We have built many banquettes over the years, more than most. You could say that my life is punctuated by the building of or sitting on banquette style seating, and this pattern seems to perpetuate itself by necessity. Formal dining tables, or even just sitting at a table with an individual chair reminds of Thanksgiving. I spent much of my childhood sitting on benches: built-in, not built-in, modular, you name it. I sat on benches in vans, trailers, at picnic tables, in bigger trailers, in mobile homes, in small houses, and bigger houses with more people. I watched my Dad build benches: stand alone pine benches, painted plywood built-in benches, storage benches, and benches with removable cushions that served as beds half the time.
Mr. Cool and I built our first banquette seating and modular table that converted to a bed in the back of large dodge van, the summer after high school. I am fairly certain that this was my idea, given my history.
For the few stand alone years that Mr.Cool and I lived in a rental that had a formal dining room with a chandelier right in the center, necessitating a table and chairs, I was always making formal dinners, like sage leaf-stuffed Cornish hens with a cherry sauce or endive leaves filled with shrimp salad. It was exhausting.
So I cannot tell you whether I am attracted to houses that require informal dining dining spaces, or if I keep building banquettes because I buy houses too small to accommodate a formal dining room. Either way, this is clearly a pattern. My friend says that I like eating in restaurants, and that sitting in a booth reminds me of this experience. I cannot argue with logic that sound.
I am very pleased to report that this is our best set yet. When my mother visited she said: These are the best I have ever seen. And I said: What about Dad’s? She responded: Well, he never used trim. It is true that the context of my father’s bench building projects did not require these superfluous touches that do nothing for function and add unnecessary costs. But the structure is there. These are the very same benches I watched him build a thousand times over.
Of course, in this particular spot, building the benches was the easy part.
List of projects required to remodel this corner of the house.
- Building and trimming two benches: one with storage, the other with a diverted heating vent.
- Trimming all kitchen windows.
- Removing, replacing and re-trimming old drafty window.
- Installing a wrap around storage shelf / valance.
- Building and trimming a small half wall and column.
- Cutting down the counter, removing one cabinet, and buying and finishing the drawers, installing hardware.
Notice that I did not mention building a table. That is because it was not part of the original plan to do this, but you can add that to the list.
Instead of spelling out all of the supplies for this DIY because we retrofitted existing 2×4 benches that we had built the year before, you can find a comprehensive list of supplies here. This is the best DIY tutorial on building storage benches that I have found, although you have to convert it to a dining style bench from a mudroom bench.
We had previously built some stand alone 2×4 benches for this very corner to utilize the space until we had both the funds and the time to really renovate it.
Here are the benches.
Notice the plastic on the window? That is because the window was so drafty it made it almost impossible to sit here. That, and we still did not have a furnace at this point. And this is the winter that the NE had record breaking amounts of snow. But we tried to warm it up the best we could.
To add another layer to the window, we hung a green table cloth and then covered it with curtains. I upholstered the benches with some foam and painters drop cloth (we were on a super budget so I could not afford real fabric) and we threw on some throw pillows and a strand under shelf lighting. We called it our hipster corner because of the cameras and records displayed on the opposite wall (not pictured) and the old license plate from my busted car (not pictured) We threw a party and drank PBR to break it in –and to celebrate Mr. Cool’s birthday –see image below. This was a temporary fix. It was generally either too cold or too hot to sit here because of the bad window, and it did not accommodate a large enough table for us all to sit at comfortably. It was great when company visited because it provided extra seating. If you want to build benches like these, go here.
Mr. Cool looks like he burning his hand in the oven trying to pull the pizzas out and I have dark hair over in the left hand corner.
Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a post about building benches? Yes. Sorry. Here we go.
First, Mr. Cool removed the counter. You can see the old bench sitting in the back, waiting to be of use.
Then he cut it down by 2′ using a circular saw we borrowed from the neighbors.
Then the instigator unscrewed the plywood tops off of the benches one by one. This took a while but he learned about building which is why we got him involved.
We bought a new vent cover. This is the one we had to divert.
