Make a Built-in Breakfast Nook
This custom-built bench offers seating, hidden storage, and a whole lot of charm.
Built-ins add functionality to any space, but few types offer as much day-in and day-out utility as a breakfast nook. For this project, the client had a compact kitchen that didn’t leave much room for a table and chairs. It was a space just begging for a breakfast nook.
A breakfast nook allows at least half of the seating around the table to be flat against the wall, eliminating the space needed behind chairs. It also allows the table to be tucked closer to the corner, opening up floor space, improving flow, and making the room feel bigger, all while offering additional storage. Unlike bookcases and window seats, a breakfast nook is a built-in that is likely to get daily use and abuse. So besides needing to be aesthetically pleasing, it has to be functionally designed and built to take a beating.
Dimensions to know
I’ve built enough breakfast nooks over the years to have a basic formula for dimensions. I usually aim for an 18-in. finished seat height, which includes cushions. Standard thickness for foam is 4 in., and I allow for about 2 in. of compression, so I usually design the bench so that the plywood below the cushions is 16 in. above the finished floor. For seat depth, I like 18 in. from the front lip to the lowest portion of the angled backrest. My designs don’t typically include a cushioned backrest, but if yours does, you will need to adjust this number to account for the added thickness.
While a straight back is easier to build (especially in a corner bench), a slight angle — 7° is what I used here — adds quite a bit of comfort and visual interest. If I’m tucking the built-in below a window, I prefer to use the window stool height as the top edge of the backrest, which in this case worked out to a comfortable 18 in. from the seat.
It’s typical to include storage in this style of built-in — drawers in the side or end of the unit, or lids that lift off or are hinged. I find that drawers and slides eat up a lot of storage space, so I prefer hinged lids.
With the critical dimensions and site specifics noted, I can flesh out the design and then begin fabricating parts in the shop.
The heart of this assembly is the plywood carcases, which not only serve as the storage areas but are the main components onto which the rest of the assembly is fastened.
I like the interior to be as presentable as the exterior, so I use prefinished cabinet-grade maple plywood for the carcases — 3⁄4 in. thick for the sides and back, 1⁄2 in. thick for the bottom — which also eliminates the need for painting the interior. I break the carcases into at least two equal sections (more for long runs) to ensure ample support. I generally avoid going more than 48 in. without adding a vertical support; for this project, a single center divider was sufficient. In the case of a corner unit such as this one, you also need to decide which carcase is going to run long into the corner. I usually run the shorter of the two benches into the corner.
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