Old House Restoration

A real family makes an old house their home...for the 2nd time
The Splendido's renovate, restore and rejuvenate their home with their own hands - all while living in the house
and balancing their family needs...you know...like most families have to do it!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Breakfast Nook Bench

Before picture with wallpaper removed
The very first time we saw the Butler's Panty and Breakfast Nook on our initial walk through of the house with our realtor, Glenda Lewis (to say she fought hard to help us get this house would be an understatement), we said this would be a perfect place for a Breakfast Bench.

Even with it's wallpaper and dated color scheme, we could see it's true potential.

Old wallpaper

Walls and trim painted

Karen removed all the wallpaper from the room - thank you! I had enough practice in the old house and was glad to not have to do this room. With that said, we have become experts at removing wallpaper. I will detail our process at a later date. In the meantime - if you have wallpaper that you are itching to take down and want some pointers - just ask!

After changing the light fixture, painting the walls and trim, renovating the butler's pantry and restoring the original wide plank pine wood floors - I set my mind on the project I was most excited about - building a breakfast bench!

I spent some time looking at pictures online of various breakfast benches to get inspiration. I looked for some breakfast bench plans, too. However, I never quite saw a 3 sided bench like we wanted, but I saw enough to give me some ideas. With that, I took some measurements and drew a very simplistic sketch of what I had in mind. Which brings me to the first step.

Step 1 - Sketch your Project

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans
My Blueprint & Bill of Materials

Step 2 - Buy your Materials

I would like to say that I only had to go to the store once because my bill of materials was dead on, but of course we all know that was not the case :-)

Step 3 - Build your Framework

I used 2x3's instead of 2x4's. They are less expensive, easier to carry (lighter) and plenty strong enough for a project of this size.

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench PlansI measured 17.25" up from the floor. I wanted an overall 18" seat height. I planned to make the top of the bench out of 3/4" hardwood plywood. So the two added together gave me the 18" I wanted. Using my level - I marked this 17.25" height all around the room starting from this initial spot. Note - if you want the top of your bench to be level, you cannot just measure 17.25" in all the different spots around the room and connect the dots because who's to say the floor in a 76 year old house is still perfectly level!!!

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench
I connected the top rails first to the wall with drywall screws. Then using my level and right triangle I added the other supports and rails as needed. Then I added the cross braces. I will not lie - I am not a carpenter by trade - so there were some on the fly adjustments and un-screwing and re-screwing needed here and there. But overall, it went together as planned. Even at this point in the process I could tell this was going to be one solid bench!

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans
Final framework for the bench

Step 4 - Plywood Sides

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench
I used clamps to hold the pieces in place until I nailed them in for good
I used 3/4" hardwood plywood for this project for a couple of reasons. First, the top layer is MUCH smoother than normal plywood so it paints to a super even finish. Second, it is more durable than regular plywood. Since this bench will be sat on (and sometimes walked on...Luke!!!) and used for homework (and may accidentally be written on with the pen...Luke!!!)...it will resist dings and pressure impressions better than normal plywood.

One of my circular saw guides
As far as cutting all my plywood I do not have some fancy table saw. Actually all I owned at the time was a small 18V Ryobi rechargeable circular saw (until I finally purchased a real corded circular saw to cut the slates for the patio a few weeks ago). I made a set of saw guides out of some particle board 8 years ago in 2 foot, 4 foot and 8 foot lengths that I still use today. I have used these to cut every piece of plywood, bead-board and more for all my projects at this house and the last house. Smooth straight cuts are needed and these guides get the job done right!...and they are very easy to make.

Sidenote: How to make a circular saw guide for your saw - The pictures can probably show you how to make them. Basically you need two pieces of 1/2" plywood or particle board. You need at least one of the edges to be perfectly square. That squared edge is used as the edge that your saw guide will touch as you make your cuts. Attach this top board to your second piece of plywood with screws (and wood glue if you like). Make sure this bottom board sticks out longer than the width from your blade to the edge of your saw guide. Now cut this bottom board to width by just cutting the bottom board using the squared edge on the top board as your guide. What is left is the perfect guide for your specific saw. You line up the edge of the bottom board on any two points, clamp it down and you will make a perfectly straight and smooth cut every time.

Here I stopped mid-cut to show you how my circular saw guide works

...and now back to our regularly scheduled blog post...

As for attaching the plywood to the frame...I had been wanting one forever and finally broke down and purchased my first air tank and nail gun for this project. Since I was paying a premium for the hardwood plywood ($45 per sheet) I did not want to mess it up with hammerhead marks. OMG! I have wasted a TON of time on past projects!!! I wish I purchased an nail gun years ago! It is quick and makes almost invisible holes. Here is a link to the Bostitch Nail Gun & Compressor kit I purchased. Two thumbs up in my book. It has since been used a lot without a single jam***knock on wood***

Step 5 - HVAC Vents

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans
Not everybody will need to perform this step. The breakfast nook had two HVAC vents - one supply duct and one return duct (you can see both hvac vents in the pictures in Step 3). On the left side of the nook was the return duct. These are easy. They do not require any special treatment. Since they are just pulling untreated air back to the HVAC system it can pull air from the whole area under the bench. So all I did was use my jig saw to cut the area and place my new vent to allow air into the bench cavity.

