Construction LLC. “I started with wines that were good now. But I’ve gotten to the point where … I see why people hold on to these French Bordeaux for so long. They become incredibly good after 20 years.”

And in that respect, building a cellar is all about investing in the future. For Penick, what began as an interest in reds and whites spilled into tasting more on travels, on visits to wineries, at social gatherings. He read up, got to know his grapes. Fast-forward to today, and close to 300 bottles rest on their sides in his Arlington home’s half-basement. His advice? “Always make a cellar bigger than you need it—because you will start buying more.”

Duffus recalls one local client whose son was born in 2003. A serious collector, he bought case upon case from Bordeaux and beyond. When his son turns 21, he’ll present him with one heck of an aged collection.
Now a bona fide collector, Penick and his wife won’t uncork some of their purchases for years. “You buy it before it’s even available.” But he says that’s all part of the excitement.

Getting Wired
Years ago, when Peter Christensen and his wife had their home built, they had already begun to envision their wine cellar.

Courtesy of Vintage Wine Rooms

“We carved out a section of the basement which we had the builder build to wine-cellar specifications in that it’s got the vapor barriers and it’s all framed in,” he said. “They left us, essentially, with a room that was insulated.”

From there, Christensen installed a cooling and humidity system to keep the 8-by-11-foot subterranean space at precisely 55 F. He knew he wanted the cellar to be wired, but at the time wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind. So earlier this year when he hired owner of Sterling-based Home Network Solutions Lew Little to connect the rest of his Mount Vernon home, the oenophile was edging closer to having his laptop take up residence in what would become an 1,800-bottle showpiece.

After researching companies that sell modular wine racking, however, Christensen, a skilled woodworker, decided he could do it cheaper and made fast friends at the local lumber yard. He chose Honduran mahogany because it was attractive and durable and wouldn’t impart anything on the wine.

Keeping Track
Christensen inventories his domain using Buying wine begets more wine, and the bottles can tally up faster than you can drink it. He started when he found some bottles whose prime drinking dates had passed. To make sure that didn’t happen again, he’s been using the Internet-based filing system ever since and now makes note of suggested drinking window dates so that his wine is always at its best.
That system, and others like it, link to wine-review sites like Another option is eSommelier’s touch-screen that allows users to search their stashes by country, region, winery, drink date and beyond, eSommelier partner Joe Hageman said.

Some also have barcoding capabilities—Christensen’s next task. When he’s not inside making a selection, he’s content to peer through the window of his tightly sealed mahogany door. An angled display rack showcases some of his picks, and he can swap out those prime spots when it suits his mood. That way, he and his wife can enjoy the cellar without bundling up.

When it comes to cellar management, “Some are very fastidious about what’s in their cellar,” Rosen said. “Some are just plain disorganized. Others simply run out of room.”

Rosen believes that a basement is the best place to store varietals, but concedes that in older homes, that’s not always possible. And here, where the climate fluctuates rapidly, “It’s really about how fast the swing of the temperature is that’s really damaging. The cork can contract; oxygen can get into the wine.”
But with the right temperature and humidity, cellars can be built into almost any space. When Penick redoes basements, he advises his clients that if there’s any interest in proper wine storage, even a tiny cellar just might be a good idea.

“It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, it’s a good selling point to your house, and it’s really what you need to take care of your wine.”

The location of cellars can get creative—the space beneath a staircase or unused closets can be transformed. “Lots of people just take unwanted space and convert it,” Penick said.

Getting It Right
Americans drink their reds too warm and their whites too cold, Rosen said. His is an echo of a common complaint among experts, who recommend 15 minutes in the fridge for red, 15 minutes out for whites before serving them.

Still, it’s all a matter of enjoyment, he said, and putting forth the effort to be sure that bottles are stored properly. These days, kitchens in new homes are equipped—at least—with an under-the-counter 48-bottle cooler, but that’s strictly for short-term storage. “You’re not going to be aging in one of those … You want wine at 55 degrees and at least 60-percent humidity. You’re not going to get that in the kitchen, where most people have ornamental racks,” Rosen said. “The kitchen is the worst place to store wine because it’s so hot.”

But even small coolers that hold six, 12 or 24 bottles are perfect for people who like to entertain, said Jennifer Keegan, spokesperson for California-based Vinotemp.

“The fact that wine coolers have become much more available and affordable, there’s no reason to not have one,” she said. It’s the perfect antidote for someone who likes to have wines at the ready.

For hardcore collectors, Vinotemp makes biometric locks, requiring a certain fingerprint to gain access into the cellar. Others may warrant an alarm system. In that case, if the temperature in the cellar rises above or drops below a certain degree, the owner will be alerted via multiple phone calls.

Boom Rooms
After you’ve uncorked that Burgundy, kick back for a favorite flick in the privacy of your own home theater. The recessed lighting dims to almost black, the surround sound transports you, and the front projector beams onto the high-performance 103-inch screen. There are no big hairdos to dodge, and reading the subtitles of that foreign film is no challenge. You just sit back in roomy leather seats, relax and prepare for a true cinematic experience.

People are spending more time at home, said Lisa Ladsen, architect and senior project manager at Lowe’s in Fairfax. And technology has become so much more accessible and sophisticated that it’s come to belong in the home. After all, in this day and age, kids are light-years ahead of their parents when it comes to programming remotes, Ladsen said. Fortunately, for the serious stuff, consultants abound to be sure you get just the right setup for your home theater.

