The other evening, I took my shears out to the side yard and harvested an armful of forsythia branches. I arranged them in a vase on the sunroom table, and it instantly felt like spring, despite the persistent cold.
After I snapped a picture for Instagram, I fell into the rabbit hole of finding the progress pics. It took a while; they were on my phone and my camera card. Nowhere linear or cohesive. The truth is, I’ve wanted to blog more recently to keep track of my projects, but I haven’t for over a year, and finding my way back into the narrative with some sort of continuity felt daunting. But it’s really way less important than the significance I’d placed on it, and this archive of my work is truly important to me. So I’ll just dive in and fill in the gaps at will.
As the planning for our kitchen/sunroom renovation came together last year, I envisioned a window seat in this corner from the start. I had no idea exactly how to build one, but I pinned all the pictures, read all the blogs, and eventually decided it was a project I could probably tackle myself.
This was the before-before, when we moved in:
We worked with a contractor to move the kitchen to the previous dining room, added a wall of window and a gas fireplace (on the opposite wall), swapped the solid door for a full light and added the barn lights on the back wall to create a sunroom.
Those are the original floors uncovered from below cheap laminate, tile and self-leveling concrete! Whoever did the work thoroughly prepped the subfloor with tar paper and chicken wire, so we were able to save them. This isn’t a great picture, but you can how unsquare the room is by that back corner.
First, I removed the existing molding with a crowbar and started to frame out the benches, but quickly ran into an issue. I had bought 2×3 studs from Home Depot, and despite picking the best of the lot, half of them were warped. I made a second trip (of many) to a local lumber yard, and their wood was so much better. Rookie mistake.
Take two, I framed the benches using the 2×3 studs and a Kreg jig to fasten them with pocket hole screws and wood glue. I invested in the jig for this project, but it was well worth it. It made it really simple to fasten the studs solidly at a perfect 90 degrees.
Essentially, I made two boxes, the longer one against the wall being 90″x24″x15″ and the one coming out from the corner 45″x24″x15″. The 15″ height was to bring the total height of the bench to a standard chair height of 18″, once cushions were added. It’s also deep enough that you can lie down, but not too deep that it’s hard to reach the table I wanted to add. I fastened the frames together as one unit.
The whole frame was braced to the studs in the wall using scraps of 2×3 as spacers to account for some of that major unevenness in our 150 year old house. For the outside, I used 0.25″ plywood. I had them rip it down to size at the store, and then I cut it to length with a circular saw. I cut holes with a jig saw to accommodate outlet boxes, so I could rewire the existing outlets on the back wall to be accessible from the front of the bench. To attached the sides, I used wood glue and and nailed them place with an air compressor. I borrowed one for this job, but have since bought my own. It’s so useful.
At this point, I was super over this project. I felt like I’d done so much work, but had a ton left to do, and a lot of it detail work that I wasn’t entirely sure how to tackle. In this picture, the lids aren’t attached, because I wasn’t even sure what kind of hinge to use. Surely it was bench enough??
One of the next big things to figure out, though, was how to wire the outlets to the front of the bench. I hesitate to share the close up of the electrical, because I am not at all an expert, but when you search for this kind of project, the most common thing you find is people who have wired an extension cord to an outlet and plugged it in to the existing outlet. That is definitely not how you do it!
I removed the existing outlet, connected new wire in a juncture box and wired it to a new outlet in an outlet box. And then I broke everything by wiring something incorrectly. My friend, Mike, came over and helped me figure it all out, and we finally got things working again.
My critiques of my work here are that I need to add a clamp to hold the wires more securely in the juncture box and seal up the open space around them, and I should have punched out the side hole of the juncture box instead of the front one. In this picture, you can also see a close-up of the pocket holes and one of the shims used to level the thing.
Using approximately $1 million dollars of tiny wood (seriously, why is molding so expensive??), I trimmed the front and sides in a board and batten style.
Finally made some decisions about the lid. I permanently affixed the left side of the top in place, as well as the corner, and used piano hinges to attach the middle and right sections for storage access. I’d considered bench seat hinges, but I intended to use it for storage that I wouldn’t need to access on a regular basis, so the piano hinge works fine and does a good job of supporting the whole length of the lid, which is pretty heavy. I ordered them from Amazon, as they didn’t have anything long enough locally, and I trimmed it to length using my sawzall, cause that was the only metal blade I had at the time. The lid pops up a little when nothing is on it, but the weight of a cushion is enough to keep it fully closed. I used quarter round molding along the wall, which finished it off and concealed the gaps from the uneven walls.
Here’s a picture of one of the lid sections opened. It stays up on its own and rests on the frame when closed. I didn’t finish the inside at all, because it wasn’t a priority for me and doesn’t affect how I use it.
I framed the top with outside corner molding (and look! at my handsome mitered corner!)
I replaced a small bit of baseboard molding on either side, and then used wood putty and caulk to fill in every single crack, crevice, and nail hole/ The whole thing got a thorough sanding, and then I primed it and painted it with hard-wearing trim paint.
The whole project took several months to finish, working on it nights and some weekends, during which I was rehearsing and performing in a Fringe festival show and traveling a bit more than usual.
I sewed the gold bench cushion, but lost steam and temporarily added the grey cushions from our outdoor set. They have to go back outside soon, though, so I have to get my act together and sew the rest of the cushions. The décor happened slowly, over the course of another couple months, and right now it feels perfect. The table is from Target, the curtains and chairs are from World Market, and sassy grandma is from a thrift store and has finally found her perfect home.
We used the room less frequently over the winter, since it’s unheated other than the gas fireplace, but now that it’s warming up, I want to spend all my time here, reading in the sun.