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Smoke rooms: A hot idea

Tampa is a cigar town, so it's no surprise that some homeowners have built rooms devoted solely to smoking and relaxing.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 9, 2002


TAMPA -- Mike Carney is a smoker.

He doesn't apologize for that. In fact, he embraces it.

Carney likes his cigars so much, that when he and his wife, Anne, built their South Tampa home two years ago, they incorporated a smoking area into the design.

Working with a model offered by Keystone Homes, the Carneys added an entire room to the original floor plan.

It's separated from the family room by French doors, and another set of French doors opens onto the pool area. A built-in book case on one wall holds stacks of Cigar Aficionado magazine, a glass wine cooler filled with matches and cigar cutters, and cigar artwork.

This is also where Mike displays his sports memorabilia collection, which includes framed baseball cards, an Indiana University basketball autographed by former coach Bobby Knight and a baseball autographed by Ted Williams.

Elsewhere in the room Mike showcases the vintage cigar boxes and humidors that he collects. A Ferdie Pacheco print depicting Ybor cigar rollers and an Arnold Martinez canvas painted with extract of tobacco hang on the walls. He also has pictures of a racing horse he used to own, and a framed program from the 1973 Kentucky Derby won by Secretariat.

"I like horses, cigars and sports teams," Carney says. "And those are the three things I have going on here."

Two big leather chairs provide a comfortable spot for smoking cigars and watching television. A heavy marble ashtray rests on the arm of one, and a clay coaster that reads "Be a Man Smoke Cigars" -- a gift from Anne -- sits on the arm of the other.

Carney keeps an air purifier tucked in a cabinet under the bookcase, and he brings it out after an evening of smoking to freshen the room.

A cursory sniff reveals that the system really works -- the room is as clean-smelling as every other part of the house.

A built-in humidor fills one corner of the room. Carney designed the humidor after researching the topic on the Internet. It's tightly sealed with an etched glass door, well-insulated behind the Spanish cedar lining, and kept moist with a humidifier that maintains 70 percent humidity in the space. An air conditioner keeps the temperature at 70 degrees. The Carneys store their wine in a rack incorporated into the humidor.

The entire setup cost about $1,500, Carney says. He estimates that he has about 200 cigars and 15 brands.

The Carneys started a cigar dinner party group two years ago to indulge their passion, but none of their friends has such an elaborate space dedicated to the pastime.

"They're not as hard core as I am," Carney confesses.

Still, Carney is not alone in his dedication to fine smokes.

Tampa being the cigar town that it is, it's not surprising that other homeowners have requested custom rooms for the enjoyment of their favorite tobacco blends.

Architect Sol Fleischman designed a smoking area in the 40- by 40-foot great room of a North Tampa home for a client who wanted to be able to smoke his cigars while watching television.

A table between two large leather recliners hides a high-powered exhaust fan that draws the smoke outdoors through a duct under the slab of the house.

Fleischman also created a cigar room for radio personality "Cigar Dave" Zeplowitz, host of the nationally syndicated cigar talk show Smoke This! The room in Zeplowitz's renovated Culbreath Isles home boasts a glass-fronted humidor on one wall, a special ventilation system, lots of warm wood paneling and big leather chairs.

Builders Liz and Joe O'Connell put a cigar and cognac room in their Avila chateau.

"It's all mahogany wood paneling. That way there's nothing to absorb the odors," O'Connell says. Vents in the ceilings with remote motors far from the cigar room draw out the smoke without making a lot of noise. O'Connell likens it to the ventilation systems typically put in bathrooms. A French door opens onto a large patio to further allow air flow. The room also has a fireplace and wine cellar.

O'Connell says he designed a combined smoking and trophy room for a client in Cheval. The room, actually a small structure apart from the main house, has a stone floor, stone fireplace and a special ventilation system.

"If people have the room for it, it's worthwhile," O'Connell says of his smoking rooms.

"There are people who still smoke, and cigar smoking has become more and more popular. It gives you a designated area."

Humidor how-tos

Cigar Weekly offers these tips on creating a built-in humidor in your home:

Select a location where the temperature remains relatively constant year-round. Interior walls are better then exterior walls, and a first floor is better than an upper story. In Florida, a northern or northeastern spot works best.

Spanish cedar is the best wood for paneling and shelving. It grows in moist climates and deters tobacco beetles. Philippine or Honduran mahogany also are good choices.

Avoid red or white American cedar. The latter, while used in clothes closets to retard the growth of bacteria, fungus and algae and repel moths, is overwhelmingly aromatic and gives tobacco an undesirable, acidic quality.

Hardwoods, such as oak and walnut, won't work either. They grow mold in high-humidity environments.

Because the room will be moisture-laden, avoid regular hardware-store steel screws or mounting hardware. They will rust. Better to use powder-coated or other rust-resistant hardware.

Use plastic sheeting between the paneling and the walls to prevent migration of moisture into the surrounding sheet-rock walls, where it could damage them. Seal all air leaks in and out of the room. Install fiberglass insulation behind paneling mounted on outside walls to keep temperatures constant.

The proper temperature, humidity and air flow prevent deterioration of the taste and aroma of cigars.

If humidity is too low, cigars will become so dry they'll burn hot and harsh, and the wrappers can unravel. If the humidity is too high, they become so damp they won't stay lit, draw hard, and taste sour.

If the temperature is too warm for an extended period of time, tobacco beetles may breed. Combine high heat with too much humidity and mold can grow.

The proper environment for humidors is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent relative humidity. Avoid wide swings in either. Home humidifiers can keep a modest- to medium-size humidor at 70 degrees relative humidity, but require frequent cleaning and disinfecting of the internal, water-bearing components to prevent introduction of mold and bacteria into the room. To distribute the air uniformly throughout the walk-in, place a small fan on the floor.

Hard water vapor, blown into the room, can carry mineral particles, which settle on cigars, boxes and shelves as a fine, white dust. Instead, use distilled water, although soft tap water or bottled "purified" water will also do.

Consider obtaining a "humidistat," which controls humidity like a thermostat controls the temperature in your home. You plug a humidifier into it, plug it into the wall and set the humidifier at full capacity. After you set the humidistat where you want it, it turns the humidifier on and off as needed.

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