Courtesy of MyerEmco

Putting It Together
Two things you’ll find in any high-end home theater are the perfect pair: a huge flat-screen and a ceiling-mounted projector. Next up, and just important, are the components stacked neatly into their cubbyhole spaces: the receiver, the DVD player, the DVR, the CD changer, maybe the PlayStation, the Wii, an old VHS recorder and at least a half-dozen speakers placed strategically throughout the room.

“Because we have a large-screen display, we have a multi-speaker sound system. You want to have sound coming at you from the front, left and right, from the center front and also from the sides and rear,” said Gary Yacoubian, president of MyerEmco AudioVideo.

Home theaters consist of two types: dedicated and non-dedicated. In a dedicated space, the family or household has identified a certain room as its home theater whose exclusive purpose it is to tune into the near-requisite 100-inch mini-movie-theater screen. The non-dedicated option is a multipurpose room where other activities might take place, and where there might be a bar, a pool table, a yoga studio. In a shared space, a pinhole is a creative lighting approach that allows for reading, Small Bernal, Inc.’s Adrian Small said. Here, a retractable flat-screen TV might best suit the room’s function, so as not to subtract from the living space.

Courtesy Integrated Media Systems

All About Aesthetics
A dedicated room maximizes the cinematic experience: “The touch of one button means the lights go very dim, the projector lowers into position, the screen lowers into position, the projector turns on,” Yacoubian said. “It’s really sexy. It’s fun.”

While the days of the big ugly boxes seem to have all but vanished, Yacoubian said prospective buyers are now considering the aesthetic of the TV when it’s powered off. That’s sometimes even more important than what it looks like when it’s on. “We are literally selling TVs because of the finish in some cases,” he said. His customers have been known to say, “I’m purchasing it because it’s got a really attractive high-gloss black finish … It will look good where my piano is.”

And then, of course, there’s the issue of remote. As universal remotes come down in price, they’re becoming a hotter item, Little said. “It’s addressing the issue of command and control. Everybody hates having four or five remote controls sitting on the coffee table. To me personally, one of the most important parts of any media room is to be able to pick up a single device and press a couple buttons and have it function. And then use that same device to change the channel, pause the DVD—just general day-in, day-out usage of it.”
A universal remote can be a “marriage-saver,” according to Little, who favors one manufactured by Logitech. People get “tired going out and having the babysitter call them and say, ‘I can’t turn the TV on,’ or, ‘I don’t have sound.’”

Although remotes can be a source of stress and clutter, Little says they are not hard to program. “If you know your system and how to operate a computer fairly well then you can program it yourself.” The end result? “You hit one button that says ‘Watch TV.’ And it turns on the TV and turns on the cable box. It turns on the surround sound … It’s a pretty cool setup.”

Such are the benefits of these “wow” factors. Still, at the end of the day, people just want to come home and unwind. Be it with a glass of red, or the remote. Maybe even both.

Tips for Designing a Great Home Theater
Gary Yacoubian, MyerEmco AudioVideo

If possible, the TV should be front and center of your viewing position and as close to eye level as possible. Corners are a no-no unless they simply can’t be avoided.

The larger the display, the better! You want to occupy your field of vision as much as possible to almost fool yourself into believing you are right there with the action.

If you hang your flat-panel TV on the wall, or if you hang a projector from the ceiling, you need to use a licensed electrician to run the AC power behind the wall to the TV. Some companies (like ours) have licensed electricians on staff and can do this as a part of the TV installation.

If you have a dedicated room, you want to control outdoor ambient light completely so you can darken the room to enjoy programming.

All HDTV is broadcast in Dolby Digital surround sound. At least half of the emotional impact of the theater experience comes from the sound. Even the best TVs do not come with good sound systems, so you want to make sure to dedicate part of your budget to a home theater that delivers sound to you from all directions, so you can really feel a part of the action!

Speakers no longer need to be boxy. If your home theater is in a living room, family room, den or bedroom, you can use speakers that install directly into your walls or ceiling so they disappear into the room.

If you are remodeling or building a new home, always run wires prior to when the drywall is installed. It is extremely affordable to run wires at this time. Even if you have no specific plans for the room right away, you will have great options down the road!

How to Properly Serve Wines
India Hynes, VINOTEMP

Storing wines at the proper temperature is important. To preserve them as long as possible, wine should be stored at approximately 55 F. However, the chart below suggests the optimal drinking temperature for the different styles of wine.

19 ºC (66 ºF) Armagnac, Brandy, Cognac
18 ºC (64.5 ºF) Full-Bodied Red Wines, Shiraz
17 ºC (62 ºF) Tawny Port
15 ºC (59 ºF) Medium-Bodied Red Wines
14 ºC (57 ºF) Amontillado Sherry
13 ºC (55.5 ºF) Light-Bodied Red Wines
12 ºC (53.5 ºF) Full-Bodied White Wines

7 ºC (44.5 ºF) Non-Vintage Sparkling
8 ºC (53.5 ºF) Fino Sherry
9 ºC (48 ºF) Vintage Sparkling
10 ºC (50 ºF) Rose, Light-Bodied White Wines
11 ºC (52 ºF) Medium-Bodied White Wines

(November 2008)