Building a Breakfast Bar

Not all kitchen layouts allow for the modification of a countertop section into a breakfast bar. With a little planning, however, you often can come up with a simple, stand-alone design to work with the existing kitchen floor plan.

This design for a breakfast bar is functional as well as beautiful.
credit: Dmitry Pistrov/iStock/Getty Images
This elegant, simple design provides an efficient solution for space limitations.

A carefully sized countertop section atop a lower cabinet array provides the simplest, most versatile solution for a breakfast bar. It can be a stand-alone island, arranged in the room a short distance from the existing countertop, or an "L" section extending from existing counter space in a different direction. In any case, the basic design elements are the same.

The Countertop Overhang

In designing a countertop section, keep in mind the overhang of the finished edges that will be exposed, depending on where and how you situate the unit, as well as the larger overhang that will extend over the laps of those seated on the bar side. This ledge can extend as far as is feasible to support the material, but the farther out it overhangs, the stronger its support must be, whether through overall thickness and material strength, corbels mounted underneath to support the load or extended side panels to "box in" the perimeter of the countertop on three sides. In addition to ensuring that it can bear its own weight, it is a good idea to overbuild the support to account for heavy loads, such as piles of books or dishes, a small child hanging on the edge while climbing onto a stool or an adult leaning on an elbow to drink a morning coffee. You can add a finished edge, or bullnose, to the cut end to provide a smooth, finished look.

The Functionality of the Cabinets

When choosing cabinets for the base of the bar, consider your lifestyle:

  • Do you often cook or eat quick, easily prepared meals such as cereals or yogurts and fruits?
  • Do you drink coffee?
  • Do you like to have room to read a newspaper while eating breakfast?
  • Do you have children?
  • How many people are likely to eat here at one time?

Factors such as these will help determine which components you purchase and the overall size of the cabinets beneath. Many components are available for different uses, such as closable or open shelves, corner shelves, rotating shelves and open storage for garbage and taller plug-in appliances.

This is also the time to consider electrical outlets. To avoid such dangerous situations as stretching an extension cord across the countertop or having a small child yank an appliance onto himself by pulling on a cord, jurisdictions have established building codes. Designing the breakfast bar as an island makes it impossible to run wires through a connected side, so you must run them under the floor and put the outlets in safe, convenient positions as per code -- cut out of the side panels of the cabinets. For other design considerations, such as nominal heights, working clearances around the island and similar issues, whether mandatory or advised, a great place to begin is the National Kitchen and Bath Association's website.

The Finish Veneer and Trim

The final touch -- necessary because manufacturers usually make cabinets with unfinished backs -- is to "wrap" the base unit with a veneer. Thin veneer paneling is available in 4-by-4-foot and 4-by-8-foot sections, which you can fasten with adhesive and either staples or finish nails after cutting it to fit the back and the two short sides of the bar if you extend them for countertop support. You can apply corner trim and vertical molding to cover the exposed end grain where the counter was cut or where the material's factory edge shows from the overlap.

Steve Curry

Hailing from Seattle, Steve Curry has been writing articles on a wide range of carpentry, residential remodeling and construction topics since 2008. He was a Journeyman Carpenter and a General Contractor/ business owner for nine years before this, holding an Associate of Applied Science degree in engineering from Peninsula College.