Breakfast can be a high-stress rush job involving missing mittens, spilled cereal and never enough coffee. To help calm things down, decorate your breakfast nook to appeal to untamed souls, Zen minimalists or country cousins from a simpler time. A little theater with the toaster muffins could set the scene for a more adventurous day -- or lead to some fascinating discussions with the older kids about career choices in conservation genomics and wildlife management.
1. A.M. Egg Whites
A cramped space won't seem crowded when your breakfast nook is white-on-white. Keep it spare and simple with white eggshell paint on the walls, ceiling and trim -- it's easy to wipe down. Add a small banquette or upholstered bench in faux white leather, also quick to sponge off. A Saarinen tulip table -- or a reproduction -- in white plastic is stylish, functional and a cinch to keep clean. Whitewash a couple of hand-me-down chairs from the in-laws or savvy tag sale shopping and stack them with white cotton or linen cushions with removable covers you can toss in the washer. A huge white-paper globe lamp extends the pristine, uncluttered feel of the snowy corner and is inexpensive to replace when one too many food explosions have despoiled its pristine pallor. A woven basket holding tangerines or bright red apples is all the centerpiece you need.
2. Sunnybrook Farm
Create a breakfast nook with a giant farm cupboard to define the space, and a small table with chairs and stools. A cupboard with distressed paint in an intense color such as turquoise or a faded shade like vanilla cream or chalky peach becomes the lead character onstage. Play off the color and style with reclaimed pieces that are whitewashed or painted in different colors for country-style shabby chic. An area rug the same width as the cupboard covers the floor under the furniture and underscores the sense of a separate room just off the kitchen or in a corner of an open-plan living-dining room. Honor the farm vibe with a pendant lamp made from an old metal colander and add some fun with stenciled roosters or pigs on the stool seats. Set the table with big checked napkins and a metal pitcher full of wildflowers.
3. Breakfast in the Bay
A bay window is a ready-made alcove for a quirky breakfast nook. Build or buy a bench, with hinged seats for extra storage, to fit into the curve. Fill the slanted seat back and seats with fluffy pillows in a smorgasbord of stripes and chintzes. Tuck a round pedestal table into the nook, dressing it up with a medium-length and a short tablecloth made from two different pillow fabrics. Stitch up place mats and napkins from another leftover fabric; use mismatched bone china plates, cups and saucers and odd silverware for different individual place settings collected from flea markets and antique shops. Instead of a pendant lamp, hang an ornate birdcage, wired for a clear oversize bulb, over the table. The cozy corner welcomes morning tea and waffles before the school bus and after-school hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies on chilly days.
4. Safari Lodge
Breakfast becomes an adventure in the wild when you pitch camp in a corner of the kitchen. Cover the floor with a fake animal rug -- zebra is lively -- and park a small square or round table on top and surround it with canvas stools and chairs. Coordinate the table height with the canvas seating so everyone is comfortable and can easily reach the table -- this may mean slightly trimming the legs of a too-tall table. Stretch light canvas or gauzy mosquito netting from the ceiling medallion to corner walls to create the illusion of a tent and separate the breakfast nook from the surrounding room. The fabric shouldn't hang down the wall more than a few inches. Post framed black-and-white photographs or African animal prints on the walls just below the "tent" fabric. Suspend a crystal chandelier from the ceiling medallion over the table for a touch of old-school safari elegance.