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The mancave mainstay that became a kitchen must-have

How COVID changed when — and where — we like to drink

By Robyn Willis
Fri, Jun 16, 2023 8:47amGrey Clock 4 min

World health events have always made an impact on the domestic front. From the introduction of indoor plumbing to deal with water borne diseases in Victorian times to the rise of seaside resorts as a panacea for respiratory ailments like tuberculosis, architectural design has always risen to the challenges and demands of modern living. 

So while the recent pandemic has elevated the importance of domestic design ranging from bigger and better bathrooms to fully equipped home offices, there are quieter but no less significant changes afoot in the kitchen.

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As lockdowns kept all but the most essential workers at home, many began looking at ways to replicate restaurant and bar experiences within their own four walls. Although some people already had dedicated bar areas, others gathered in communal areas like the kitchen to try their hand at making their favourite drink. As restrictions eased, it’s a trend that has continued to gather pace.

Whiskey ambassador, James Buntin, says often it simply makes good sense to make drinks at home.

“When you’re paying between $22 and $25 for a cocktail and you have four of those, that’s $100,” he says. “It becomes quite expensive and so during COVID a lot of people started to create their own drinks instead.” 

For connoisseurs with a particular preference for spirits like whiskey, vodka or gin, Buntin says perfecting your favourite cocktail at home can be a more satisfying experience than ordering it at a bar.

“The home bar is not usually set up for making lots of different drinks — you won’t get a menu,” he says. “Generally, it’s one or two drinks that are the owners’ favourites. It’s about simplicity, so it’s your space and you have everything within reach and it becomes a pleasure.”

Kitchen designer and director of Minosa, Darren Genner, says a built-in bar has become a popular must-have among his clients.

“During COVID, the kitchen became the headmaster’s station where mum or dad sat while the kids did their school work,” Genner says. “Then it became more about  entertaining at home.”

Rather than the freestanding, mobile drinks trolley that gained popularity among millennials in recent years, the new look bar is curated and integrated, with the occasional touch of glamour. 

“It used to be we had the drinks trolley with bottles of whiskey and vodka but now we don’t want to see it all the time,” he says. “We have clients, for example, that love their gin and collect the bottles and they want a place to store them.”

Most recently, Genner created a pop-up bar in a kitchen in Sydney’s Alexandria that emerges from the kitchen benchtop, James Bond-style, at the touch of a button.

“Home automation is the next step,” he says. “We are fitting voice activation now so that you can say ‘hey Alexa, I’m thirsty’.” 

This bar designed by Darren Genner and Simona Castagna at Minosa emerges from the island benchtop at the touch of a button.

The concealed nature of this new style of in-kitchen bar is also about increasing the functionality of the space within an open plan area over the course of the day.

“There is a touch of the nightclub about them,” Genner says. “When you are sitting in the lounge, you don’t want to see a kitchen — you want to see a beautiful piece of joinery. Materials are metallics, marble and smokey glass with LED lights with sensors that are really positioned to illuminate bottles. 

“All those kinds of things make it special.”

Architect Carla Middleton says as footprints shrink, it just makes sense to create spaces with dual functionalities. She has created several spaces on tight sites for clients that are dedicated to easy drinks preparation, including an area under the stairs in her own home at Tamarama.  

Architect Carla Middleton designed a home bar and coffee station under the stairs in her own home. Image: Tom Ferguson. Styling: Anna Delprat

“It’s a combined coffee and bar area and it was the only thing my husband really wanted,” Middleton says. “We couldn’t do a cellar and this is central to the living and entertaining area that you can seal off when you are not entertaining. 

“It’s a nice area when friends come over to set up and let your guests help themselves.”

Rather than creating a separate bar or mancave, a luxe mini version in a shared space like the kitchen also ensures that everyone feels welcome, including the cook. Whether it is concealed or not, for it to be successful, Middleton says a drinks station needs a few essentials.

“You want a good open benchtop, when you are entertaining, to serve as a cocktail station and then a sink big enough to have some ice in it,” she says. “A wine and beer fridge is also good, perhaps one of those under bench wine fridges, and then a separate fridge for soft drinks.”

While the materials and technology might have changed, Middleton points out that the idea of having a cocktail bar at home goes back some way.

“It’s not a new thing. We used to have a drinks trolley in my grandmother’s house,” she says. “It’s just transforming in its style and location.”

Here’s cheers to that.


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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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