I spent some time trying to figure this out both at Home Depot, then back at home, then back to Home Depot.
Then we pulled all of the trim off of the windows and pulled the old windows out of the wall. The new one is sitting there on the ground, ready to be installed.
In order to accommodate the standard size window that we picked up from Home Depot, we had to raise the sill height. This was fine with me because it works better for the booth. Here is one installed.
And the second, from the outside view this time. We filled the cavity below the windows with insulation and closed it off with a waterproof board on the outside.
On the inside we used plywood and built a wall up to the bottom of the window sill. The wall surrounding the benches served two purposes. It both served as a back to the benches so that you would not have to sit against the wall, knocking your head on the sills and window treatments, and it separated the sitter just a little bit further from this cold exposed corner.
Then we faced the wall with 1/2″ plywood to provide a place to nail the bead board into.
Then we drew a level line to nail the bead board up to, knowing that the floors here slope quite a bit. This had to be pretty exact because of how we trimmed the tops. We did not use the “sit in” base molding that you can buy to install the bead in this particular spot (though we did for the 1/2 bath) because it is slightly more expensive and did not quite match the rest of the living room.
Then we faced the existing benches with the plywood originally from the top of the benches (that the instigator removed for us) and with a few additional pieces of birch veneered 3/4″ plywood. We only faced the two sides that show. Then we trimmed the benches with 1×4 MDF boards. At the corner, make sure to trim down one side vertical piece to 3″ because the edge of the other one will make it the correct width visually.
This is what the trim looks like from the top. We used a nail gun for all of the attaching and a miter saw for all of the cutting. This part actually went pretty fast with us both working on it.
Then on the left side, we had to get the ducting diverted into the right location to accommodate the depth of the bench. We taped it up pretty thoroughly with duct tape and attached the new vent cover to the bench.
Then I gave the tops a good sanding. We decided to go with the hinge style of the benches here. This is for the right hand bench only.
I gave ‘em a really good sanding. Not sure what I am doing here because it looks like I am resting my head on the edge of the board. Maybe I was tired.
Then we added shoe molding to the bench tops, to the two open sides. We used glue and nails to fasten the molding in place. You can see that we cut bench top to overlap about 1/2″ and the molding gave us an even deeper shadow line.
Here is the right bench top, piano hinge attached, shoe molding in place.
Then we took some antacids because of all the junk food we were eating during this phase of the renovation and we decided to attach a little 1×3 along the back where the bench meets the wall.
Here is view of the reno in progress, this is after a few weekends of working on it. This is also Mr. Cool’s first attempt at trimming the kitchen windows. Neither of us were crazy about how they looked with mitered corners so these ended up being re-trimmed. You can also see the trim and ledge on the back and left wall behind the benches, and the benches. I love that we still had not taken down the cameras at this point. I wonder when we got around to that?
In this picture, you can see the new style of trim on the little window, with a little sill and butt joints instead of miters. After a very light sanding and wipe down, I painted the bead board with a custom off-grey paint color, which is slightly lighter than the grey of the walls. Then I painted all of the trim that same off-white that we have been using for trim throughout the house. The trim is semi-gloss Swiss Coffee by Benjamin Moore and the bead board is a custom color match in semi-gloss, mixed for me at Home Depot. The walls are Sea Haze in a pearl finish. I painted the benches one solid color to begin with, then made them two toned with the Swiss Coffee color on the top and trim so that they would pop. I am not an expert painter, that is why I use tape. One of these days I would like to learn to “cut in” to save a step.
The bench now has white trim and I am getting ready to paint the top. I ended up going with Benjamin Moore’s Alkyd style plaint Advance for the bench tops because I was concerned about them being tacky to the touch forever if I used the standard latex paint. If you use the Alkyd paint, you have to let it dry for days instead of hours.
Then, after the benches were painted and the shelves were mostly installed and window shades mostly hung, I suspended our little basket light shade –that we found in the ‘as-is” section of IKEA for four dollars– over the space while Mr. Cool looked on to get the height just right.
And there you have it. All ready for a table.
And then we built a table.
And the instigator ate lunch.