Designer Steve Morris strives to create the unexpected. To that end, he has a penchant for marrying divergent materials together. His pieces glean strength from their steel components, while wood softens the look; meanwhile, the use of glass or acrylic affords the penetration of light, opens up visual space, and allows for the insertion of colored lighting, which can be adjusted to change a space’s mood.
Morris creates staircases, railings, gates, furnishings, lighting, and other custom items at his Port Ewen studio for projects throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City. When a Dutchess County client wanted easier access to his basement wine collection, Morris suggested a radical solution, offering surprises at every step: a stainless-steel and acrylic fan of stairs descending directly from the contemporary home’s dining room to an underground tasting lounge with temperature-controlled wine storage.
To begin the job, a circle five feet in diameter was carved into the hardwood floor near the back wall of the dining room—an initial step decidedly not for the faint of heart, notes Morris. The unfinished basement’s suddenly becoming visible through that gaping hole, with the sawdust flying off the jigsaw, was a point-of-no-return moment. One-inch-thick, see-through acrylic treads, attached to a central metal post, were installed leading to the lower level.
The dining room opening is covered by an acrylic hatch that opens and closes via a remote switch. The closed hatch can be hidden with a rug or left in plain view. Morris added colored LED lighting to the staircase, allowing the homeowner to set the scene from romantic to festive. The staircase is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling slats of stainless steel perforated with openings to hold up to 180 bottles of wine. Even this element is lit from behind by an LED array, also controlled remotely, which can be adjusted to fill the atmosphere with a soft glow or flash jewel tones.
Downstairs, a sliding glass panel divides the space into two zones—one with a small tasting lounge, and the other, a serving bar with more bottle storage. The serving bar, built by Fred Tregaskis, is paneled in redwood reclaimed from a disassembled water in New York City and is outfitted with brushed zinc countertops on vinegar-pickled oak cabinetry. The eclectic décor makes the space feel simultaneously modern and retro. Here, the wine collection is kept at 60 degrees.
At the heart of this surprising space is its heated lounge, which is lit by a custom wall sconce and ceiling fixture and equipped with an entertainment system. “We put in Milo Baughman chairs facing a television mounted on the opposite wall, the walls are covered in Venetian plaster, and the mirror is made to look like an old faded bar-back,” Morris says. “My concept was to make the space look like a variation on a speakeasy”—and with this luxurious, tucked-away space, he’s succeeded. All that’s missing is the secret password.