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook BenchHowever the supply side is a totally different story. The air coming out of your supply register has been treated (heated or cooled) and it costs money to treat this air! You do not want to waste it inside the cabinet. Therefore I needed to extend the wall register to the air vent I placed on the bench itself. Luckily for me I work for RJ Murray (the local Carrier HVAC Distributor) and one of our fabulous customers made me exactly what I needed:

Custom fabricated duct work extension
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans
The duct work extension installed

In the above picture, if you look carefully you can see another important part of any home project...having the whole family (including the dog) sign your work before you cover it up with more wood or paint...fun!

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench
Duct work complete

Step 6 - Floor Boards and Trim

I added 6" tall floor molding and some quarter round to trim the bottom of the bench. I finally got to use my sliding compound miter saw on this project.  Best.Investment.Ever. The sliding option is sooooo important when doing floor molding. It allows the long (wider) boards to be cut in one smooth step.

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans

Step 7 - The Top

Using my circular saw guides discussed above I was able to cover the whole top with only 4 separate pieces of hardwood plywood.

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench

Step 8 - Making the Top Stronger & Thicker

The 3/4" plywood is plenty sturdy for the box, but I was concerned with the 5 inch over hang. This 5" overhang is important for many reasons: 1) It looks nicer to have an overhang than to just have the tops and sides meet - then you would have a box - not a bench. 2) the overhang is more comfortable when sitting. This way your knees go over the overhang and then you have some space for your feet to swing back before they hit the bottom of the bench. It is a more natural sitting position.

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench PlansI tested the overhang and it was plenty strong and really did not need additional support, but I planned all along to add the extra strength and wanted the front edge of the top to have a meatier look. Therefore I attached 1/2"x4" poplar boards to the bottom of the edge with wood glue and nails, making sure my seams did not line up with the seams on the plywood - adding strength to the seams. You can see in the picture to the right.

Here is a look at the poplar boards from underneath:

Step 9 - Trim the Front Edge of the Top

As you can see from the above picture in Step 8 the front face of the top would not look nice when painted as is. Multiple materials and plywood layers...so I added a bull nosed edging to the front with glue and small nails. I metered them for a finished look.

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench
Front edge trim work
Step 10 - Crown Molding

I added crowning molding to the underside. It really gave the underside a nice finished look. You will need to wait until the After Photos below to see the crown molding.

Step 11 - Sand and Filler

Since I was painting the bench I used paintable caulk to fill any imperfections (yes there may have been one or two!!!) or small gaps. Big Hint - when doing a wood working project it is important to know if you are going to paint or stain the finished product. Paint hides A LOT! You have to be much more careful when staining. You need to know what species of wood your are using. They all absorb stain differently. You could end up with an uneven finish if you are not careful. Also all your cuts and mitered corners have to be that much better when staining. Any filler could be be noticeable.

Then I sanded the whole bench with my orbital sander to smooth out any seams.

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans
Filled and sanded - ready for paint.
Step 12 - Paint

I painted the bench the same way I painted the Butler's Pantry. Once again here are the steps I used:
  • 1 coat of Benjamin Moore primer
  • Two coats of Benjamin Moore White Dove (satin finish) on all the shelving, dividers, cabinet doors and face of the Butler's Pantry. I used their ADVANCE Waterborne Interior Alkyd Paint. It self levels much better to a smooth finish. Brush strokes are barely noticeable.
  • To protect all the bench tops - I used 3 coats of Minwax Polycrylic.
IMPORTANT - The reason you MUST use polycrylic instead of a a polyurethane, is because a polyurethane has a amber finish to it. You do not want to use polyurethane on something you painted white! It will turn off-white or worse. The polycrylic goes on cloudy, but dries to a crystal clear hard finish.

The After Pictures

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench

You can see the crown molding in the above and below pictures

Breakfast Nook Bench Plans | Breakfast Bench Plans

Luke horsing around...

How to make a Breakfast Bench | Breakfast Nook Bench

Sometimes I still cannot believe I made this. It was definitely one of my most ambitious projects...that is until I made the slate patio a month later!!!

We love the bench...and the whole room now. We eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the breakfast bench. It is much more cozy and intimate than eating at the dining room table. Each night the family just slides into our own personal diner booth and talk about the day....except when we have baseball or softball or swimming or school concert or ice cream social...then all bets are off!


  1. Wow! I just saw the transformation of the floors from one of your previous posts and I'm just blown away. That staining and installation is simply perfect. You did it again with that bench. You guys really have a gift with home improvement projects. Kudos to you for the wonderful job. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

    Allen Hoffman @ Brewer Restoration