Breakfast Nook Bench Top Tutorial

A step-by-step guide to building a banquette from a cabinet base and butcher block- a project that fulfilled a major wishlist item for me!

For the longest time I dreamed of having a breakfast nook with some sort of built-in benches. As a kid, my mom would always point out nooks with built-ins, bay windows, and window seats. I guess the breakfast nooks and built-in benches stuck with me. The first home my husband and I bought was a 1920s Spanish style bungalow that had been remodeled, and most of the character removed. In an old listing, we saw that our kitchen originally had a built-in banquette. It may have been added by the first owners after the home was built, but it was vintage and cute looking. I mourned that lost formica table and curved bench, eventhough I had never laid eyes on it in person. When it came time to buy our second place, we didn’t find the dream nook. However, the kitchen would need a remodel and there was space for built-in benches!

We worked with our cabinet company to design the nook benches. They included two drawers and two cabinets. There are some similar concepts available on sites like Overstock and even Etsy. Here is one result that came up after searching for “banquette breakfast nook” click here I sometimes wonder if I should have done a tall pantry in that space adjacent to the window instead. But it’s nice to sit in the nook and look out at the yard (at all the work I need to do out there ha ha). My son loves to play there while I cook too. Anyhow, I can’t remember if the company offered a bench topper. I don’t think they did, so we decided to find butcher block on our own. We purchased unstained birch block from Home Depot. There are stained versions, different wood species, and different sizes. So many ways to customize, which lead to our predicament. My husband cut the wood to fit on the cabinets and we let it sit. We lived with it untreated for a couple years, which is not recommended! The wood can warp etc. We just could not settle on the color, and we had so many other projects that took our time. As we approached the holidays in 2019, we buckled down, chose a color, and got to sanding.

We used an orbital sander with 120 grit sandpaper pads to sand down the butcher block. Man, there is something satisfying about using one of these sanders! Luckily, our wood was in pretty good shape, considering we used it untreated for so long. There were no major stains or warping.

We tried out many different colors of stain, before deciding to mix our own. Ultimately we chose Minwax Driftwood and Dark Chestnut. We mixed the blend in a small empty paint can and applied with a staining pad.

Two coats of stain were applied and one coat of polyurethane. I didn’t take any photos of the poly process. It’s pretty straightforward; apply with brush and let dry according to product directions.

The corner of where the cabinets meet is hollow, and perfect for storage. The only problem is that it is only accessible from the top. The nook is “L” shaped with two separate pieces of butcher block. In order to keep that as useable space, we thought to create a lid. That meant cutting the block up and figuring out how to make the lid. Clever husband made supports out of MDF that he secured to the wall. These allow for a hinge to attach, as well as extra support for the lid to rest on.

Husband found a hinge perfect for our lid. He attached one side to the lid and the other side to the MDF along the back wall along the inside of the cabinet.

Securing the lid hinge to the MDF frame was tedious. The angle was awkward and the small screws kept coming loose when you tried to screw them in. We tried a couple different approaches until we found it was easiest for me to hold the lid while husband screwed down the hinge. Meanwhile, our son was running around in the background trying to show us his Lego tower. “Mama, mama, mama, papa, papa look at this!” Then he grabbed his toy drill to join in the fun!

We also installed a soft close lid support hinge that I forgot to take pictures of. I did include it in the materials. It was fairly easy to install, but one of the hinge pieces broke during the process. The pack came with two hinges, so we took a piece from the second hinge. The lid is pretty heavy and just after a couple days of use, I see that a second soft close or even a hinge with the lid stay function would be really handy.

Once the lid was in place, all sections of the block were secured to the cabinet frame. The lid is seen in the photo above, just under where the screw is being drilled. The piece of wood laying across the bench is the quarter round wood used along the edges where the bench and wall meet; see below.

To create a finished look, my husband used quarter round wood along the bench edges.

It feels good to wrap this up. In the above “before and after” you can see it took quite a bit of work to finishing stages! When we toured the home before buying, the nook appeared as the photo on the left shows. We had a good deal of help in the form of manual labor, from family and friends. We feel pretty lucky to have handy folks in our lives.

There many ways to fill this space, like simple built-in benches without storage, a small dining set, a pantry closet as I mentioned. Would you have done built-in benches or something else in this space?

