What Are Cocktail Rooms, The Newest Trend Taking Over Historic Homes?

A sitting room by any other name, a cocktail room is more of a state of mind than anything concrete.

Cocktail room

Lauren Chambers Interiors Photography; Design by Whitney Durham Interiors

When we started to hear the phrase “cocktail room” pop up amid interior design circles, we had to know what the deal was. What is a cocktail room, and how do we get our hands on one this instant? Well, as it turns out, cocktail rooms are less of a newfound creation and more of a rebranding—one that might not require a major home project. If you live in a historic home, this trend may have your name written all over it. 

Houston, Texas-based designers Ashley Hunt and Savannah McPartland let us in on the emerging trend, explaining that cocktail rooms are answering a design question that historic home owners have been asking for a while now: What exactly are you supposed to do with a sitting room?

Cocktail room

Heidi Harris Photography; Design by Whitney Durham Interiors

What Is A Cocktail Room?

“Here in Houston, a lot of older homes traditionally have a formal sitting room,” says Hunt. "A lot of clients don't know what to do with this space, so we've seen a trend of styling such an area like a formal sitting room but calling it a cocktail room.”

Rather than trying to manipulate those tight, walled-in spaces near the entryway into something they’re just not meant to be, historic homeowners are embracing their formal sitting rooms and giving them new life. A sitting room may be outdated, but a cocktail room? Now that’s both classy and edgy.

“Calling it a cocktail room or lounge room really makes it a cooler space to actually spend time in, versus the formal sitting room which became an outdated idea that people thought they’d never use,” says McPartland. “Now, we’re transforming that space into something that is really adult-friendly and adding more character to renew that idea of a formal sitting room.”

But what’s the real difference between a formal sitting room and a cocktail room? According to Charleston, South Carolina-based designer and historic home preservationist, Olivia Brock, nothing, really. Rather the cocktail room movement is just one that fashionably catapults those old sitting rooms into the 21st century.

Cocktail room

Heidi Harris Interiors Photography; Design by Whitney Durham Interiors

What Makes A Cocktail Room?

As a cocktail room is more of a state of mind than anything concrete, designing one contains very few hard boundaries. Still, designers have some specific stops they pull when facing this new trend

First, a cocktail room should be closed in.

“I think that people dove really hard into the open concept idea, and I think people are realizing that separated spaces are actually really nice, especially from a family perspective, “says McPartland. “You can have a little separation in a nicer, more formal space where, when you have company over, adults can gather separately.”

Second, the cocktail room is not a media room. This means there’s no televisions allowed, but if you insist, a Frame TV may ease the eyesore.

“When I'm working with clients, I really push very, very hard for fewer televisions and definitely not televisions in the formal spaces,” Brock says. “People tend to like having a spot where you can sit and enjoy drinks, appetizers, or tea with guests that isn't revolving around the TV.”

Lastly, comfy seating is a must—preferably lots of it. Couches, chairs, the whole shebang.

“Work in some really comfortable and modern upholstery,” advises McPartland. “We really love comfy swivel chairs and a fabric Ottoman that you can kick your feet up on to make it a space that you're actually going to use, as opposed to a formal sitting room that you don't feel like you can actually lounge in.” 

From there, the room is yours to have fun with. McPartland recommends including book shelves to add character and stock up with your favorite reads at the ready. A built-in wet bar would look fabulous too, she says, though she also loves the idea of an antique to be used as a bar. In fact, the cocktail room could be a great place to store your antiques, from family heirlooms you want to keep as far away from raucous children as possible, to a vintage game table or a piano in need of a home.

Because the cocktail room is separate from the rest of the house, it’s also a great place to experiment with the design. Atlanta, Georgia-based designer Whitney Durham recommends choosing deep, moody tones, bold patterns like whimsical animal prints, and textured fabrics to create an intimate ambience without clashing against the remainder of your home.

Bar cart in a cocktail room

Laura Negri Childers Photography; Design by Whitney Durham Interiors

How To Use A Cocktail Room

Contrary to its name, a cocktail room doesn’t have to be boozy. It certainly can be, especially if you add a chic bar or bar cart with everything you need to whip up an elegant beverage, but it's hardly a requirement. Even if the room is zero-proof though, a 21+ age limit, or perhaps 18+, designates the space as an adult one. 

While the kids may have passively taken over the rest of the house, the cocktail room is firmly for the grown-ups. A cocktail room is anything but a playroom. It can be used for relaxation, entertaining, or yes, a stiff drink.

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