#378: Breakfast Nooks and Foundational Skills

Bluish-gray breakfast nook in cloudy morning light. Black pulls, black slate floor. Pillows and blankets.
North La Salle, Detroit, MI

Some event news for those of you in or near Detroit: I’m participating in Literary Deathmatch (more lighthearted than it sounds) this coming Thursday, September 15 at The Old Miami. Preorder tickets are $10, $15 at the door. For the first time in public, I’ll be reading an excerpt from my new book.

My main house-related project this summer was a built-in breakfast nook, pictured above. We’d left an area of our kitchen open when we first renovated the house, and got by for the longest time with only a table and two chairs. Then this spring we were planning to host our friends’ baby shower. The promise of extra seating was enough incentive to start the build.

I managed to install the base seating the day before the shower. But I only finished the rest of it – paint, drawers, fronts, and handles – last week. I was posting Instagram stories of the build as I went along, and I’ve rolled them all into a highlight here.

Now that the nook is finished, and we’ve used it for meals, for morning tea and journaling, for hosting friends for hotpot on Mid-Autumn Festival . . . I don’t know how we went so long without it. Given just how much time we spend in our kitchen, we definitely could have prioritized this project over others. A lesson for next time.

Speaking of lessons, my unspoken-till-recently goal for these home projects, and any creative project, is to learn at least one foundational skill in the process. An analogy I used with my Zoom show and tell group was of Mega Man gaining new arm-gizmos as he went along. Each project unlocks future projects requiring the same foundational skills.

For instance, I was really excited to use linseed oil paint for this project due to its numerous benefits – its durability and lack of VOCs or petrochemicals. But it also requires significantly more patience than other paints or stains I’ve used. Here’s an early test panel I painted to test out different applications:

Gray test panel in sunlight. Half overly streaky, other half wiped smooth.
Too much, too little.

Each foundational skill can usually be broken down into a series smaller techniques, a mini-process: How to mix and work the paint, how to tell if you’ve used too much or too little, how to store and clean the brushes, etc. Now that I have the experience, I’m planning to paint some doors and window trim with it, both inside the house and out.

The thing I have more trouble with is not trying to learn too many new skills with one project. I knew I wanted shaker-style drawer fronts for the nook to match our kitchen cabinets, but after some research, I realized that proper rail-and-stile doors would’ve required additional tools and woodworking skills I do not yet possess. It would’ve been overwhelming on top of what I was already learning – including basic cabinetry. So I custom ordered dovetailed drawers and fronts from a cabinet door store.

Two, three big new things per project seems like a good upper bound for me. True when it comes to books, too.

I do have to admit that I’m not 100% done with this breakfast nook. The seat still needs a custom cushion (future project), and maybe one day I’ll add a sloped back (that would need to be carefully fitted around the window frame and have some kind of relationship to a not-yet-existent backsplash). I’d also like a slightly larger, less-oval table (perfectly-sized-for-the-seats), and a different lamp than the one we have (which I first learned how to wire when I built a couple of years ago).

And now the windowless wall beckons for some kind of framed artwork …

So it goes.