Budget: $800

Time: 4 days

Skill Level: Advanced

Notes: My budget estimate doesn’t include the cost of the power tools. Costs will vary depending on the type of butcher block, base and amount needed. My time estimate is very loose because we really spread out this project. We didn’t dedicate entire days to work; it was chunks of times here and there. I also wasn’t sure if I should include the time taken to install the cabinets or just the butcher block process. And do you include research and shopping?? I estimated 5 days if you were able to dedicate entire days to this and you didn’t take almost 2 years to decide on a color!! Another thing is drying time between coats. We followed the product instructions, and basically let each coat dry over night.

Materials

Electric sander

120 grit sandpaper

Disposable nitrile gloves

MinWax stain

Staining pads

Empty paint can for mixing stain colors

Varathane Polyurethane

Wooster Pro brush for Polyurethane

Nail Gun

Drill

Hillman Hardware Essentials Hinge

Apexstone soft close lid support spring

Quarter round wood

8 ft. 2 in. L x 2 ft. 1 in. D x 1.5 in. T Butcher Block Countertop in Unfinished Birch

Hardwood Reflections 8 ft. 2 in. L x 2 ft. 1 in. D x 1.5 in. T Butcher Block Countertop in Unfinished Birch

Easy Espalier Trellis

While remodeling the interior of our house, the exterior was severely neglected. The backyard was in especially bad shape as it had been the dumping spot during demolition. Warm weather, completing inside projects, and my son’s longer naps encouraged me to get cracking on the backyard! Our first summer in the house was all about clearing debris and overgrown plants, with some time dedicated to planting along one side of our fence. The second summer we focused on creating flower beds, a walking path, and more planting. As the bed and path shaped up, the fence was looking pretty shabby in comparison. I decided to stain the fence, but was worried it wouldn’t turn out good. As a back up I figured a trellis with vines on the fence would be a good way to disguise any of my mistakes! Luckily the stain looked fine, but I was still determined to try a tutorial I came across from Megan Pflug’s site, meganpflugdesigns.com, called Espalier Garden Redux. It is so easy and pretty budget friendly. Keep reading for my lessons learned.

My espalier after almost one year.
The “Before” The fence to the left is the area I worked on. I stained the fence and created the flower bed prior to making the trellis.
The “after”. The angle is different than the “before” photo above, mainly because that corner isn’t quite done,

I started with this section of the yard because it was the easiest. The back section of fencing is on a slope and at the top of an eroding rockery. The other section of fence is chainlink and is next to a very overgrown open lot. Okay, on to the juicy bit.

My sister-in-law liked my trellis so much she wanted to try too! We used just three materials on her fence. The in-process shots are from her yard because I forgot to capture my own. Her fence wood was soft enough that we didn’t need to drill holes for the hooks. However, when I installed my espalier I had to drill holes. I would suggest testing the hooks in your fence to see if a drill is needed. Twist the hook as you would a push pin on a cork board. Once you determine your method, decide on your pattern. I did the diamond grid pattern because I was worried I would need to camouflage my poor staining ha ha. My sister went for a more simple zig zag. This took less hooks and doesn’t cover as much of the fence.

Once a hook is in place, thread the wire through the hole. Connecting to the next hook can be done a couple ways. I tried two different ways, maybe there are more!

At first I cut the wire to fit from one hook to the next. I did this because the wire was kind of unruly and I found it was more manageable in shorter lengths. My husband watched me do a few sections and asked why I didn’t string longer sections of wire through multiple hooks. I demonstrated how the wire “fought me” when I unravelled large sections. As the bundle of wire got smaller, his method was more doable and saved wire. Another thing my husband noticed is I was using the wrong wire cutters. Sigh, I had used wire crimpers. They definitely were not as sharp and it took me way longer to cut wire compared to the proper tool!

Whether your wire is strung through two or more hooks, once cut you will bend it into a loop and wrap it back around itself. Wire cutters or wire crimper can tighten the loop if desired. Continue threading, cutting and wrapping until your pattern is complete.

Zig zag “v” pattern.

The silver wire definitely blends in to weather worn wood more, which is nice considering the time it will take for vines to start climbing. Silver wire pops against my dark fence, which I dont mind. But I cant wait until the vines take off and fill in!

Have you used this technique before? How did it work for you?

Follow me on Instagram  //instagram.com/this.dear.casa for more views of my garden, DIY, and renovation. Thanks!

