19 Apr, 2013
Fishbowl Reno post #56 – the breakfast bar!
This is a continuation of yesterday’s post about the renovation of our wartime home and what we did in terms of kitchen design. There’s a video too, so go look, and then come back. :)
I can’t recall exactly where the idea for our breakfast bar came from. I DO remember meeting Matthew Wallace for the first time when I interviewed him for an article I was writing for the Ottawa Citizen Style Magazine about him and naCoille Studio, his furniture making business. (You can read that article here by the way.) He recently became a patron too, which I’m thrilled about because I love to promote local artisans when I can.
During our first chats I got the inside scoop on him, his work, and his collection of wood. He’s a bit of a hoarder, albeit in a good way, and I loved his passion for reclaimed and salvaged wood. It was infectious. It makes sense right? To use salvaged wood for new furniture is smart on so many levels. And it looks cool too.
He explained how he’d get a call from an arborist or a fellow lumberphile about a big tree that went down in a storm or an old church that was being torn down. And like any passionate collector, he’d truck out there and retrieve the best bits for his various projects.
Downed trees, like the walnut our slab came from, are a gamble. You don’t know what’s in there at first. It could have a rotten core for example, but I think this kind of gamble is a secret thrill, like a roll of the dice at the casino. COME ON DOUBLE SIXES.
Anyway, we got to chatting, and I followed him on twitter, and at some point got the idea of using a vertical slab of wood for the breakfast bar.
When I was at Matt’s place I saw a lot of wood with the raw edges left intact. Live edge, or raw or natural edge wood simply means that the edges of the wood are not milled at a traditional 90 degree angle. The bark is scraped off and the edge is left as-is (after being kiln-dried and sanded and varnished of course).
I asked him if he could make a breakfast bar out of a slab of live-edge wood and he was willing. (Yay for me!)
I knew in my heart that it was going to look fabulous – how could it not? – but at the same time I let doubt creep in because I’d never actually seen this idea anywhere. I tried to explain it to my architect and got a non-committal kind of reaction. And Mark couldn’t picture it. So I scoured the internet, and Houzz, and Pinterest, and all of those sites, but could not find a single image of exactly what I wanted. I could not find a visual confirmation of my idea and it stressed me out TO NO END, but I had no choice but to swallow my doubt and keep on truckin’ because deep in my heart I knew it would be great.
So, yes. Fast forward a few months. Matt obtained the trunk of a walnut tree that was salvaged from somewhere in southern Ontario and had it kiln dried. Thick vertical slabs were cut from the vast trunk and we picked one that we thought would fit. He came, he measured, he re-measured, and spent many hours sanding, and varnishing, and filling a crack.
Sidebar: There was much discussion about cracks during our interview and subsequent visit (yes, I visited our slab in his workshop!). There are some people out there who don’t want their wood (he makes a lot of dining room and conference room tables) to have visible cracks in it. Myself, I think that having a crack in it just adds to the charm of the finished piece. I think it’s a reminder that once upon a time THIS was a living thing, and the crack is a part of its character. I’m pro-crack! So Matt filled the crack and sanded it smooth, and it’s on the top side of the counter instead of being hidden underneath. Funny thing, he used a transparent resin and there is one spot you can actually see through. It’s really kinda cool.
So yes, our live-edge walnut breakfast bar was made by nature as intended, along with a bit of help (ok, a lot of help) by Matt.
I love it to bits. I showed it in my recent walk-though video, but here are a few additional photos for your view. Unfortunately they do not do it justice AT ALL. It is much more beautiful in person.
In this one you can better see the swoop of the slab. It’s about 18″ at its narrowest point. Maybe 22″ at its widest.
(I uploaded a large version of the photo above if you’d like a closer view.)
Here’s the edge:
I like how warm the wood is. I also like how it offsets the dark granite on the other side. I like the live edge and how it feels when I run my hand down it. I like the grain and how it stretches from end to end and quietly tells a story of the tree’s growth. And I REALLY LIKE that our breakfast bar is a piece of art that we get to use and enjoy every day… it is unique and just lovely. Thank you Matt!
Edited to add: You can own a little slab of your own if you’re keen! naCoille wood serving and cutting boards are now being sold at terra20 AND Matt will be at terra20 from 12-4 on Saturday April 20th in case you’d like to meet him and chat about wood and stuff. :)
Some of you may be wondering about our bar stools. They were a challenge to say the least. Our family room (and hence the breakfast bar) is a step down so we had to get extra tall stools. (The official lingo here is “spectator height” in case you’re wondering.) We looked everywhere and came up dry. So we had to get custom stools made (you choose the style/finish/fabric) from a wee place called the L’il Stool House here in Ottawa. I hesitated going there for a long time, but that was stupid of me. I heartily recommend this store if you happen to be looking for kitchen or bar stools. They had a great selection, we dealt with the owner who really knew what he was talking about, and we ended up with exactly what we wanted. They swivel (so in theory you never need to move them), are easy to clean, and they’re pretty comfortable for sitting and chatting… and even watching tv. It took about a month to get them in, but it was worth the wait.
So that’s it! Any questions? I think I might post a tour of our family bathroom next. :)