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Welcome!

 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

How to build a breakfast bar: a microcement DIY

Updated: May 12

Because who doesn't need a microcement breakfast bar in their life?!

microcement DIY breakfast bar by Claire Douglas

Last year, I decided to learn how to build a breakfast bar. Ok, full disclosure: l made it up as I went along (as you will see, I was totally winging it!), but luckily, it worked perfectly, so I'm happy to share how I did it in case any of you guys fancy giving a DIY concrete-style breakfast bar a go. Therefore, this blog post is less of a 'how-to' and more of a how-I-did-it, with a few pointers for tweaks I'd make if I were doing it again!


While I'm getting the excuses in, I should note that I was under a lot of time pressure with this project because I had a photographer coming to shoot my DIY kitchen makeover for Your Home Magazine in less than two weeks' time. I still had a fair amount of snagging to complete, so I had to be decisive and adaptable, whereas I'd usually take more time on things.


True to form, this DIY project was another excuse to use my favourite DIY material of 2023... microcement. The DIY microcement breakfast bar completely transformed the space and I kicked myself for not building it years ago. 


Why build a breakfast bar?


window before diy breakfast bar

The location I chose for the breakfast bar had always felt underutilized. Originally, it was the external kitchen window at the back of the house overlooking the garden. When the previous owners added an extension to the house, they kept the window in place, resulting in an odd setup (top image).


Upon purchasing the house, we contemplated the idea of removing the entire wall to open up the space, which would have been fantastic but prohibitively expensive (damn my champagne taste and lemonade budget!). Instead, we opted to have the window removed and the opening enlarged as much as possible (bottom image), which was a great way to make the space into the living room feel more open, and it flowed better than before.


Over time, I experimented with how to get the best room layout, but I had a hard time finding a way to maximize the area's potential. Placing a sofa against the wall seemed like a solution, but it made communication with whoever was in the kitchen challenging as your back was turned to them. Then, one day, it dawned on me that building a breakfast bar would not only improve the flow between the kitchen and the back room but also offer additional seating—perfect for working from home, tackling homework, or simply enjoying a magazine with a cup of coffee (ha! as if I ever find time to sit down to read magazines but what do they say 'design for the life you want' and all that!).


I'm going to split the tutorial into two parts because you could opt to create a rustic-style wooden DIY breakfast bar and skip the microcement if it's not your bag or you have alternative design ideas like using tiles for the countertop or an engineered stone product or even a glass top instead. 


DIY tutorial: How to build a breakfast bar (against an existing wall)


Note: I should note here that I'd been testing out how to limewash walls in this space beforehand, which is why it looks a bit random in the pic below! I'd been testing out different painting techniques on the space as I knew I'd be painting the wall after the breakfast bar install so it provided the perfect area for testing.


Before you start.

Blank wall before breakfast bar

You need a clear vision of what you want the DIY kitchen breakfast bar to look like, the optimal size and height and whether it will be freestanding or fixed to the wall. Research different breakfast bar ideas to find inspiration for the best way to utilize your space. If you are lookinghelp with for breakfast bar d help, be sure to check out my post on creative breakfast bar ideas before reading about how to build a breakfast bar.


Consider the size of your room, the height of the existing wall, and your personal preferences for the design. This location should allow for easy access and not cause an obstruction on the route in and out of the kitchen or living room, depending on how your home is laid out.


Measure the available space. If securing to the wall is necessary, check that this will be possible, especially if it's a partial or half wall. Also, check that the ground is level, as you'll need to account for this in the leg heights if not.


I always draw a plan and mark the dimensions on it, as this helps calculate how much wood you need to buy but also makes you think about the practicalities of how the frame will be joined and helps cement (no pun intended) in your mind how the final results will look.


DIY breakfast bar: You will need


When I came to sourcing materials for this DIY breakfast bar, most came from my local DIY store (B&Q), as they give you money-off vouchers as a reward for regular spending in-store and online. If you time it right (keep an eye on the voucher dates as they do expire), you can usually save about 10%, which all adds up. For tools, I tend to buy from Amazon as they are usually significantly cheaper and I keep an eye out for sales and offers.