Resources for this project:

Klein Tools Dykes Side Cutting PliersSee More

Hillman Screw Eye Hooks…See More

Hillman Galvanized Steel WireSee More

Dining Room Process

Our current house is the first house we’ve lived in that has a proper dining room. We’ve lived in apartments and houses with dining areas, but never a proper dining room. When we bought our current house we thought about creating an open concept floor plan between the dining room and kitchen, but ultimately decided to stay true to the 1929 design. In a way there is pseudo open concept between the living and dining rooms because there is a size-able archway between the two spaces. There are no built-ins like you may find in homes of this era; just very large windows and originally there was a swing door that lead to the kitchen. The swing door was actually pretty cool as a novelty. However, in order to maximize the wall space in both the dining and kitchen rooms, we removed the swinging door and moved the doorway to one side of the wall.

View from living room into the dining room.
Dining room as it appeared when we got the keys to our house.

The bones of the dining room and the house in general, are very good. When we first toured the house we loved the arches found throughout the house, the coved ceilings and large windows in the living and dining rooms. There were also some things we did not like. The popcorn ceilings and carpet in the living and dining rooms were a couple things that really had to go. We did like the picture rail, but in removing the popcorn the abatement company we hired, suggested removing the moudling to ease access to the popcorn. We were sad to lose that detail, but it saved some money and we added back visual interest in other ways.

This is the swinging door that was situated in the middle of a dining room wall. Check out that glittering popcorn ceiling.

We considered installing an island where this wall is, but we would have needed to add extra support for the top floor, which was an expense we didn’t want to incur. At the time we were planning the kitchen, and I was worried how all of the finishes would have affected the dining room decor. When rooms are closed off, it feels like you can create more individual spaces. Had the doorway stayed in the middle of the room, the view would have been looking in to our breakfast nook. That would have been pretty cute, but the lay out in the kitchen would have felt chopped up. Since we really liked the existing arches in the house, we opted to make this new doorway an arch!

New light fixture with a vintage feel.

One of the goals we had for the house was to restore some of the original charm that had been lost during renovations that took place in the 1960’s and beyond. An easy swap was removing the 1980’s light fixture and replacing it with a chandelier that felt more Art Deco, 1920’s. I had looked at some vintage brass chandeliers with arms that dangle with tear drop shaped crystal beads. See examples below. Since most of the finishes we were choosing were a bit more subdued, we opted for a less blingy fixture. I think we could have made it work, but it didn’t feel right at the time. One day I will get that sparkly chandelier! To add a bit of flourish to the Restoration Hardware piece, we chose to install a ceiling medallion. It is not an antique, just a piece from Home Depot, but it really adds some old world vibes.

This credenza is located on the new wall. Another reason we chose to keep the kitchen and dining rooms separate and move the doorway is to have another wall for furniture like this that can store linens, glasses, and currently I have art supplies in the bottom drawer. Oh gosh I love this piece. I was lucky to have found it for FREE on Nextdoor. Can you believe it?? Along the wall with the large arch, there is a cabinet that stores more glassware, books and other decor. We have a ton of stuff and I need to stash it all somewhere.

Here is another view of the wall with the new doorway. All of the little squares on the wall are paint samples that we are trying out. A couple people have commented that they like the pattern and that it would be cool to extend it. A cool pattern will not be painted on the walls, however we will be selecting one color. I have gone back and forth about the choices, agonizing over the possibilities. I am afraid I will hate the color and want white again. I am afraid all the plants and paintings will clash against the color. I need to just make a choice and roll with it! Or brush with it, ha ha paint tool joke! It’s just paint right? Stay tuned to see the color we choose.

DIY Wood Mantle

When we bought our house, the image I had for our fireplace was so different. There was wood paneling surrounding the fireplace that I figured we would paint, clean up the stone, and be done. However, when we got the keys we noticed light coming in where a section of panel was pulling away from the wall, and there were two distinct sun bleached rectangles on either side of the fireplace. We pulled back the paneling and discovered original windows! Someone had asked how we didn’t notice the windows from the outside. I was slightly caught off guard because I hadn’t thought about how we missed those windows! Those windows face north, the entrance faces east, and when you walk up to the door, you don’t see the windows. The house also sits next to an empty lot that was very overgrown and camouflaged the north side of the house to those on the street. Approaching the house for the first time, we were running a tally of projects in our heads, so that list must have clouded our brains ha ha! When we did walk that side of the house, the leaning chimney must have stood out more than the boarded up windows! Upon removing the paneling, we also saw that the fireplace originally had a bell curve shape and two sconces on either side; there were outlines of where these items had previously been. A leaning chimney and messed up fireplace lead our vision to a whole new place!

