A Wine and Whiskey Cellar for a Basement Remodel in DC

Glass enclosures aren’t just for showers. A couple turns their under-stair triangle into the ultimate space for spirits storage.

wine storage under staircase in basement remodel in DC

  •  Homeowner: The couple posted their basement remodel on Sweeten to find a contractor suited to the unique project.
  • Where: Washington, DC
  • Primary renovation: Convert an under-stair space to an insulated wine vault, and create an indoor/outdoor flow from the basement to the backyard.
  • With: Sweeten DC general contractor
  • Homeowners’ quote: Our GC took time to listen and understand our vision and goals. The team worked with us on every decision that popped up, both expected and unexpected.”

Written in partnership with homeowners Annick and Samir. “After” photos by Andreaa Phillips.

The remodeling vision

We wanted to transform our basement space in our townhouse into an area where we could hang out and enjoy a drink after work, or host friends for a seated dinner or spirits tasting. And since we often choose our vacation destinations based on our interest in wine, we dreamed of creating a room around storage for our growing collection of bottles.

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backyard and wine basement remodel in DC

We are Annick and Samir, and our dog is Ellie. Annick works on labor issues of labor and worked in the wine industry. Samir works for a federal agency in international development. Our 1,750-square-foot co-op in southwest Washington DC is in a 1962 townhouse built by Charles Goodman, a post-WWII American architect whose modern structures dot the District of Columbia’s suburban landscape.

portrait of homeowners remodeling basement in DC

Just like the pros

A Sonoma vineyard Annick worked at during one fall harvest was an inspiration. We thought we could seal off the area under our house’s basement stairs, plug in a condenser unit, and store wine there.

The project, of course, turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.

wine storage under glass enclosed staircase in basement remodel in DC

A very niche project

We started this renovation when the demand for contractors was high. We needed to find one with experience in specialized, site-specific projects. It was a relatively small job, but a complicated one.

We wanted to hire a local contractor in DC, and Sweeten helped us find the right one for our niche job. We’re first-time renovators, and our architect, Kim Sammis of INEX design, led the project with the contractor implementing her design. Both did a fantastic job. Our GC took time to listen and understand our vision and goals. The team worked with us on every decision that popped up, both expected and unexpected.

wine storage in basement with fridge and open shelves

Collectible souvenirs

To be clear, we were actually looking to make storage for wine and whiskey. Annick collected the wine while Samir, who is Punjabi, has an interest in whiskey and picks up bottles during his travels. 

We loved the idea of displaying these mementos right there under the stairs. Instead of being an unused, dark void in the basement, that triangle would be the focal point in the room.

A feature wall emerges

For this particular project, the staircase and back wall were pre-existing, so we were most concerned about the glass front on the cellar area. One challenge we discussed was how to cut and fit the tempered glass in the space. Our Sweeten contractor had a great ‘glass guy’ who insisted that we showcase the glass—not cut it to fit the space, but install floor-to-ceiling panels. He was quite firm, and he was 100 percent right.

backyard with stairs in a basement remodel in DC townhouse
backyard seating and tree in DC townhouse

When the glass was installed and the technical aspects addressed, we got serious about the relationship between this gorgeous space and the great outdoors. One of the best features of Charles Goodman’s design is the way the townhouse’s ground-floor space flows seamlessly from inside to outside. On this level, we can open the big patio doors to our backyard and have a decent-sized—at least for city dwellers—entertaining zone.

"Most importantly, though, our Sweeten contractor kept within their quoted bottom line."

Merging with the backyard

Our architect had a fantastic eye for lighting, so inside, we installed recessed lighting on a dimmer throughout, including inside the wine cellar. In the bar area, we put recessed lighting under the glass racks. We chose a countertop that wouldn’t show red wine stains and added an under-counter refrigerator and other bar accoutrements. The area feels very bright and airy, inside as well as out. 

backyard patio looking into a basement remodel in DC

Wanting the space to honor our indoor/outdoor plan, we painted the walls green. The colors were recommended by our architect to match our outside tree’s leaves in spring and summer, and also the grapevines out in California. We tiled our patio to match the indoor floor for a matching look.

The couple chose the right team

In an older townhome with lots of quirks, and with the construction in an odd space as it was, it was a challenge to get the build to fit the design. Our architect and contractor were creative and offered ideas; together, they succeeded at making it a reality, even with the constraints of a period home and our limited budget. Most importantly, though, our Sweeten contractor kept within their quoted bottom line.

From our experience, we advise future renovators to be prepared for things to not work out exactly how you imagine, especially if you’re in an older building.

Investing in the lifestyle

When we started, we honestly had no idea what our remodel would cost but received good advice from our renovation team.

The finished room is so much better than what we’d initially imagined when we posted our project. The vault keeps the wine insulated and allows us to showcase it and our whiskey collection in an attractive way. It also makes the room feel a little bit bigger for an inviting space.

Thank you, Annick and Samir, for sharing your new basement with us!

Renovation Materials

  • Paint in “Land of Liberty” (darker wall), “Shades of Spring” (lighter wall), and “Cotton Balls” (trim): Benjamin Moore 
  • 130-can beverage cooler: Insignia
  • SC Pro 2000 condenser: WhisperKOOL
  • Noble Pietra Gray countertop: TechniStone
  • Galactic slate black matte porcelain floor and wall tile: Home Depot

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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