Sep 3, 2017

DIY Cabin Kitchen Work Bench

We're having a late summer heat wave here this week in Idaho, so it's a good time to stay inside where it's cool and share a project my husband built a few weeks ago for our cabin kitchen.

Scary before pictures.

When we bought our cabin last fall the kitchen was very crowded and dark. The refrigerator stuck out into the middle of the room, and we had to stand to the side to open the oven door on the opposite wall. The very first thing we did after we bought the cabin, even before we scrubbed and cleaned, was move the refrigerator into the back room next to our pantry cupboards so we could move around.


Unfortunately, we couldn't move this huge water heater out of the kitchen, too! I've never heard of a hot water heater just sitting out in a room before, so I was really surprised the first time I saw it. It's not exactly a charming design statement, to say the least, but the space is too tight here to box it into any kind of a cupboard or closet. I was at least a little happy when we removed the ugly brown cover to clean it and discovered it was reversible to a somewhat less ugly brown cover with flowers. I'm very good at ignoring things that bother me, and I've decided to simply ignore the water heater. It honestly just doesn't register with me anymore. 

But I'm sure glad to have hot water! 

Eventually, we plan on having a propane tank buried on our property and a gas line extended to the cabin for a new tankless water heater that will hang on a wall in the back room. Then, once the water heater and old unused chimney are removed from this corner, the refrigerator will go back in the water heater corner and a new range with hood will move to the opposite wall. But for now, a new metal roof and exterior painting have to be checked off our list before we get to that.


You can see that once we moved the refrigerator out and set up our little temporary folding camp table we had a lot more room in which to work. Fresh white paint lightened up the space and made it seem larger.  

My Photoshop idea board.

Back before we even closed on the cabin I had been designing temporary kitchen solutions on Photoshop. We couldn't install base cabinets with a countertop along this wall until a major remodel because of the baseboard heater, so I had decided a European-style work bench on wheels might work well.

When I couldn't find a workbench large enough to purchase, I gave my husband a few Pinterest photos (several versions of two shelves and a worktop on wheels) and my preferred dimensions (5' long, 36" tall, and 25" deep) and asked him to custom build it, with the caveat that he keep it simple and not work too long on it. (It's supposed to be all about fun around here, not work!) A couple of weeks ago he loaded up his pickup with his table saw and a bunch of scrap wood from our garden shed in Boise, and he built this work bench for me at the cabin. I'm thrilled with the top that's long enough for two cooks to work side by side. It's also the same comfortable height as the other counters. The open shelf storage below easily holds large items, like the microwave and pancake griddle, and is easy to see and access. The wheels allow us to keep the work bench up against the baseboard when the heat's not on and pull it a few inches out from the wall when it is.


Until we find a bargain priced slab of marble or soapstone for the top, we have it covered with easy to clean oil cloth and a large cutting board. My husband was thrilled that he could use up free scrap wood and that our cost for making the bench, including four locking wheels, the wood for the top, and the oilcloth fabric, was less than $100. (Note: he made sure none of the scrap wood was treated and that it would be safe for indoor use, even though food won't be touching any of the wood surfaces.)

As you can see, there's plenty of space between the new work bench and the stove. The walkway isn't blocked while someone is working at the stove or at the counter, and the oven door can be fully opened while standing in front of it. The refrigerator is only a few steps away next to the food pantry in the back room. 

I threw together a DIY chalkboard by painting a scrap piece of wood with chalkboard paint and hung it with a nail and some twine. I write lists for shopping and things to remember to bring to the cabin from home on my next trip, then I take a photo of it on my phone so I always have it with me and don't have to remember paper lists. I found the fish mold at a thrift store and my daughter gave me the moose cookie cutter for a Christmas gift. 

We will probably live with the original counter, backsplash, and floor until we do a major kitchen remodel. There's no telling when that will be, but this little kitchen works just fine for now for our weekend visits. Eventually, we'll put a dishwasher where the drawers are, but for now we don't even mind doing dishes here by hand.  

An Ikea cart is sturdy enough for the blender and toaster which we use right from here. These little carts are so handy!

If you're very observant, you may have noticed we modified the cute little shelf over our sink. Our kitchen sink area was like a dark hole. We tried under counter lighting and a brighter light bulb in the ceiling light, but it was still so dark! So our electrician installed a light over the sink and my husband cut the shelf out so it could shine down. It not only lights the sink now, it adds a ton of light to the entire kitchen. We miss the cute little shelf, but my husband left a bit of an edge so he could display something very dear to him.... 

My husband's precious Russian River Brewing Co. Pliny the Elder Beer Bottle
....two Pliny the Elder beer bottles from my husband's and his brothers' boy's week at the cabin last July. Now, I'm not really into decorating with beer bottles, so my husband really had to convince me that these were nostalgically important to him as well as somehow otherwise significant as special beer bottles. Apparently, and if you're from the Bay Area you'll understand this, Pliny the Elder Beer is incredibly hard to find because it's made in small fresh batches and sells out in the blink of an eye because it's so well thought of and in such demand. So, he said, it was a BIG DEAL that his brother brought some to the cabin for their reunion here, and it was REALLY GOOD.

American Homebrewers Association
You might be able to imagine my skepticism and eye rolling as my husband is trying to convince me his beer bottles deserve the place of honor on our little shelf above the kitchen sink. But when he told me the story of Pliny the Elder and how the beer named after him is on almost every Best Beer of America list (note #2), I had to agree; my husband's precious beer bottles are worthy of cabin kitchen display. 

Along with our thrift store fish mold and moose cookie cutter. 


I'm trying to decide between hanging a poster or open shelves above the new kitchen work bench. It will probably depend on how many more important pieces of artwork we collect... 


(Take the whole cabin tour here!)

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  1. Your hubby did a good job on your rolling table ~ he deserves to have his dear beer bottles on display!!

  2. Great idea for the cart and adds to the charm of your lake house. Love it all!

  3. Love the workbench, Laurel! Sometimes it's all about making things work! It took us five years before redoing the kitchen. I originally thought we'd take out the old cabinets and put in new but they are sturdy so we didn't. (It helps that the layout is good)! Paint is such a game changer! Your kitchen looks fresh and clean. And hey, at least you have a cover for the water heater. ;) The IKEA carts are the best! Good solution to the kitchen light and window shelf...laughing over the beer bottle display. Too cute! I just love seeing your cute cabin come to life! Happy times and enjoy!

  4. I love my grandparents' farmhouse table in the kitchen, but I think Steve needs to make me a cart on wheels like yours.

  5. It's really a charming kitchen, beer bottles and all. :). I wonder, could you put a cabinet or some shelving above the water heater and then hang a gingham curtain to cover the water heater? Sort of like the kind used under a kitchen sink in cottage kitchens? I love everything you've done so far. I can't get over how light and bright and welcoming the whole space is now.

  6. I really enjoy your posts about this little cabin and especially like the windows it has. They're so 'cabin-ish".

  7. Laurel I love the beautiful wood work table with casters your husband made, and the top covered in oil cloth? Brilliant!!!! :)

  8. You have been busy! Wow, white paint really does wonders doesn't it? I love the cottage feel your going for in your kitchen Laurel!


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