A bar cart, when styled correctly, is the perfect cocktail of cozy and elegant with a shot of old-school authority. Ideally meant for a living room or kitchen, it adds charming storage and ambiance for impromptu entertaining. You've probably seen these bar carts all over Pinterest and Instagram—because, let's be honest, they make for one super chic and classy room.
When I set out to find the right bar cart for my living/dining space, I discovered they are quite pricey and cost even more in square inches. There are terrific brass versions at thrift stores and antique shops, but I needed something more compact for my small apartment.
When I stumbled upon Ikea’s kitchen cart, I knew it would fit the space perfectly, but the available colors wouldn’t mesh with my room’s black-and-white look. The cart also happened to be a bargain, so I decided to get it, knowing a little bit of spray paint and the right styling would achieve exactly what I wanted.
01. Choose a spray paint color that will elevate the piece and won’t compete with the glassware you’re going to store there. Dark, saturated colors, like navy or red, work best. I went with matte black for a classic look, but you can take it a step further and use a chalkboard finish that will allow you to label each libation.
02. Assemble the Ikea cart using packaged instructions and make sure the connector bolts are securely snug. When it’s completely built, relocate the piece outdoors for proper ventilation, and station it over drop cloths. Now you’re ready to re-coat it with spray paint.
03. Start with a spray paint primer, which will adhere to the metal surface of the cart and help establish an even, blank canvas, fit for every finish. After one coat of primer is dry, apply two to three coats of your spray paint, depending on coverage. The key to successful spray painting is to shake the can well before starting and to hold it 3 or 4 inches away when spraying, always keeping it upright. Move the can back and forth evenly over every inch of the cart, taking breaks to walk away from the fumes and to let each coat dry before you apply another. Multiple, thin coats prevent pooling and drips, so don’t worry about patchiness after your first pass. Spraying little by little works best.
04. When the finished cart is completely dry, bring it back inside and position it exactly where you want it. Once glassware is added to the mix, the cart becomes very clumsy to move, despite the convenience of wheels. I parked mine against a photo wall in the living room to set a clubby mood, but it also works well on a narrow wall or in a niche. Then comes the proper styling.
05. For the most part, you cannot go wrong with an assortment of alcohol in the original glass containers, just make sure to station the tallest bottles in the back. The top tier should be the most visual, since that's where your eye goes first. Take care to remove purchase stickers from each container and feel free to be a bit vain at the liquor store (some brands offer the same beverage in prettier bottles). It all adds to the overall visual of your home bar.
To make my top tier a bit more elegant, I added an intricate glass decanter. It brings the right amount of pomp and circumstance, but it’s also functional for serving special spirits. Clear glass always looks cohesive and won’t compete with the décor of the room, so I recommend sticking to that when styling your cart. Add elevated details like a shaker and stir stick, or traditional bits like your grandmother’s crystal candy jar.
The second tier of the bar cart should neatly display glasses for guests to help themselves to a drink. Mine are mostly martini and highball glasses—the key is how you arrange what you have. Line them up in rows or stacks and make a point of keeping glass clean. A styled bar cart is anything but posh when a layer of dust forms, so wipe it clean and wash the glasses often to secure it as a serving piece.
The bottom tier should station larger bottles and those with varying glass. They anchor the bottom and won’t compete with the clean aesthetic you’ve styled on top.
06. And finally: Invite your friends to catch up over a cocktail or linger over a homey happy hour. Once you’ve created your own bar cart, any room holds the possibility for elegant everyday entertaining.