May 30, 2013

I'd Like the Booth in the Corner Please

A few months back, a friend emailed me to say she had an idea and needed my help.

It started with:

"I have an idea and what I want to do is really expensive so I thought I would ask you."

Translation: "You're my cheap option."

Hey, I'll take it. I'm listening...

"Our kitchen space is a nice size but we have a nook that's awkward. I tried a table with chairs and it was just too big. So what I really want is bench seating with a table. That's where you come in."

 So, a banquette? I hadn't built one before, but it was an intriguing challenge.

She included a picture of what she had in mind:

"I've got this," I said to myself.

Here's the biggest challenge though with creating something custom like this from a photo, for someone else: expectation vs. reality.

When I build something for our home, I'm only dealing with my wife's expectations vs. the reality of what it actually looks like when I finish. Sometimes they're aligned. But, if it doesn't end up exactly like she had it drawn up in her head, it's kind of like: "Hey, at least you didn't pay anything for it, besides my sweat and tears. Here is your full refund of zero dollars and zero cents."

If that doesn't suffice, there's always the less popular, but equally effective: "Remember honey - for better or worse..." (Courtney, if you're reading this, I'm totally kidding!)

I wasn't. But when there is a third party involved, especially a friend, there is a different level of expectation - both from them as a client, and from me. I put a little more pressure on myself to get it right. So, I take extra steps I might normally not take, like using nicer  (read: new vs. repurposed) materials or double - even triple - checking my measurements. No room to fly by the seat of my pants.

That becomes even harder when you consider that, this being a built-in by true definition, most of the work would need to take place in someone else's home. That means making sure I leave home with every possible tool I could need each time I make a visit to work on the project.

I am happy with the way it turned out, and unless she was trained by the CIA in reverse interrogation tactics, I think my friend was too. What she ended up with is a pretty great solution to a somewhat common space issue for kitchen eat-in areas.

And, she was right: there aren't a lot of affordable (that's relative, of course)  options for this. Unless you know how to do it or know someone like me who can or will do it on the cheap. It's not like Costco has DIY built-in banquette kits sitting next to the world's largest bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Yet.

Using her desired final measurements, i worked backwards to figure out the dimensions of each stage of the banquette, from the top down to the base, being sure to account for trim, overhang and the always sneaky and easily forgettable material width. Then I re-calculated, just to make sure. Because if I screwed up a cut, the extra material would be coming out of my pocket, not hers.

Here's the base, with the rear horizontal and vertical supports secured to the wall studs. I didn't worry about securing the front to the floor because a) I didn't want to damage the tile floor, and b) any gaps in the front could be solved with some well-placed shims before attaching the facing.

Speaking of my suggestion, she agreed to a more decorative option than just plain, flat plywood. Enter the wainscoting. Not the cheap manufactured panels, but the tongue and groove board version. You would think this would be more expensive than plywood, but it wasn't.

Plus, if you have a finish nailer and air compressor (you know I do), it's actually really easy to install. Once I got the first few boards attached straight and square,  I knocked this part out in less than 10 minutes.

It still looks like a freaking box, though, and if you're cringing at the gaps on the corners, I'm about to get to that...

No matter how accurately you measure, there will almost always be some sort of gap when you get to a corner. Yes, chances are you made a mistake, but sometimes...walls arent truly square to the floor and floors arent truly level, especially in older houses. It happens. But...

Knowledge bomb #119: Hide gaps in/on corners with corner molding. Or "moulding," if you want to be fancy. You just have to say it with a British accent. They make versions of this for both inside (in pic above, where corner meets wall and where the two parts of the base form the inside of the "L") and outside (end meets end) corners.

I also continued the existing base and quarter-round trim from the wall to give it a little more decorative depth and to make it actually look like a built-in banquette. Simple, but effective touch. Notice the border made of 1" x 2" boards around the top of the seat. Again, adds more depth but, more importantly, it adds the ugly exposed edges of the plywood. It also opens up the option for installing additional molding underneath the top later on.

And that is where my part in this project ended. They were already in full-on paint mode with the trim in the rest of the house, so they took it from there and sent me photos of the progress:


  1. Could use space underneath it, storage purpose :) Sveta

  2. What were the measurements and pieces of wood that you used for this project?

  3. Can this be free standing, don't want to attach it to the new floors or the walls?