Garden, bar carts hot again in home design

Carts are back in style, design experts say, serving as both function and fun inside and outside the home. The timing couldn’t be better for Angela DiMaggio.

In 2007, DiMaggio retired after 38 years as an art and photography teacher in Arizona. When she was cleaning out her desk for the last time, she found a few pieces of paper she had tucked away in the 1970s. They were sketches of a system of bins that could hold pots and were deep enough for growing vegetables.

“They were basically just scribbles, not even much to look at,” she said. “But I knew what I was looking at. It was kind of an upright system for growing things, even in an apartment, on a balcony or terrace, and it had deep pans for root vegetables.”

In the 1970s, when she moved to Arizona from Wisconsin, she became fond of the mild weather and gardened feverishly. But a divorce forced her to lose her home, and she was resigned to a condominium. The sketches came from wanting to garden and not having space.

When she put the ideas aside, she hoped that someday she would get back to them and even possibly make the designs a business venture.

The chance came at last. It took DiMaggio a few years to get her company, Mobilegro, off the ground. The three- and four-bin systems, which are manufactured in Las Vegas, are now sold on homedepot.com and about 10 other websites.

“The one thing that was important to me was that it had to be beautiful. It had to be creative and beautiful and had to have some artistic design to it,” she said. “Many garden carriers look like troughs for feeding animals. They’re very utilitarian. I wanted something really gorgeous.”

Comfort and the cart

DiMaggio’s systems are becoming popular in urban settings. City condominium or apartment dwellers want gardens, but many also eschew the hard labor they might entail, said Daniel Matus, principal designer of Las Vegas interior design firm Desired Space LLC. These customers, he said, would rather stand at their garden bins than crouch in soil.

“They need something contained,” she said. “They don’t want to be digging up the rocks and trees in a yard. … I really thought of people in cities when I designed it.”

Wheel quality was a key focus when she built her product. The wheels are sturdy and lock with the touch of a toe.

The bar cart comeback

Beyond the garden, carts are making their way back into the home. While characters in the hit television show “Mad Men” drank whiskey from gold-rimmed glasses during midday breaks, Americans were watching and taking note. The show has had a hand in bringing back the bar cart into interior design, said Dann Foley, a Palm Springs, Calif.-based interior designer.

“They (bar carts) were huge in the ’50s and sort of disappeared. But they’re having a major comeback,” he added. “People just like the way they look in the room, even if you never move them.”

Foley recently ordered a chrome and white marble bar cart from interior designer Thom Filicia for a client. He says many people who like to entertain are using bar carts for serving hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, wheeling them into the living room or dining room area. Bar carts are also resurfacing in high-end restaurants as displays for desserts or specialty cocktails.

“They’re actually making a comeback for what they were really meant for,” he said.

Matus said bar carts work perfectly for homeowners who love to show off a skill.

“The cart makes people focus on the task at hand. … It’s like a mobile display station you can take into the living room or out onto the patio,” he said. “People who are prideful about a task, like mixing a specialty drink or making certain food love that. … I had a client that loved to display her salsas and guacamoles. It was like a ministage for her in the kitchen.”

Matus recommends some bar carts from Restoration Hardware that his clients have enjoyed.

Many bar carts take on traditional vintage tones with wood or metal finishes. Since “Mad Men” has helped reintroduce the item, many clients seem to go for a classic, chic look, Foley said.

But both designers warn to watch wheel quality. Foley says a really good bar cart will cost around $2,000.

“I’ve seen some inexpensive ones collapse. You want to make sure the quality can support the weight,” he said. “And when you have a cheap wheel, when you cross the carpet and put some weight on that cart, that’s where you run into trouble. … The wheels today are different than they were 50 years ago. The materials are better. They may be lighter but they are stronger.”

KITCHEN ISLANDS

Foley said that although bar and garden carts have regained cachet, kitchen island carts have declined in popularity. People often don’t want to do kitchen work on something that could move, he said.

“Even when you lock the wheel you can get some shifting,” he added.

Although many come with wheels, today’s homeowners tend to want the wheels off. The table can still be moved, he said, but the surface is more stable and better for kitchen work.

“Even without the wheels it still gives the opportunity to move it,” he added.

Matus, however, said he still finds homeowners, like his salsa-displaying client, who want that small mobile cart around.

“They still like that small accessory in the kitchen,” he added.

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