The walls of the private dining room at Annabel’s, the Mayfair nightclub described recently as ‘London’s gold-plated, subterranean social hub’, are lined floor-to-ceiling with bottles from its impressive cellars. Guests sitting around the room’s table, which seats 22, are invited to marvel at the collection of wine that Mark Birley started after opening the club in 1963, and that now falls under the care of Richard Rotti, the cellar master for 21 years. One member was recently so taken by the setting that he has instructed a firm to re-create something similar in his country house in Ireland. Gone are the smoking rooms of old-enter the wine room.
‘Wine collectors who are very proud of their collection are, increasingly, if they have the financial resources, creating spaces where they can host wine-tasting events for friends and fellow collectors,’ explains Dominic Benoist of house builder Symm (01865 254900; www.symm.co.uk). ‘We’ve had a couple of projects in the past few years where we’ve been tasked to design more dramatic or theatrical spaces than the standard cellar.’
To make these spaces more sociable, the wines are stored in glass display cabinets in which the temperature and humidity levels are adjusted and maintained to keep the vintages in perfect condition. ‘This means the main space can, therefore, be kept at a comfortable, ambient temperature for entertaining.’ Mr Benoist describes commissions that have included creating a medieval castle-style cellar lined with antique limestone, in which the central room is dominated by a large, distressed-oak table and the wine sits behind screens lit by sophisticated temperature-sensitive LEDs. ‘This sort of setting creates a ceremony around the wine tasting,’ he explains. ‘Then, to get into the various cellars, you pass through hydraulically operated glass sliding doors to move from the whites to the Champagnes, reds and rosés.
Each cellar lights up as you walk through- it’s like something out of Star Trek.’ Other commissions include creating high-tech cinema spaces around the glass display cabinets, so people can sit in comfortable chairs and watch the opera or ballet on the screen while surrounded by the wine collection. This sort of sophisticated take on the cellar has inspired the people behind the iconic spiral cellar design (in which the steps to the cellar are converted into clever storage and display cases for wine) to branch out into wine rooms.
‘So many people asked whether it was possible to go down the spiral stairs to the cellar and have a drink or do a tasting that we realised it was time to expand from providing functional storage space to something bigger,’ explains Lucy Hargreaves of Spiral Cellars. ‘We have clients who might be based in London during the week, so, at their weekend home, they want to replicate a little of what they do socially in town in their country house.’ With all the technology allowing for fine temperature control, the wine room no longer needs to be subterranean and, in many cases-especially in London- will now be an above-ground room with ‘wine walls’ of glass display cabinets.
‘To fit out this sort of project, including the various lighting and temperature equipment requirements, will cost from £40,000.’ The original spiral cellar designs range from £10,000 for a mini cellar to £50,000 for a deeper space with a retractable glass trapdoor. However, Miss Hargreaves continues: ‘When the project involves building a below-ground wine display room that opens through to a wine dining room with seating for 12 and a serving area for the sommelier to open and decant bottles, then we’re talking more than £200,000.’
It’s an expensive operation, agrees Mr Benoist. ‘If you’re making a room fully air-conditioned and humidified, there’s a tremendous amount of work involved before you’ve even started on the lighting and special effects. But the end result is certainly dramatic.’
Agents agree that it’s hard to pin down a value added to a property after installing a wine room-unless the interested buyer is also a wine buff. ‘A statement wine cellar, in the same way as a home gym or a cinema room, can make a property stand out and increase its appeal. The additional square footage could add value in a competitive marketplace,’ believes Ashley Coleman, head of Carter Jonas, Mayfair.
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