Cincinnati wine cellar marries design and function

Cincinnati wine cellar marries design and function

by Kristen Rojowski

Tom Huff already had a world-class wine collection of more than 3,200 bottles. What he needed was an equally distinguished way to display it. So with sketches in hand, the 64-year-old artist, businessman and oenophile (wine lover) turned to Neal’s Design Remodel to bring his vision to reality.

The results are, in a word, stunning. The room is more art gallery than wine cellar. The Napa Valley motif includes a kitchen, large wooden table and, at 1,500 square feet, plenty of room for friends. He and his wife, Kathy, love to entertain and the cellar is one of three areas in their Mason, Ohio, home designed to accommodate guests – from 20 to 150 at a time.

"We belong to a wine club and we'll set up a tasting for a particular country," Huff says. "We'll pull out 20 to 30 bottles and everyone will be tasting and taking notes - we have a really good time."

Neal's Design Remodel started seeing requests for wine cellars about four years ago. "Many [people] are joining wine clubs and have collections as a hobby," says Steve Hendy, co-owner and coordinator for Huff's project. "Many enjoy entertaining with a nice bottle of wine with a special group of friends, so it's very desirable to have tasting areas near the wine cellars for entertaining. It's definitely the largest wine cellar we've built. It was a collaborative effort. He knew exactly what he wanted and we were there to help him fine-tune his vision."

Neal's won the 2008 Contractor of the Year Award, both locally and regionally, from the National Association of Remodeling Institute as well as the 2008 Chrysalis Award for Best Finished Basement for Huff's project. One thing Huff wanted to ensure is that the labels faced outward, not the corks.

"The labels are the most impressive part of the bottles," he says. "I don't know why anyone would do it any other way."

That Huff's cellar would seamlessly marry design and function is appropriate for a man whose company is among the world leaders in commercial interior design. If the colors and shapes at your local Taco Bell or Pizza Hut make your mouth water, you have Huff's company, CIP Retail Impact, to thank.

CIP supplies all the graphics and decor for those among many other retailers. Huff attributes part of his success to his nine years in the Army running a missile battery in Oxford, Ohio.

"Management is a matter of learning how to deal with people of all different backgrounds," Huff says. "The military is great prep for that."

His expansive collection is organized by country. One of his prized, and notably not for sale, bottles is a first- growth Bordeaux produced by Mouton Rothschild in celebration of the end of World War II.

"The secret to wine is not to be stuffy about it," Huff says. "It's about what you personally like. If you like it, then that's the one for you. Everyone's palette is different and palettes certainly change. It's like art - it's all eye of the beholder."

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