5 Things You Need to Know to Set Up The Perfect Bar

From choosing glassware to organizing a bar cart, Nigel Barker creates the ultimate cocktail-ready space.

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Nigel Barker, celebrated fashion photographer, New York Times best-selling author, furniture designer and America’s Next Top Model judge knows a thing or two about design. Earlier this year, Barker launched NB1: the Nigel Barker Global Collection, a line of home furnishings inspired by his travels around the globe available exclusively at Art Van. And this month at Art Basel Miami, he launched a new glassware line featuring a one-of-a-kind gin and tonic glass, exclusively available at AC Hotels by Marriott. Here, Barker offers tips on how to create a welcoming and functional bar space at home.

1. Consider how you will use the space.

“A bar can be very domineering, and it can break up a larger space,” says Barker. “When designing bar spaces, I want clients to feel comfortable, and I don’t want them to feel like they are in a pub or restaurant bar. First, I try to determine how often you plan to use the bar. If, like my father, you prefer a gin and tonic every afternoon at 5, a one-person-sized bar in an alcove might be just right. You can create an intimate space or even close the door and make building the drink a very private experience, a way to separate the day into distinct parts and transition from the work day to the evening at home. If you like to have parties, the bar can be designed as a hub of activity. Your guests don’t need to be pushed up against a rail as in a restaurant or pub. Rather than a bar or rail, a table can be very civilized and social as you are facing one another and engaging in conversation. If you have kids in the house, you may not want alcohol around at all times. You may want it in a cabinet or stored out of sight. However you set up your bar, you want it to reflect on who you are and how you will use the space.”

2. Be practical.

“Making drinks can involve quite a few steps, from slicing fruit for garnishes to chilling liquids. Consider adding a rail or other flat surface where you will craft the drink,” he suggests. “I also believe every bar must have a sink and, if you can, build in a space for a fridge so the bar is self-contained. Then, you don’t have to run back and forth to the kitchen. A freezer is also nice if you like your alcohol ice-cold. (I keep my vodka in the freezer.) And a freezer gives you the space to store fun ice mold shapes, which are great for all sorts of drinks, from whiskies to margaritas.”

3. Have an assortment of glasses.

“You don’t need a glass for every drink, but a variety of glassware that is personally suited to your bar is a good idea,” says Barker. “A few ‘correct’ glasses are nice: clear, tall, high and low-ball glasses, a few shot glasses for measuring, and a few wine glasses with big bowls are great. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and personalize your assortment. I have colored tumblers from Morocco that I use for wine. They completely change the concept of wine. Instead of being something elegant, wine, when drunk from those North African glasses becomes something fun and easy to drink in the afternoon.”“The reason I designed a gin and tonic glass was that there was no official gin and tonic glass. A martini has a glass designed for it, why not gin and tonic? Gin and tonic used to be a stodgy, 19th century, very British drink. Recently, the Spanish made it cool again, and Americans making their own gins has brought it back here, too. For the drink, you need a glass that is almost a highball, a glass that curves in a bit at top to help hold the bubbles in. Almost a third of my gin and tonic glass is base. That way, the heat from your hand doesn’t melt the ice.”

4. Consider adding a bar cart.

“It’s one of those ironies that bar carts are considered completely unfunctional in modern society. People don’t use it the way they used to,” he says. “Thirty years ago, when a bar cart was presented, people went ‘ooh!’ They were such fun. The host made the drinks, then rolled it out. My bar cart is two tiers; the top is a smoky mirrored surface that holds the glasses, a cocktail shaker, corkscrew and decanter or pitcher; the bottom shelf holds all of the alcohol. Bar carts are also a wonderful way to extend the aesthetic of your bar space. More recently, bar carts turned into nostalgia pieces. There’s lots of nostalgia with drinking.”

5. Lighting is everything.

“Good lighting makes everything appetizing, helps to define a space, and can create a vibe in and of itself,” says Barker. “Smoky mirrors can have that effect, too. Adding light to the inside of a bar is one of my favorite things. Opening the bar can then be like opening up a treasure trove. They can make everything appear more appetizing and. civilized, facing one another. You can turn lighting on to spotlight space or turn it off when you don’t want it.”