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Grape Escape

The Ultimate Transformation: From cramped basement to world-class wine cellar

Nicholas Liadis, Desmone & Associates Architects

Photo courtesy of Desmone & Associates Architects

As you descend the back staircase and enter the wine cellar at Chuck and Kristen Hammel’s large Sewickley home, you might assume the handcrafted mahogany cabinets and copper light fixtures have been in place since the house was built in 1905. There is a burnished warmth to the room, despite its deliberately chilly temperature, that seems to speak of history and the passage of time.

And yet, when the Hammel family moved into the house in 2007, this now-gorgeous space was actually 300 square feet of dank basement. Picture a low ceiling, lots of ventilation ducts, even bits of mold sprouting here and there. It was a room many families would have ignored, especially when the rest of this gorgeous house offered so much possibility.

But the Hammels had a mission: They needed to design the perfect, temperature-controlled space for their ample wine collection. In their previous home, which they built, the wine cellar was figured in from the beginning. Now, settling into this turn-of-the-20th-century house in a tiny Pittsburgh suburb, they had to get creative.

So the wine collection went into storage and the work began. With the help of architects from Desmone & Associates, the Hammels re-imagined this subterranean room in a totally fresh way, turning it into both a showpiece and a practical resource.

The project, which took three months, resulted in a perfect hybrid: cool enough to keep the wine at an optimum temperature of 55 degrees, yet visually warmed by rich woods and soft halogen lighting. It feels traditional, blending with the design of the rest of the house, and yet it has a high-tech ventilation system and custom-made cork floor. The stucco walls are accented with terra-cotta stone veneer.

“I like to mix new with old,” says Kristen Hammel, who worked closely with the architects. “The bones of the house are traditional, but we’ve done some funky things with it.” For the wine cellar, she chose a traditional-looking chandelier from ABC Carpet & Home, but swapped out the light bulbs to create a different look.

Among her favorite details: The table in the wine cellar was custom-made from wood that came from trees the Hammels needed to cut down at their previous home.

The wine cellar is now complete and the family is thrilled with it. But as with most homes, the work is never entirely done: “The kitchen,” says Kristen Hammel, “is our next project.” 

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