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Three Inspiring Cellars

Who says cellars need to be boring basement rooms with ugly shelves? F&W asked three design firms to create something new and thought-provoking.

"I wanted to take the cellar out of the cellar," restaurant designer David Rockwell says, and he's not alone. When F&W asked three innovative design firms—Rockwell Group, Antenna Design New York and Pentagram—to each create a dream wine storage room, all of them imagined it at least partly above-ground. Since we established only a few parameters—the space must hold at least 400 bottles at optimal temperature—we weren't surprised that the results varied wildly, from Rockwell's woodsy cabin to Antenna Design's titanium cube to Pentagram's tongue-in-cheek DIY shipping container (which Abbott Miller, a partner at the firm, joked would be ideal for an "eco-friendly Teletubby/hobbit hipster"). All three firms, however, created freestanding structures with enough space for entertaining, representing the idea that wine is to be shared, not just hidden away.

Rockwell Group

Designer: David Rockwell
Claim to Fame: The superstar designer behind restaurants like Nobu and Country in Manhattan has just introduced his first tabletop line with Mikasa, including wine glasses and barware.
Contact: rockwellgroup.com

David Rockwell's cellar unites the indoors with the outdoors and technology with craftsmanship. The 30-by-20-foot cabin is constructed from wine-related materials—oak for the exterior, cork for the floor and ceiling, and glass for displaying the stored bottles. The building contains two fireplaces, one inside and the other outside. Rockwell also imagined a high-tech virtual sommelier, a system that lets the cellar owner scan a wine bottle's bar code to find out more information—everything from a map showing the wine's origins to its updated auction value, all displayed on an LCD screen. Since climate-controlled vitrines hold the wines, the cabin can be kept at a comfortable temperature for socializing, or the door can be left open and the room used as a garden pavilion.

Why did you decide to place the cellar outside the house?

It makes the cellar a place where you would want to retreat for opening a special bottle, so you'd create an experience around it. But you'll notice that this is a very unmanicured landscape. I wasn't really envisioning this in the Hamptons, where everything is pristine.

How did you incorporate light as part of the design?

I love how beautiful light is when it passes through glass, and I really wanted to capture that with the way the bottles are set in front of the lighting. Plus the building's oak slats are stacked with small spaces in between, so at night the cellar looks like a glowing cube in the landscape.

Why did you decide to add a fireplace to the cellar?

The hearth provides visual focus, like candles at a restaurant. Over the hearth, where you traditionally put certificates and trophies, there's a refrigerated case with the best wines—a case to hold the jewels. Also, I wanted to show both from the outside and the inside that this space is made in the spirit of sharing.

Where are the wine glasses stored?

The backlit glasses hang above the vitrines around the walls of the cabin, creating an element akin to an architectural frieze. A library ladder provides access to the glasses and creates a ritual around matching a glass to a wine.

Pentagram

Designer: Abbott Miller
Claim to Fame: This designer, editor and writer has done projects for the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
Contact: pentagram.com

Abbott Miller, one of the designers at Pentagram, took a minimalist and irreverent approach to rethinking the cellar. "This whole project is against the idea of specialized parts. It's a bit of a DIY project," he says. At the same time, Miller is serious about keeping his cellar eco-friendly. He envisions nesting a recycled shipping container in the side of a hill so that the earth helps the Breezaire unit cool the space naturally. Beyond the wine racks (which Miller says ideally would be made out of reclaimed wood), he adds little more than a skylight and a table with chairs and a sink. "The music could come from just a boom box. There are beautiful CD players out there that just hang on the wall," Miller says.

What would you say is the philosophy behind this cellar?

This cellar was born of the desire to say that wine is a simple pleasure that gets surrounded by the apparatus of high culture. When you think of a wine cellar, you think of people with McMansions and sort of a pretentious idea of culture. But it's the cozy rather than the pretentious side of wine that I want to embrace.

How do you make wine culture less pretentious?

Wine is basic. It only becomes elaborate in the rituals around it.

A cellar should have a connection to nature, like something the squirrels use to stock up nuts for winter, or the way a kid might put a bunch of his favorite things in a box and bury it for safekeeping. That's a different sort of mind-set than the more showy practice of cultivating a collection.

Why did you decide to use a recycled shipping container?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the shipping container. They are falling into greater disuse and there are more of them available. My father-in-law reclaimed one and has repurposed it for storage.

Who would create a cellar like this?

Just about anyone—it's only an 8-by-20-foot container, so it could fit into somebody's backyard. Though there aren't a lot of normal suburban yards with rolling hills. It would probably need to be someone with a decent-sized piece of land, but it wouldn't have to be huge. Really, I just wanted to make a separate structure and treat it like a tree house. What I love about the plan is that it's so simple. You walk past the rows of bottles to a wooden table where you can sit and drink with a few people. A skylight over the table would provide light during the day.

Antenna Design NY

Designers: Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger
Claim to Fame: They created check-in kiosks for Jet Blue and new subway cars and MetroCard vending machines for New York City.
Contact: antennadesign.com

With its clean, simple lines, the free-standing titanium-clad structure designed by Sigi Moeslinger and Masamichi Udagawa of Antenna Design New York can go into any room of a house. The hollow walls of the cube store bottles in temperature-controlled compartments; refrigerated drawers hold cases. Small cabinets on either side of the entrance contain glassware and accessories. Inside the structure, a raised leather-upholstered platform provides plush seating, and brightly lit glass cases display prized wines so that the bottles look as if they're floating. The accessories cabinet stores a computer and a bar code scanner to help with inventory. Here, Moeslinger provides details.

What inspired this design?

When my partner and I talked about the ceremony of wine and other kinds of ceremonies, the tea ceremony came up. In a Japanese house, it's very common to have a tearoom and sit on the floor. We wanted to create a place where you could remove yourself from the normal environment to enjoy and reflect on the wine. The wine cellar is essentially a "shrine of wine" inspired by the combination of a Japanese tea ceremony and a rare-books library.

How is it like a rare-books library?

Have you ever been to the Beinecke library at Yale University? The walls are a marble that lets the sun shine through slightly on a bright day. It's a shrine to knowledge and the artifacts that embody that knowledge. Our shrine here is a celebration of wine.

Tell me about the room's interior.

The step leading inside is the height of a step stool. The interior platform is a place to lounge that's soft and plush and somewhat bigger than a king-size bed. We used leather for the padded floor to change the way people might interact with it. If you don't provide someone with a table and a chair, it makes them consider another way to do something. The leather forces you to take off your shoes, which links back to the Japanese tea ceremony.

What kind of person did you design this structure for?

It's for someone who is very devoted, who likes precious things but also has a sense of sharing. It's also for someone with a sense of humor.

Published September 2006
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