Every wine cellar is the same – dark, dingy, filled with oak or some other rough wood – and that makes no sense to Robert Cameron, a certified sommelier and interior designer who specializes in statement wine cellars.
Even people with a strong design sensibility tend to revert to tradition when it comes to wine cellars.
"I think it's because wine intimidates people, and they kind of go to the standard just because they're afraid of breaking out of that," Cameron says.
But some people with a keen interest in design and a wine collection they want to show off are becoming interested in building opulent wine cellars, such as the one Cameron recently completed for a couple in Toronto's tony Rosedale neighbourhood. Its floors are marble, the walls are made of quartz and the floor is lined with white gravel, a nod to the gravel pits traditionally found inside French chateau-style cellars.
The desire for such cellars is growing thanks to restaurants putting their own cellars front and centre as display pieces to wow diners. "You get these incredible glass towers, incredible displays of wine in restaurants. And the super rich are seeing that and saying, 'I want that, but in my house,'" Cameron says. He points out that many traditionally commercial spaces have moved in to the home, whether it's home gyms or home theatres.
"Wine is a part of our decor. We have a whole lot of large format [bottles] up on the walls. We definitely put the focus on wine in that respect," says Steve Edwards, general manager and wine director at Cibo Trattoria + Uva Wine Bar in Vancouver.
Incorporating commercial elements into residences has become a "huge trend" says Michelle Miazga, co-founder of Port + Quarter, a Vancouver-based interior design company.
Often, that means commercial kitchen appliances. "They're going in to big flat panel refrigerators instead of what would be a residential fridge," she says. Other clients want bars that can stock a mini keg, or bathrooms that feature automatic, touchless taps, or even taps with foot pedals. Many people are also keen for commercial lighting, Miazga says.
And people also want to show off their wine, even if they are doing it on a modest budget.
"Where you would normally store a few bottles in a cupboard, we're making wine walls," Miazga says.
Cameron dubbed the white cellar in Rosedale "Vino Letto," or wine bed, a reference to the clients' love of Italy and to the cellar's ultimate inspiration, a bed by the fashion designer Rick Owens.
The clients – one a designer, the other works in finance – both have very modern tastes, Cameron says. The cellar is 130 square feet and could have accommodated 10 times as many bottles as it currently holds, Cameron says. "It's more about making a statement," he says.
A previous cellar he designed for a house in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood uses high-tension cables to suspend the wine and maximize the bottle capacity and minimalist aesthetic. The back wall is made out of wenge wood from Africa. To maximize a sense of space within the six-foot-by-six-foot cellar, Cameron installed bronze tinted mirrors behind each bottle on the back wall.
He installed cooling systems in both cellars that transfer the heat generated into the water supply of the house.
Both cellars are strikingly different from your typical place to house wine – but that's the point.
"People with the means to do it really want originality," Cameron says.
And having the means is key. Cameron's wine cellars start at $50,000. "It can go much higher than that," he says.
The bright lights of Cameron's latest creation might set off wine aficionados about how too much light is bad for the wine, a fact Cameron is very much aware of.
"You're not going to have your lights on in here all the time," he says. "This is just when you want to show someone the cellar."