I am a firm believer that your house should work for you, not the other way around.  Space that isn’t being using to aid your daily life is wasted space.  Sometimes, you have to think beyond an area’s intended use to imagine the possibilities it holds!

One example of this is those fabulous ’80s wet bars that were popular in so many tract homes back in the day.  Wet bars in the family/living room are out-of-date with today’s home design and so often go unused, but there they sit…taking up space.  So, if your home has a wet bar and you never use it, why leave it as a wet bar when you could turn it into something functional for you and your family?!

My home was built in the late ’80s and came equipped with an awesome mirrored and brass wet bar in our informal family room.  Score!  {Just kidding}   The truth is, whenever we have people over, everyone seems to gather in the kitchen, after all, it’s the heart of the home!  And my home is a tri-level, meaning that my family room is about 1/2 a story below my kitchen, making it even more inconvenient and awkward to be down there mixing drinks.  Plus, the kids and their friends are down there playing video games and watching movies, so it’s really not a convenient adult entertaining space.  Every day I look at my unused wet bar and dream about what I could be doing with this space instead.



Just look at this beauty! {Not!} When we updated the kitchen, we updated the countertop and cabinets of the wet bar as well, since it used to have a small tiled countertop and pink oak cabinets.  You might notice that we removed the old sink and didn’t replace it.  At the time, additional cost for adding the sink was too cost-prohibitive and since we knew we wouldn’t be using it as a wet bar, we opted to have just a solid countertop.  We did leave the plumbing intact for resale value or should we ever change our mind and want a sink in the family room.  {Look!  You can see a sneak peek of my new family room curtains in the mirror!}

Beyond updating the countertop and painting the cabinets, though, we haven’t made any progress.  Time, money, and a slew of other more important updates hasn’t made this area a priority for me, but that doesn’t stop me from planning ahead as to what I could do with this space.


What To Do With That ’80s Wet Bar!

{Functional ideas for modern-day living}



1.  Desk

The space could function well as a desk area, but it would require the cabinets to be reconfigured to desk height and to allow for space for a chair.  If you’re already planning a remodel, though, a desk station with some functional cabinetry above could work well in the space.  It could house a family computer, be a spot for kids to do homework, or could even be used as a craft area for the kids.

{via Terrat Elms Interior Design}
{via Terrat Elms Interior Design}
{via Houzz}
{via Houzz}


2.  Built-in Storage

The addition of upper cabinets above the base could offer tons of additional storage.  You could even design a piece to look like freestanding furniture.

{via Stonewood LLC}
{via Stonewood LLC}

Bathroom Linen Closet


3. Snack Station

An easy conversion for an ’80s wet bar would be to use it as a snack station instead!  With the addition of a small beverage center, the space could be used to store kids drinks and snacks.

Beverage Fridge


4.  Wine Bar

Wine storage tends to be more popular in new homes than a wet bar, and with the addition of some open store above, an existing wet bar can instantly be converted to a wine bar!

{via Artistic Designs for Living}
{via Artistic Designs for Living}


5.  Bookcase/Shelving

Like mine, many of the 80s wet bars have mirror-backed walls.  A little drywall, some paint, and a few shelves and the wet bar is transformed into stylish display shelving.  And shelving used floor to ceiling would then look like a built-in bookcase!

{via Ken Gutmaker Photography}
{via Ken Gutmaker Photography}
{via Best & Company}
{via Best & Company}


6. Reading Nook

A cozy corner to snuggle, read, and nap could be just the thing for an informal family room!  Just make sure there is adequate lighting in the space so that it’s truly functional as a reading nook.

{via Visbeen Architects}
{via Visbeen Architects}


7. TV Area

If the positioning in the room is right, consider removing the existing cabinetry and add a flat screen TV instead!  Doing so will create a nice housing for the TV and related components, while still making use of the recessed space.

{via Skyring Architects}
{via Skyring Architects}


8. Modern-Day Wet Bar

If you’re wet bar is functional and useful to you but you don’t love the ’80s look, consider making a few updates to make it more contemporary.  The addition of a tiled backsplash, upper cabinets, and a beverage center can make all the difference.

{via Harry Braswell}
{via Harry Braswell}
{via Studio 80 Interior Design}
{via Studio 80 Interior Design}


9. Push Forward

If you really don’t need the space, considering pushing the wall forward so that it’s flush to make more space in whatever room is on the other side of the wall!  If you don’t need more space in one room, you might need it in the other!



I don’t have any immediate plans for updating our wet bar….well, I might have a handyman remove the mirror and dated brass trim….but if I ever do, I’d like to add glass-front upper cabinets for some additional storage of vases and serving pieces.  I’d also like to add a beverage center to the bottom cabinet to store sodas, juice, and waters for the kids.


So what do you think?

’80s wet bar – Celebrate It or Update It?



Tidbits&Twine - Signature




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7 comments on “Ideas for Updating an ’80s Wet Bar”

  1. I have a friend that did exactly what the Stonewood image did, they use the top glass cupboards as storage for wine and bar glasses and below they keep soft drinks and alcohol, but the look is more like a piece of furniture than a bar. I like your space, even though it isn’t as functional as you’d like. You’ve made it really pretty.

  2. I really love the idea of shelving (I have more books than I can count) and reading nook. I think the reading nook, in particular, would work really well in my home, mostly because I feel the need of a private space where I can sit back, read and relax. It never crossed my mind to re-purpose my boring bar into something like that.

    Also, even if you think that your space is not very functional, I think its really bright & pretty. Also, the mirrors add depth to the room. Thanks for sharing this great tips.


    • Sometimes it can be hard to envision our home spaces being used in a different way, but I always feel that if a space isn’t actually being used, you might as well turn it into something that will be! And it sounds like a reading nook is right up your alley! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and good luck with your project! :)

  3. I found this page because I am looking for ideas on how to use or what do with a wet bar. My problem is that I live in an apartment. I can’t renovate, and I don’t allow food in the family room ( snack bar ideas). So what can I do? I can’t put up shelves because the back wall is mirror up to the ceiling.

    • Hi Liz – Not being able to renovate does make it a bit tricky. Have you considered covering the mirror with contact paper or repositionable wallpaper and then hanging art or a collection of frames on top (using Command stripes)? It wouldn’t provide any additional storage but it might update the look a bit and make it look more like a wall and less like a wet bar. Or, if you found a bookcase or cabinet that was just the right height to fit between the bar top and the ceiling, you could put it on top and paint it to match your cabinetry below so that it looked more like a tall hutch. Hope these suggestions help!

  4. We are looking at purchasing a 1980s home with 2 wet bars. I love a drink every now and then but don’t feel the need to mix one up in a family room when the kitchen is a few footsteps away. I was really concerned about what we could do with these areas. Thanks for the ideas…a little less scary now!!

  5. I’m turning mine into a laundry folding and hanging nook. Barn door will cover it. Laundry hampers for waiting loads will be stored in the bottom cupboard area. :)

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