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Got an awkward space that can’t be solved with furniture? For Christchurch homeowners Simon and Chelsea, that space was the old dining room. They had ‘tried to make it work’ ever since they purchased their 1990 home four years ago. Enter: bench seating. 

With the job now done and dusted, Simon explains to me over the phone just how awesome it’s been chilling out in their new space, sitting in the sun on weekends and sipping their morning coffee.

As a fellow chilled out, sun-loving coffee drinker, I knew we had to capture those idyllic scenes for this story. So, our photographer Alana and I went round one Saturday morning with high hopes of two things: sunny weather, and their cat Elphie making an appearance.

After a warm welcome, we walk through the kitchen where we’re graced by gorgeous natural light from the high-ceiling skylight, and the sweet smell of freshly brewed coffee.

To appreciate the space as it is now, let’s take it back a step.

The dining room, before and after the bench seating. 

The Problem vs. The Vision

“It’s a strange size room,” Simon begins.

“The dining table didn’t fit, so we moved that to a different spot, then we had a coffee table, but that still wasn’t working as the chair was slightly too big for the space.

“Also, it attaches to the kitchen, so when we’d have people over they would stand there awkwardly while we were cooking,” Simon laughs.

“So my wife and I came up with the idea of booth seating with storage underneath, and adding in a circular table.”

Keep reading to find out:

  • How they got tradies interested in their job
  • Why the design changed midway through
  • Advice on what they would do in hindsight
  • And how they use the space now.

Booth, bench and banquette seating are space-savvy ways to create a practical and aesthetic dining area.

A Custom-Made Brief That Got Tradies’ Attention

Having done some minor renos in the past, Simon and Chelsea asked the question: ‘Could we do this one ourselves?’

After speaking with a tradie friend about where to begin, Simon got the recommendation to post the project on Builderscrack.

This is what Simon and Chelsea included in their original brief, and it’s one of the reasons why they had four tradies chasing the job:

  • They marked up a photo of where they wanted the bench seating (piques tradies’ interest and provides context)
  • They provided measurements of the space (helps tradies to estimate time, materials and cost to complete the job)
  • They included inspirational images from the web to help convey their vision (helps tradies understand the direction and expectations).

They referenced these images from the web to help convey their vision, and provided desired measurements. 

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Choosing a Tradie Based on Reviews and Intuition

Simon went off reviews and intuition to choose Scott of Superior Property Maintenance. And Simon tells me he’s ‘as charming as a Kiwi builder can be’.

“He’s a really good guy, he was able to give us advice on what we could do in terms of sizing, and he gave us a good understanding of cost as well as timeframes,” Simon says.

Simon was keen to recycle some leftover timber into this project, and Scott was more than happy to work that into the scope.

“He explained that we could use it as the bottom supports of the seat, and then everything on the front facing outwards would be new,” Simon says.

The job was underway within a month of being posted – but as work began, it quickly stopped.

The bench seating was constructed using a mix new and recycled materials.

Why the Bench Seating Design Needed to Change

Simon faced a tricky situation.

“I didn’t want to break the news to Scott, but I knew if we didn’t say something at that point, we wouldn’t be as happy with the finished result,” Simon says.

“We realised that the depth of the seat we asked for was too deep, and it was taking up too much room.

“But Scott was really flexible; he had already made up the seat but was still able to move it back a bit, and re-bolt it using all of the same materials.”

A Tradie’s View on the Scope

After being in the building trade for 10 years, Scott tells me he likes a good challenge, and this was something a bit tricky. You could say – it was outside of the box.

As Scott continues to tell me more about the project, I curiously ask how he approached the changes to the design, and he says it was no stress for him.

“It’s ultimately about working with the homeowner, and making sure they’re happy; I said to Simon if they’re not happy, we’ve gotta get it right and now’s the time to change it,” Scott says.

It can be tricky to get seat depth right in preliminary designs.

Bench Seating Details: Everything You Want to Know

Here’s a quick summary of the job:

  • Recycled timber framing
  • MDF lining
  • Custom made lids (with hinges to lift up and out)
  • Hollow storage area
  • Carpet cut out and frames bolted onto concrete slab
  • And – Simon used some leftover paint to finish the project DIY style
  • Job duration: 2 ½ half days
  • Cost: $970.00.

Think — Homely and Cosy Vibes

“The space feels homely and cosy – it just feels right,” Simon says.

“We sit around the table on Saturday mornings, drink coffee and read our books in the sun.”

Simon goes on to tell me it’s become quite the multipurpose area where they eat casual dinners, sit with their laptops – and now entertain with ease.

“Now when we’re cooking in the kitchen people can grab a seat with drinks and nibbles instead of just standing around awkwardly,” Simon laughs.

Bench seating

Hindsight Takeaway for Bench Seating? Factor in Your Cushions & Your Calves

Simon has two pieces of advice for other homeowners wanting to do a similar job.

“One big thing we learned is making sure you nail down the proportions, like how far it comes to the back of your knees while factoring in cushions,” Simon says.

“Also, you don’t want a flat part where your calves are – Scott put an angle on it and it’s much more comfortable.”

As for the concept of bench seating as a whole, Simon says they’re happy with how it came to life.

“I know it sounds a bit cliché, but Builderscrack took the guesswork out of it; otherwise it’s like ‘who do I talk to about this odd-ish job’,” Simon laughs.

“It was cool going from the vision we had for it, and turning it into reality, then getting to decorate it and make it into a space that we could really use,” Simon says.

While Elphie didn’t make an appearance on the day, Chelsea did send through this photo of Elphie soaking up some sun from the bench seat. The ultimate tick of approval!

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