Counter intelligence: Building a breakfast bar for less money


It really was a fairly ridiculous thing to do, considering I was flat broke until my tax refund arrived.

But I’d been yearning to build a breakfast bar in my little 1950s tract house since I bought it seven years ago. And, this spring, I figured out how to do it by recycling a lot of things I already had.

See, my small house had a big problem: a long, dinky galley kitchen that provided nowhere for my friends to sit and watch me cook.

Since I love to feed people, this was an issue. When guests came over, they had to lean against the kitchen cabinets to talk to me while I rustled up dinner on the stove. Or, if they sat in the other room, I couldn’t hear or see them.

I’d long harbored this idea that I could punch a hole through the wall between the kitchen and the living room and add a breakfast bar. It seemed like it could be done without spending a lot of money.

On the kitchen side of the wall, there was a set of upper and lower cabinets with a small counter between. On the other side, I had a set of cheap, remarkably ugly IKEA bookshelves groaning with books.

I didn’t want to lose the cabinets on the upper part of the wall that would be demolished, because I really need the storage space. So I decided to just move them to the other side, and put them underneath the new bar.

My biggest problem with this scenario was lack of capital.

I had no money and no talent to do it yourself. I’d tried the whole DIY thing when I bought the house. It rapidly became obvious that I am incapable of even installing window blinds with my brand-new drill.

So I decided I was a Do-It-Other-People-Er. Fortunately for me, my friend’s brother agreed to come over and help me build it, practically for gas money. I agreed to buy the supplies.

I moved the cheap IKEA bookcases that formerly occupied that wall out of the way and we got started.

First step was to move electrical wiring — the most labor-intensive part of the job, actually. Luckily, my friend knew all about this. I suggest that you hire an electrician.

There were several outlets to be moved, including a light switch to the overhead kitchen lights that had to be relocated to another wall, requiring him to crawl up into the attic. Then, he added a switch for my new pendant lamps that would hang over the bar.

I’d bought a pair of these lamps on final clearance at Home Depot years before, for five bucks each, and stashed them in the garage against the day that I’d finally build my breakfast bar.

Then, we took down the upper wall cabinets before cutting a hole in the wall, creating a great new space now linking the kitchen and the living room.

We flipped the upper cabinets — which were now lower cabinets on the other side — and I was so happy to be able to reuse them now as the supports for the new breakfast bar.

The countertop for the new bar was a bit of a sticking point, since it was an irregular size because of the reuse of the kitchen cabinets underneath. I didn’t know you had to special order counters if you wanted an odd size, and I was a little bit stunned to discover how much it cost just to get plain old Formica tops.

The rest of my kitchen has fairly shabby old Formica countertops, and I didn’t want to have the new one be glaringly different. But I didn’t want to pay $300 for an ugly top.

After running around to several stores and shopping online, I finally found a butcher block countertop premade and the right size at IKEA. It wasn’t sealed, but I liked the wood. So my friend Ana lent me her magic box full of recycled stains and sealers that she’d gotten at the county hazardous waste recycling center.

I was happy to save $50 by using them, and put down several coats of reddish stain, then polyurethane varnish over the top of that. The new countertop looked beautiful and rich, an asset to my home.

The only disadvantage I could see was that it turned out a little bit too reddish in color, from using a redwood stain.

I had to repaint the new wall on the living room side, anyway, so I used some leftover red porch paint, saving another $30. The newly red wall diminished the effect of the red-stained wood, so the whole effect was great. Again, essentially for free.

After installing the countertop, all that was left was to put bar stools underneath it. This wasn’t hard, because I’d gone to the Habitat ReStore a few months earlier and bought some recycled ones for $5 each. They were waiting in my garage just for this moment.

Those particular bar stools came from the Yard House, and were donated to Habitat for Humanity after the restaurant chain remodeled. They’re a little worn, but still have plenty of life in them.

My teenage kids kept pestering me to let them sit at the new breakfast bar, but I made them wait five days, to make sure all the stain and varnish was dry.

Finally, we sat down and had a ceremonial beverage there. Mine was in a red wine glass, and I hope to have many more there.

Recently, I had a Realtor at my house to discuss other affairs, and I showed him my recycled breakfast bar. I estimate that wood, the countertop, electrical boxes and other supplies cost me around $600.

“You did a great job,” he told me. “You’ve added a lot to the value of your house now.”

 

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