10 Things to Avoid When Designing a Wine Cellar

| Blogs
Revel - Cellar Designs for Fine Wines

Last month we wrote about how we as wine cellar designers navigate varying degrees of input from stakeholders when we put together a design. This input can come from interior designers, architects, and of course, the clients themselves. In general, we welcome this input with open arms. After all, our goal first and foremost is to give our clients a wine cellar they love and that suits their unique needs as collectors. However, most of these stakeholders have not designed a wine cellar before themselves, so often the ideas they suggest are in direct conflict with what we would recommend.

Here are a few things we hear all the time that you will want to avoid when designing your cellar.

  1. Delegating all the planning
  2. Using finishes or other materials with chemicals
  3. Seating in the cellar
  4. Putting in mechanical apparatus, such as refrigerators, sinks, or dishwashers. 
  5. Forgetting about risk
  6. Designing for what you have, rather than what you intend to have
  7. Forgetting about the other elements of the room, such as the floor, ceiling, walls, and door.
  8. Not considering how you intend to use your cellar
  9. Writing off using glass
  10. Not incorporating lighting, or using the wrong kind

#1 Delegating all the planning

This first one might come as a surprise since we mentioned that most of our clients have never designed a wine cellar before, and thus often don’t know what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to the design. 

That being said, delegating all the planning to the experts would be a mistake. A wine cellar is a very personal thing, and everyone has different tastes, lifestyles, and goals for their cellar. Of course, you can just tell your designer to do whatever they think is best, but you will miss the opportunity to make it your own.

Our advice for this is to do your research, think through your goals, and communicate early on with your wine cellar designer. That being said, keep an open mind, and welcome advice from the experts.

Label View Wine Display

#2 Using finishes or other chemicals

Most of our clients ask what finishes they should be using in their cellar. Our recommendation for that will always be the same – don’t! Your wine cellar is one place in your home where indoor air quality is of the utmost importance. Cork closures are designed to allow air to migrate into and out of the bottle, any materials or finish products that off-gas or have odors could end up affecting your wine. 

All the wine cellars you will see on our website are just natural wood, and they are beautiful all on their own. So before you set your heart on a finish that matches other elements of your home, consider the indoor air quality in your cellar.

Wine wheel towers and sliding pullouts

#3 Seating in the cellar

This is another request we get from clients all the time. It is a romantic idea, but one that is generally impractical.

Wine cellars are conditioned to be cool and damp – 55 degrees and 70% humidity. Not ideal for spending long sessions inside unless you enjoy being cold and damp. Of course, you will still want to enjoy your collection and the beauty of your cellar, so we have some suggestions that will be more comfortable. 

First, put a counter space area and a cabinet with hanging stemware, wine bottle openers, and decanters so you can bring your guests into the cellar, pick out a bottle, and pour some glasses. Second, put a tasting area just outside your cellar, then incorporate glass in your door or wall to give a view into your cellar as you are enjoying your tasting. This allows you and your guests to still enjoy the visual aspect of your cellar while remaining comfortable.

Glass Wine Cellar in Bar & Entertainment Room

#4 Putting mechanical apparatuses inside your cellar

Another request we see is putting things like wine refrigerators, sinks, dishwashers, or other plumbing fixtures into the cellar. This is because people often believe they need to store their white wines in refrigerators (hint – you don’t!). 

There is no reason for white wine to be stored at a different temperature than red wine. Simply chill your white wines for 30 minutes before you enjoy them to get them at a nice crisp temperature. The main reason we advise against this is not just because it’s not necessary. These appliances generate heat, which works against the main cooling system and will cost you money and waste energy.

For sinks and dishwashers, it might sound nice to be able to wash your glasses in the cellar, but this is another big risk for your wine. Water damage is the number one cause of wine cellar insurance claims.