Materials



Tools 


For the microcement


  • Clean bucket

  • Skimming spreader

  • Mixer 

  • Foam roller

  • Sheets or old cardboard


1. Build the timber base 


As well as being good value, I chose to construct the breakfast bar's base using wood because it's so easy to work with and can be cut to any shape and size you need. I deliberately kept my design super simple as I was aiming for a minimalist look and really wanted the breakfast bar to look like an extension of the kitchen worktops that I had previously revamped with microcement. 


DIY concrete breakfast bar against a limewash wall

1.1 Start with the side panels


I cut the timber to form the side panels first, making sure to keep them just lower than the height of the existing window sill so I could add a thin piece of mdf to form the tabletop of the breakfast bar that would be level with the sill. 


1.2 Check the height

If matching the height of an existing surface, deduct the depth of the countertop from the height of the finished breakfast bar to give you the required measurements for the side panels/legs. Once I'd cut a piece for a side panel, I checked how it looked by placing it against the wall, and when I was happy, I cut the remaining side panel pieces. 

how to build a timber breakfast bar before covering in microcement

1.3 Connect the side panel strips


The only slight downside of using CLS timber lengths was that I needed to join multiple pieces together to create the desired width. I don't have a pocket hole jig which would be ideal for screwing the pieces together, so I glued them instead with a super strong grab adhesive. (I used to use no more nails for all of these kinds of jobs, but the B&Q one is so much cheaper and works just as well. I buy 3 cartridges (which require a caulk gun to operate them) for £6, and that much goes a long way. 


1.4 Hold in place with tape


I taped the timber lengths together while the glue set (thought I better make a note of that in case anyone saw the picture above and thought it was just tape holding them together under the microcement!).


1.5 Apply a layer of plaster


I applied a layer of my favourite ready-mixed plaster over the side panels once the glue had set and the tape had been removed. I wanted to check that I could easily smooth over the grooves where the timber lengths were joined together and happily discovered that I could. I was testing out ideas as I went with this project and wouldn't repeat this order again as it meant a delay while the plaster dried. Now I know the process works; I'd plaster after the frame was complete, and the breakfast bar was attached to the wall if I did it again. I wanted to make a note of it here, though, to explain why you can see plaster on the side panels at this stage in the build.


Plastering over the side panels created a smooth and solid base for the microcement. I used the same plaster that I used to create my DIY display plinth and smooth over artex. This is easy to apply with a skimming spreader and works best if you layer up thin layers rather than applying too thickly, which can cause cracks. 


1.6 Cut out existing skirting board


how to build a breakfast bar and cut out the existing skirting board

As there was an existing wall in place, I had to adapt the skirting board to ensure the breakfast bar side panels were flush to the wall.


This was easy enough, I just marked the side panel positions on the wall, checked them with a spirit level, measured the distance between the two at varying heights (to check they were equidistant apart) and cut out sections of the skirting board so the side panels could slot neatly in, this would also help hold the breakfast bar perfectly in position. 



1.7 Construct the countertop


How to build a DIY breakfast bar with wood and microcement

Next, it was time to construct the top surface of the breakfast bar. I did this using more constructional timber, which, once cut, I screwed into the tops of the side panels. I used a countersink drill bit to ensure the screw heads didn't protrude above the surface. 


I'm going to be honest here and say that I had to cut corners a bit as I didn't have enough wood. My original plan was to use three lengths for each side panel, but when I tested it, I realised that it wasn't deep enough to comfortably house beautiful bar stools, so I added an extra length to make four, and it was perfect. However, the extra lengths came from the piece I was planning on using on the top so I had to improvise! I knew two pieces on the top would be fine structurally and as I was placing an mdf sheet over the top I knew you wouldn't see that there were only two. Had I not been so pushed for time, I would've driven to B&Q and picked up another piece, but I was so I improvised. I would recommend using the same number along the top as you do down the sides and ordering extra wood so you have some spare for this scenario.