Fast forward a few projects, like laying new brick, building out the bell shape, installing the insert, laying tile etc, and we come to the mantle. At first we really liked the clean look of the completed fireplace, but our first Christmas in the house was coming and I really wanted to hang our stockings on a mantle! After looking at ready-made mantles for sale online, we did not see anything we loved. We decided to make our own using sources found at a bigbox home improvement store. It turned out cheaper than those we first saw and it was the exact look and size we wanted.

Fireplace as it looked when we purchased our home. Note the sun bleached area on the left where light shone through the window onto the paneling.

A before and after! As I mentioned earlier, before even considering the mantle, there was a ton of other work to do. This comparison shows some of the changes we made to the fireplace and the living room in general. Let’s get back to the DIY mantle, shall we?

A few corbel examples found at our local Home Depot.

I came across unfinished corbels in my mantle search and asked my husband if there was a way to use them for our mantle. There are many corbel options online. Just type “corbel” in your search engine and a ton come up. You can choose from very simple designs to intricately carved pieces with faux aging. We went with something fairly simple that we found online at Home Depot.

Some materials used to create our DIY mantle.

While planning the mantle shape, we were also thinking of a stain color. At the time, we had no trim around our discovered windows. The other windows in the room had old, chipped white trim. We had purchased a new front door that had been stained a medium to dark color. I attempted to match that color as best I could. Color matching stain is always tricky with different wood species. On that note, I should mention that all the wood we used was red oak. The corbels and trim pieces were actually ordered online because our local Home Depot didn’t have them in red oak.

I used a blend of MinWax wood stains in Honey and English Chestnut to get our desired color. We later matched the window trim to this color too.

Other materials not pictured: 220 grit sandpaper or sanding block, nail gun, air compressor, table saw, drill, screws, nails.

Some oak planks that could potentially be made into a mantle.
Cove trim piece used in our mantle.

Hubby got creative and researched types of wood to use. He found some red oak planks in 1″ x 6″ and 1″ x 4″ and cove trim pieces that would pair well.

Testing out the length of our mantle shelf and how it will look on the corbels.

We centered the corbels on the “column” pieces, cut one oak plank to the length of the entire fireplace, and cut a second plank piece one inch shorter. The second oak plank was placed centered under the first oak plank.

Once we had the layout we wanted, we measured two times for accuracy’s sake, and then made the cuts on the table saw. I wasn’t able to take photos of the cutting process; must have been chasing our son or doing laundry or who knows! Thank goodness for a table saw. How did carpenters of yore build entire houses with hand tools?!!?

Drilling a hole to screw the two pieces of oak together.

Once the planks were screwed together, the trim was measured and cut. The trim wraps around the lower plank, providing some visual interest. 18 gauge finishing nails were used in the nail gun.

Nailing the trim to the mantle shelf.

With the planks and trim secured together to form our mantle shelf, I stained them, as well as the corbels.

The corbels came with mounting hardware, but my husband used self-drilling drywall anchors.

Testing stained corbels on the fireplace.
Side profile of how the corbels and shelf line up.

With the stain dry on the mantle shelf, it was screwed into the corbels and the wall. Our mantle was done in time for that first Christmas in our home! It was also the first Christmas we celebrated away from our parents and other family, so for me, hanging our stockings was a small comforting reminder of holidays past.

According to my husband, this is an easy project. I would preface this by saying it’s easy if you have some carpentry experience and if you have the tools, like a nail gun, air compressor, table saw and drill.

Thanks for reading! For more renovation and DIY fun, follow me at: Instagram.com/this.dear.casa

List of supplies:

Alexandria Wood Red Oak Cove Moulding…See More

Builders Choice Red Oak Board 1 in x 6 in x 8 ftSee More

Ekena Millwork Red Oak Smalk Jefferson CorbelSee More

Alexandria Untreated Oak Board 1 in x 4 in x…See More

Wooster Pro All Paints & Stains BrushSee More

Minwax Stain in HoneySee More

Minwax Stain in English ChestnutSee More

200 grit Sandpaper