Okemos Michigan Custom Wine Cellar

#5 Forgetting about risk

This leads nicely into our next point – don’t forget about risk. Remember that your collection is valuable, and you should be taking all the measures you can to protect it. These measures include backup generators, keeping your wine up a few inches off the floor, and having a smart thermostat that can notify you when the temperature goes outside of a prescribed range. 

These may sound like irritating extra steps, but they will protect the collection and lower your insurance costs. We have heard too many stories over the years of collections getting ruined by something preventable. The greater the value of the collection, the more important it is to protect it.

modern wine storage

#6 Designing for what you have, not what you intend to have

Most people end up growing their collections over time, so consider this when you are planning. For instance, you might come to us wanting a wine cellar that can accommodate your collection of 1,000 bottles. You might want to ask yourself, is this all the wine I ever intend to have? Do I drink as many bottles as I collect? 

More often than not, the answer to both of those questions is no. Always plan to give yourself space to grow your collection. It would be a tragedy if you visited a new wine region and found out it was your all-time favorite, but cannot justify buying more because you already have a full cellar.

Beautiful Australia wine cellar interior

#7 Forgetting about the other elements of the room

Floors, walls, ceilings, doors – these are all critical elements of the room that people sometimes forget to think about. A wine cellar is built similarly to a refrigerator, and there are prescribed standards for them and contractors sometimes aren’t aware or take shortcuts.

For instance, if you plan on using a standard drywall solution for walls and ceilings, moisture-resistant drywall is highly recommended to prevent mold and mildew. For flooring, we will always recommend a hard surface, such as tile, slate, marble, or concrete. Hardwood floors can be acceptable, but considerable care must be taken. Typical hardwood floor finishes can create air quality problems as we’ve mentioned above, and unfinished wood stains easily, and can buckle/swell in a humid environment.

This may go without saying, but we never advise using carpet of any kind in a wine cellar, which will inevitably mold and mildew.

Stunning Wine Cellar featured in Great Lakes Magazine

#8 Not considering how you intend to use your cellar

This goes along with our first point, wine cellars are personal. If you have special bottles or boxes or memorabilia to display, you need to plan to accommodate those features that matter to you. Perhaps you have a prized large format bottle you want to showcase, an exquisite piece of art to be the focal point, or even a space to display the logo of your favorite sports team. You have to think about how you want to experience your cellar rather than how you think it should look from seeing others. 

For instance, you might love to entertain, so you’ll want to be able to walk in and open a bottle and pour a glass, and might put more focus on the aesthetic factor. Or, your intent might just be to get as many bottles into the space you have as possible while still keeping them all easy to access, and that’s okay too. There’s no right or wrong way to have a cellar, but take the time to consider how you can enhance your unique experience.

Celebrate Wine with Cheese

#9 Writing off glass

Modern glass technology has come a long way, to a point where it is perfectly acceptable to incorporate glass doors, windows, wall sections, etc. In our experience, glass is the perfect way to be able to experience the visual beauty of your cellar beyond just being in it. 

In general, the use of glass will limit the use of that space for wine storage, but we have come up with several solutions that work beautifully against glass. However, it can’t be just any glass. Thermal characteristics and UV light filtration must be considered in the design.

Contemporary wine racks

#10 Not incorporating lighting, or using the wrong kind

Most wine collectors know that a wine cellar should probably not be brightly lit, but that doesn’t mean lighting is off the table. LED lighting built into the cabinetry will make it much easier to identify bottles without having to get your phone flashlight out, and this type of lighting is energy efficient and long-lasting. We incorporate this type of lighting in nearly all the cellars that we do.

Truthfully, we could go on and on about what you want to avoid when designing your wine cellar, and what we think you should do instead. But for the most part, these aren’t outright bad ideas, just bad executions. We are here to guide you through decisions, provide the input we have gained from many years in the industry, and then leave it up to you. As we have hopefully communicated throughout this post, our ultimate goal is to give our clients the perfect wine cellar they will enjoy for many years to come and reflects their uniqueness.

Hickory Wine Cellar