May 16, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Scott and Sara Blake first bought their house, they had visions of idyllic, sun-lit morning meals in their oh-so quaint breakfast nook.

“We imagined we’d be there every day enjoying the heck out of that space,” Scott says.

Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. Kitchen pots accumulated on the small table in the nook. In time, the table began to collect any bit of chaos the house had to offer. The final indignity: The recycling began to collect willy-nilly on the table.

“It was starting to get disgusting,” Scott says. “We ate there once. It was a complete waste of space.”

So Scott, an artist whose work has been in exhibits around the globe, and Sara, a hardcore culinary “hobbyist” who is working toward her teaching degree at UNO, got to work transforming the space. When she’s not studying, Sara loves to cook. But, the traditional galley-style kitchen in their Country Club-area Tudor was cramped with limited counter space. It was clear what was needed: A space to prepare food.

Scott got to work. What was the ideal? First, a deeper countertop; a space that could hold kitchenwares while still offering space for food preparation. The prep table would be 36-inches deep. Shelf space would be great, so, on his computer, Scott designed two deep lower shelves that—because of the spaced pine slats—look something like storage pallets.

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Scott had some carpentry and construction on his resume thanks to a youth spent building skateboard ramps. “I started building those with my brother at age 10,” he says. He made numerous trips back and forth to home-improvement stores for the right cuts and types of woods. He needed only basic power tools; primarily depending on a miter saw, jigsaw, and hand drill.
What Scott had little experience in was finish work. In his impromptu workshop in the garage, Scott spent a total of 60 hours getting the needed three coats of polyurethane on correctly.

“Drips—they can drive you crazy,” he says. “Watch for the drips.”

Finally, the stainless steel top. Scott sought a custom-built top from Hempel Sheet Metal Works in Omaha. The people at Hempel had a table top back to him in less than a week. “They were super cool about everything,” he says. “They were really into the idea.” The stainless-steel top has an added feature—a lightly distressed surface that hides dings or cut marks.

Now the Blakes have 86 percent more counter space (Scott meticulously measures such things). Now they have a deep, spacious surface for cutting meats and vegetables, laying out pastas, or preparing baking goods.

The stainless steel surface is particularly well suited for preparing cookie and other types of dough, Sara says.

“You want a cool surface like marble or stainless steel,” she says.

The final tally was about $1,300 with the biggest chunk being the $800 steel top. That was less than half the price of most custom-built tables on the market, Scott says.

The price was well worth it, the couple says. Basically, the new table has transformed a cramped, fairly dysfunctional space into the keystone of a fully functioning kitchen.

“It feels pretty good when you can take a dead space and turn it into something that transforms a room,” Sara says. “We never used this nook before. Now I use this table every day.”