1.8 Attach to the wall


Then, it was time to attach the breakfast bar frame to the wall. I used small corner brackets and applied grab adhesive over all the areas that would be in contact with the wall. 


1.9 Complete the breakfast bar surface


DIY breakfast bar

Next, it was time to attach the mdf sheet I was using as a base for the countertop. I decided this was the way to go as it would ensure the top was flat and level, whereas the timber pieces alone would've been slightly undulating where they are a natural product and had grooves where they join. I glued this onto the timber with lots of grab adhesive and allowed it to dry.


I used up a leftover MDF sheet for this job because I knew it would be hidden under the microcement, but you might choose to use hardwood or another material if you aren't planning to microcement over the top.


Note: The only downside to having a gap in the centre under the top layer was that it left a hole in the side panel at the top. I covered the hole with a piece of vertical (mdf) board glued into place and plastered over it so you couldn't tell and to ensure there was a secure base for the microcement. To ensure the mdf strip didn't have a slight overhang on the side panels, I had to cut a few mm off the end of the two top pieces at one end and then position so there was a slight gap at the end on each side (to fill with the mdf strip).


How to build a concrete-style breakfast bar with microcement


By this point, I've got a strong, secure base for my DIY breakfast bar. It's attached to the wall and has a coat of finishing plaster all over to create a solid and smooth surface to microcement over and the total cost is under £20! Is it slightly bodged on account of the lack of wood? Yes! Does it matter? No!


Obviously, this approach wouldn't have worked if a wooden breakfast bar was the goal. You'd need larger pieces of wood so less joins, neatly concealed screws, wood filler on any gaps or imperfections, sanding and then a neat application of wood stain and sealant.


Happily, I was about to slap primer and microcement over the whole thing and the slightly unorthodox base was about to disappear. I used the DIY microcement kit from Concrete Lab, it's so easy to use and I love the finish you get. 


2. Applying the microcement

Firstly, cover the floor with sheets or cardboard as applying microcement can be messy.


2.1 Apply microcement primer

microcement primer in a paint tray with foam roller

I primed the whole breakfast bar with a foam roller, referring to the Concrete Lab instructions for the primer dilution ratio. I spent time making sure that it was really saturating the surface as was conscious that this whole unit was made up of vertical surfaces, meaning that good adhesion was essential.

Leave for about thirty minutes to become tacky.



2.2 Make a batch of microcement


tub of mixed up microcement for DIY concrete breakfastbar

 While the primer was drying I made up the first batch of microcement, again following the Concrete Lab instructions. (Their kit is great as it contains all the materials you need and comes with helpful instructions. Their YouTube channel is super helpful as has loads of videos demonstrating the products.)


Top Tips for mixing microcement

  • Use a large clean bucket or the tub the DIY kit came in.

  • Use a mixing tool (eg a paint mixer drill attachment)

  • Make up small batches of microcement to take the pressure off.

  • Make sure all the powder is incorporated from the bottom of the tub.

  • I found the microcement much easier to use when it was quite runny. Before using it i thought a thicker mix would be preferable and was surprised at how runny it needed to be.

2.3 Apply the first layer of microcement


pouring microcement out onto concrete DIY breakfast bar

I poured the microcement mix onto the countertop and used the spreader tool recommended by Concrete Lab to spread it out using sweeping motions. The tool was brilliant and gave me a lot more control over the texture of the microcement. The spreader is quite expensive, but definitely worth the money if you plan to work with microcement a lot. If useful (not an ad or aff link!), you can get 10% off with my discount code CDS10.


It's better to apply the microcement from the top down, that way if you get any drips or spillages they won't fall onto areas you've already perfected. Microcementing can get quite messy, so I recommend covering the floor with cardboard or sheets. 


spreading out microcement over a DIY breakfast bar

You might choose to apply a mesh over the join, but I didn't do so on this occasion. I applied a layer of microcement over the breakfast bar surface and window sill to create a single surface and then worked down the sides (outer and inside the breakfast bar).


