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Renters tap carts and creative shelves to build home bars

T. Marshall Fawley’s pad was brimming with bottles of liquors and mixers — when his now-wife moved in, he decluttered with lots of shelving in his bar setup. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

When T. Marshall Fawley’s fiancée, Sylvie Nguyen-Fawley, 35, moved into his one-bedroom apartment in fall 2011, he realized something had to be done about his liquor collection — all 300 or so bottles.

As CEO and a founding member of Scofflaw’s Den, a cocktail blog-turned-consultancy that offers public and private cocktail classes, among other services, Fawley, 37, had accumulated the spirits over two years, storing them on the counters and in the kitchen cabinets in his Ballston, Va., pad. Fawley had about 60 bottles of cocktail bitters, too.

“As a bachelor living alone, it’s pretty easy to put the things where you want them,” Fawley says. However, when his fiancée moved in, things had to change.

Fawley isn’t the only D.C.-area renter to improvise a bar in a small space. Whether building shelving, using a bookshelf or finding a bar cart, there are plenty of ways to stylishly stash your liquor.

To organize his collection and clear off counter space, Fawley bought a baker’s rack for around $100 from Costco and housed his liquor in a room adjacent to the kitchen. Elfa shelves, purchased for $100-$150 from the Container Store, now store his bitters in the kitchen, and Fawley keeps bar tools on top of a minifridge, also in the kitchen. The minifridge holds beer, flavored syrups, vermouth and other refrigerated cocktail items. Stemware hangs on the kitchen wall from holders that were gifted by friends.

“Don’t be afraid of heights,” he says, referring to shelving use. “Just don’t stash items so high that they are difficult to reach.”

Whatever bar setup you choose, if you’re a renter, make sure you can take it with you when you move. The Fawleys, who married in November 2012, moved from their Ballston one-bedroom to a rowhouse they rent in Capitol Hill earlier this year. Despite having more room, Fawley says he recreated the same bar setup.

Cart Creativity

Stefanie Gans, 33, decided to look for a bar cart to alleviate the problem of inadequate liquor storage in the two-bedroom apartment she rents with her husband, Bennett Lipscomb, 33, in Alexandria.

Gans, the dining editor for Northern Virginia Magazine, found a vintage medical cart for $150 at River Run Antique Mall in Fredericksburg, Va.

The store owner at first suggested it could be used as a baby changing table. Gans and her husband don’t have kids, but she says she shows “people pictures of our bar cart like it’s our child.”

Other than cleaning it, Gans didn’t refurbish the boxy white cart. She keeps cocktail stirrers and wine and beer openers in the cart’s three drawers, and the bottom shelf has space to store growlers and taller bottles.

Christine DiPietro, 26, also turned to a cart for her bar.

Her father, an airline mechanic, has several old airline beverage-service carts. DiPietro, who says she “always wanted one,” had found similar refurbished carts online for $1,000 and more, but didn’t want to pay that price. She finally convinced him to send her one this past Christmas.

“He was afraid I was going to throw my socks in there,” says DiPietro, an international development project manager who lives in an English basement studio near Eastern Market.

DiPietro’s father added trays from other carts to increase storage capacity. She keeps her preferred spirit — bourbon — on the bottom rack along with soda. And there’s plenty of room to accommodate more liquor, mixers and barware.

Apartment dwellers in search of a bar cart can find vintage ones online on sites such as eBay, or by scouring flea markets and thrift stores. Stores such as Ikea and Target sell bar carts, too.

Styling Your Bar

Once you’ve established a place for your bar, add a dash of personality.

D.C.-based artist and stylist Morgan Hungerford West stresses visual organization through the use of trays, for example. She created a bar cart styling tutorial on her creative lifestyle blog, Panda Head.

She also emphasizes quirkiness and balancing the hardness of glass and bottles with soft decor, such as flowers or books.

To spruce up her cart’s exterior, DiPietro covered the sides with sheets of pink and white patterned paper.

Looks aside, the key to having a bar in a small space is efficiency, according to Hungerford West, 33.

“Anything you integrate into the bar cart should be something that you actually use,” she says.

“At the end of the day it really is all about your personality,” she says. “It’s what you like to drink, it’s what you like to look at.”

Stock Up Before Bottoms Up

Home bartenders could invest in an attractive bottle to display their favorite spirit, D.C.-based blogger and stylist Morgan Hungerford West suggests. Liqueurs and aperitifs that come in beautiful bottles, such as St. Germain and Lillet, are also good additions, she says. Other essentials: a shaker, stirrer and strainer.

Start with a cart and add spirits, bitters and mixers as you go, T. Marshall Fawley of Scofflaw’s Den recommends when he advises clients on how to build bars at home, especially in a small space. Begin with the ingredients for a favorite cocktail. “Learn how to perfect that cocktail and then branch out from that,” he says.

Or enlist some help. Alison Beshai, 24, a stylist and personal shopper who shares a two-bedroom apartment in Brightwood, bought a bar cart on eBay for around $250. Beshai bought some supplies, including an ice bucket and glassware, but she and her roommate hosted a “stock-the-bar-party” in December in which they asked friends to bring a spirit that started with the first letter of his or her name.