With separated, formal dining spaces falling out of favor (even for those of us who love dining at home), more casual designs have emerged to take their place. One of the more popular compromises has been the breakfast nook, where families can quickly gather for a meal, homework after school, a quick drink after work, or any combination of the above. But just because a space feels casual doesn’t mean its design is any simpler —putting crafting a beautiful breakfast nook takes work. 

We spoke with nine designers about how they developed one-of-a-kind breakfast nooks and their tips for putting them together. Whether you’re utilizing a previously unused area or taking over part of a sunroom, these spaces quickly become the heart of the home. Read on for all the ways to make your next nook nifty.

Studio Kati Curtis Design's American Modern dining room with vibrant throw pillows, rattan dining chairs and a Hollywood Regency style glass top dining table.
Design: Kati Curtis Design. Photo: Eric Piasecki

Stay & Play

Breakfast nooks are an excellent area of the home for adding a bit of whimsy to your designs. They’re a bit like powder rooms in that sense — a smaller space where you can be a bit more playful with your aesthetic choices, without committing to a major change. Kati Curtis is a big fan of using them this way. “When designing a breakfast nook, feel free to layer themes and make the space a little more playful,” says Curtis. “This isn’t your formal dining space, so it allows for more creativity. In this instance, we wanted to be respectful to the history of the space but we also wanted to give a surprising twist. Along with that crazy moth wallpaper and a banquette we designed, we layered a very modern, Lucite table on top of an antique needlepoint rug.”

KitchenLab Interiors' crisp space with white subway tiles, rattan counter stools and modern pendant lighting.
Design: KitchenLab Interiors. Photo: Mike Kaskel

Don’t Miss the Dimensions

As with everything in the design world… measure, measure twice, and then measure again. Rebekah Zaveloff of KitchenLab Interiors knows this well, with a particular focus on these types of spaces. “My absolute favorite thing to include in a kitchen is a place for people to hang out, have a drink, or work on a laptop or an iPad,” says Zaveloff. “Seating needs to be specific and you need to be careful what you choose — the heights of the tables and banquette need to be synergistic. We have all been to a restaurant or hotel and couldn’t get up from the table. The minute the dimensions are off, you totally notice. We always work out these little details to create a comfortable space down to the firmness and depth of the cushions. And lighting should also be on dimmers so the space can be used for cocktails or homework alike.”

Breeze Giannasio's kitchen with a marble top tulip table, custom mustard yellow seating area, and a vintage abstract art piece.
Design: Breeze Giannasio. Photo: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Go Small (But Mighty)

Even though breakfast nooks typically sit in corners or small areas adjoining a kitchen, they can provide much-needed extra space. That’s the case in this small but mighty breakfast nook by Breeze Giannasio. “I love the coziness that a breakfast nook provides,” Giannasio says. “Often they not only maximize the utility and seating capacity of the space, but also provide hidden storage and the intimacy that gathering round provides. Designing the built-in banquette to accommodate circulation in and out is critical, and ensuring that your final seat height is at 18″ above the finished floor is important.  Don’t forget to factor in the height of your free cushion or finished upholstery if that is a component of the design.”

CM Natural Designs' breakfast nook features a leather L-shaped bench,  light wood dining table and black mid-century dining chairs.
Design: CM Natural Designs. Photo: Chipper Hatter

Do Double Duty

Breakfast nooks are versatile spaces that can serve different functions, depending on the need. Corine Maggio of CM Natural Designs emphasizes this for a project she recently completed. “This breakfast nook has been highly utilized in the era of COVID,” Maggio says. “It was originally intended to be able to fit this family of five plus a few kid friends, but since they are not having people over, it’s now a homework and work space along with a dining space. The L-shaped bench allows for a maximum amount of seating and is comfortable for long-term use. The ledge allows for things to be close by while not crowding the table. Highly functional and highly beautiful!”

Sidney Wagner created this bright, functional dining nook. A large tulip table is surrounded by white dining chairs, a blue and white bench and green throw pillows.
Design: Sidney Wagner Designs. Photo: Julia Lynn

Don’t Forget About Geography

No, not in terms of map decor or antique globes (not that we don’t love those too). Geography matters in terms of the home’s location and how its residents will realistically be using their space. A design for a breakfast nook will be different in Montana as opposed to Maui — skiers and surfers need very different things, after all. That was a major consideration for Sidney Wagner when she created this space in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. “This dining nook needed to be functional yet beautiful,” says Wagner. “This home is on the beach, so the fabric on the banquette cushions needed to be ready for sandy bottoms and wet bathing suits yet attractive enough to tie into the adjoining living spaces.”

August Taylor Designs' monochrome breakfast nook features a wood and black tulip table, Bentwood chairs and a L-bench.
Design: August Taylor Designs. Photo: Haris Kenjar

Make Full Use of Your Spaces

Breakfast nooks present an opportunity to make use of all the space in your home, even if you don’t see it at first. Jenny Taylor of August Taylor Designs embraces the breakfast nook for this very reason. “If I could add a breakfast nook in every home,  I would,” says Taylor. “It is amazing how you can take an unusable corner and transform it into one of the most used spaces in a home. People love small, cozy spaces and a breakfast nook not only gives people the function of a place to eat and hang out, but also the opportunity to add another layer to the home. The built-in cabinetry, cushions, pillows, and lighting add depth and warmth — it makes you want to sit down and stay a while.”

Sarah Barnard Design utilized a luxury tufted leather booth and matching Deco-style leather dining chairs for this breakfast nook.
Design: Sarah Barnard Design. Photo: Ace Misiunas

Break Up Your Spaces

In addition to their practical benefits, breakfast nooks can also create visual differentiation to larger spaces. When looking to make new seating areas and switch up the floor plan, a breakfast nook can be the perfect solution. Sarah Barnard uses them for this very purpose. “Breakfast nooks are a wonderful way to break up an open floor plan while also offering a less formal alternative to a designated dining room,” says Barnard. And don’t forget to add a luxe touch to the design. “A luxury tufted leather booth creates a comfortable seating area that’s perfect to enjoy a morning coffee,” adds Barnard.

Graci Interiors made use of rattan dining chairs, a vintage wooden oval dining table, and a lantern pendant light.
Design: Graci Interiors. Photo: Sara Essex Bradley

Think About Your Audience

Before designing your space, consider who will realistically be using the nook, and what kinds of seating will best suit them. Chad Graci of Graci Interiors did just this for a recent project. “When designing a breakfast nook, I always think about who is actually going to use it,” Graci say. “Will it be kids doing homework mainly or the full family affair for meals? I like to incorporate a flexible seating arrangement, be it a banquette or a bench, in addition to traditional dining chairs. It’s also a place to have some fun with fabrics and textures.”

Kathleen Walsh's bright nook in a white kitchen features blue Danish Modern dining chairs and a lantern pendant light.
Design: Kathleen Walsh. Photo: Tim Lee

Keep It Kid-Friendly

Family-friendly design doesn’t have to mean childish or un-luxe, especially thanks to the proliferation of stylish new performance fabrics and kid-friendly furniture. Parents no longer have to choose between style and suitability for their children. Kathleen Walsh developed a design that does both. “This breakfast nook is perfect for a big family with kids of all ages,” says Walsh. “We partnered with Veronica Campbell of Kitchens by Deane on this room and it’s truly stunning. We made sure to outfit the nook with durable faux leather and upholstery with indoor/outdoor fabric that will allow the space to maintain its beauty for years to come. And the big, airy windows serve as a lovely backdrop to boot.”

November 6, 2020

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.