Here’s how to style a bar cart, even if you don’t drink

These functional pieces can be transformed into mini cocktail bars, coffee stations or stylish storage spaces.

bar cart with blue vase and flowers, green bottles and alcohol
A bar cart styled by Sallie Finney Kjos of GreyHunt Interiors (Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg)

Back in 2009, The New York Times was calling for the resurgence of bar carts. The often petite and glass 1950s-style cocktail counters on wheels were dazzling interior designers who scoured flea markets and 1stdibs.com to find the perfect accent piece that would fit a space, no matter the size. 

But over a decade later, bar carts are continuing (potentially now even more) their comeback in living rooms, kitchens and even bedrooms, according to two local experts.

Sallie Finney Kjos of GreyHunt Interiors and Alison Giese of Alison Giese Interiors, agree that the versatility and rule-breaking aspects of bar carts are just two of the reasons that the pieces are increasing in popularity once again. 

“I’ve never met a bar cart I didn’t like,” says Kjos, who has styled many bar carts recently for Northern Virginia-based clients. “I think they’re such a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. They can be used in different ways for different purposes, and it can say a little bit about you.” 

With the increase of Dry January and artisan coffee making, Kjos has challenged the idea that bar carts have to feature alcohol bottles or cocktail glasses. Some have become coffee bars, alleviating counter space of pour-over cones, coffee grinders and more. Others have been simply non-alcoholic, featuring beverages like sparkling water and beautiful glasses. 

“I’ve even done a lemonade bar,” says Kjos. “You can go to World Market and it has lemonade glasses in beautiful pinks and yellows. Grab a bowl of lemons, a stack of books or a couple of paper straws to add texture. It’s a simple way to make it kid-friendly.” 

bar cart with pink flowers and books and water bottles
Bar cart styled by Sallie Finney Kjos with no liquor bottles or cocktail ware (Photo by Chrisy Kosnic)

For Giese, the bar cart acts as a welcoming place for guests to mix and mingle. 

“[Bar carts] let guests know they can help themselves to a drink and be relaxed,” says Giese. “You can convey so much about the mood and type of gathering it is, as well as the host’s personality.” 

Personal flare is a common theme between Kjos’ and Giese’s approach to bar cart design. Adding a bit of greenery for “life” can brighten the piece up, and avoiding overcrowding can allow everyone the opportunity to use the cart without a fear of knocking over glasses, bottles or additional decorations. 

So, how do you get started on designing your own bar cart? 

Kjos says start with the same approach you would have as any other space in your home. 

“Varying heights and varying textures,” says Kjos. “But it’s all in good taste. Stand back and edit it. You almost want to gear to what beverage you’re going to be serving too. You wouldn’t want to have hard liquor next to wine glasses. You can also separate the decor. You can put a little marble cheese board tray on top, and then you can put your liquor on there with a lime to separate it out.” 

For more of the themed or special occasion, Giese says to start with what you have. 

“The actual beverages and bottles are considered first, then the types of extra ingredients that might be needed: bowls of citrus wedges or olives, stir sticks, cherries for topping and more. And choose something interesting or memorable, like a bowl picked up on a special trip to hold snacks. It’ll add instant personality.” 

Both agree that a small amount of greenery can also add necessary pop of color and “life” to the piece, and the cart itself shouldn’t be too overcrowded.

“Use something fresh, whether it’s a plant or a flower,” says Kjos. “I actually take clippings of my plants and put them in water, and they last for several weeks. It adds life, and life adds texture and color.” 

Once you’ve decided how you want to style your bar cart, there’s one more essential decision to make: where to park it (despite it’s very convenient wheels). 

“I try to station the bar cart away from the main activity in the kitchen to give guests another place to congregate, another destination, if you will,” says Giese. “In a small apartment, that might be the space that bridges the living and dining areas, so there’s close proximity to seating for people to chat. In a larger home, where there’s a chance there may also be a full bar, it might be great to offer it as a refueling station—maybe in an outdoor entertaining area or a living area. The idea being to keep guests flowing through the home.”

dining room with white table and bar cart off to the side
This bar cart styled by Sallie Finney Kjos lives in a dining room, one location to feature a bar cart in your own home. (Photo by Chrisy Kosnic)

On the other hand, Kjos is willing to put a bar cart just about everywhere. She’s even styled them in bedrooms and bathrooms. 

“I think that’s one of the things I really love, they’re for everywhere. They’re rule-breakers. You can make a bar cart a side table to your couch. I have one girlfriend who has [her bar cart] in the kitchen because she wants it right there, but others might want it set up with wine, liquor or mixers in the living room so everything they need is already there. It just depends on what the person needs.”

For additional tips and tricks, Kjos suggests following your own aesthetic, but avoiding too much of one thing. “Make sure it has some color and not too much glass on glass, which would be light in weight visually,” she says. “On my own bar cart right now, I have a bowl of clementines as my pop of color.” 

Giese says, “I would pick a simple, signature drink that can be made at the bar cart, so that you’re able to limit the ingredients, and focus on presentation.” 

And both local designers agree, whether you’re creating a stylish coffee bar for the morning or dazzling up a party with a signature cocktail area, just have fun with it. 

“Having a bar cart is the powder room design,” says Kjos. “Everyone loves decorating powder rooms because that’s where we’re brave. There’s no real rules [for bar carts], only to have fun doing it.” 

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