Once the top and sides were dry, it was time to apply a layer on the thin edge on the front. Don't try and do this before the top and sides are dry or you'll ruin their neat edges as you smooth the front. 


2.4 Sand if required


Once dry, you can sand out any imperfections in the microcement, but as you are going to apply another layer over the top, in my opinion, it's not worth the dust sanding if the surface is smooth and even. If you do sand, be sure to clean any dust from the surface before you apply the next coat of primer or it'll create a messy paste and clog up the roller. 


2.5 Apply the second layer of microcement


layers of microcement on DIY breakfast bar

Apply a second coat of microcement following the same order as before and take extra care to get this layer perfectly smooth as it's the one you'll see and also because it saves sanding and creating dust (because who wants dust in their home if it can be avoided. My sander has a dust extractor, but even with the vacuum attached, it still lets some dust out into the air, so unless you invest in a really good professional quality one, I think it's a bit of an inevitability). 


2.6 Sharpen the edges


cut the edges neatly on microcement breakfast bar

One top tip I can share is to build up the corners and edges with more microcement that they need and wait until it has started to set but is still soft enough to cut through. Then, using a utility knife, cut away the excess microcement to produce neat, sharp edges. Allow it to fully dry and set, and lightly sand if required to get the desired smoothness.


2.7 Seal the finished microcement

With any microcement project, it's important to seal the finished article to ensure it is resilient against stains and easy to clean. I use the Concrete lab recommended sealant.


Fluted wall panels


fluted wall panel under DIY microcement breakfast bar

Once the microcement was finished, I added a fluted wall panel to the inside of the breakfast bar. To do this, I measured the size of the gap under the bar and marked this onto a fluted mdf sheet. I cut the panel out and lightly sanded the fluted surface to remove any of the fibres you get straight from the factory. I attached the fluted wall panel to the wall under the breakfast bar with grab adhesive and allowed to dry. Then I primed the panel and painted it. You could prime and paint before attaching to the wall if you prefer. 


Styling a microcement breakfast bar

DIY breakfast bar with fluted paper wall light.

I wanted to create a simple and pared-back aesthetic where the focus was on the striking microcement structure, so I simply added a couple of stools and some homemade wall lights (I'll write a separate post about them, but message me if you want the details in the meantime).


You might choose to add a mini fridge, for example, or a wine rack for extra storage space, which could be a good second option. Consider incorporating storage options into the base cabinet or installing lighting for ambience. If you are looking for inspiration when it comes to choosing bar stools for your DIY breakfast bar, I have a post detailing various types you might like to consider. 


Fluted wall panel and wall light


The finished project is the perfect spot for morning coffee, casual meals, or even as a homework station for the kids. If you have a smaller kitchen and can't accommodate a full breakfast bar against the wall, consider extending a counter top or existing island to create a bar-height seating area. This alternative can still provide a great place for meals and socializing while maximizing space.






What type of wood for a DIY breakfast bar?


B&Q CLS timber for how to build a breakfast bar and which wood to use

To save money, I used cheap constructional timber lengths, which were an amazingly bargainous £3.15 each for 2.2m from B&Q (This was in 2023, so they might be more expensive now).


The product is called Essentials Smooth Planed Round edge Untreated CLS timber (L)2.4m (W)63mm (T)38mm. I've used them for several DIY projects, some examples being the DIY bin shed and the DIY fridge surround.


How to connect timber with wooden dowels


I was happy to use glue because I was only joining four lengths together and they would be attached to the wall as well. I knew I was going to be covering the whole thing in plaster and a good covering of microcement, which, once cured, is remarkably strong, so I didn't have any worries. If you needed to join more than four together, then it'd be worth using dowels if you don't have a pocket hole jig for screws.


Simple drill dowel-sized holes in the insides of each of the lengths (making sure the holes are at exactly the same point on the adjoining length and then insert a dowel into the holes to join the pieces. (It's a common flat-pack construction process, but it works). 


Where next?


You might enjoy the following microcement-related posts.


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