In regards to the nook itself, we went with storage containers. Even though we live close the beach, I couldn't find any driftwood that fit that bill. If I had, I would have taken that wonderful suggestion. We already have a separate library lined with books. Between the library and our offices, we aren't in need of additional book storage, but I agree with those that felt it would look snazzy.
We opted for gray plastic sterile totes to match our newly gray walls (more on that in a sec). The totes cost $3.50 a piece at Target. These totes weren't the prettiest option; my favorite magazine storage boxes from West Elm cost almost 50 bucks a piece! I opted for a closed container because of the price and the dust issue. They opened up a lot of space in the garage and closets.
The commenters inspired us to make a few other changes:
• New wall color. Olympic's Going Grey (D-57-2). Around $60 for 3 cans of paint plus $15 for a gallon of primer. I don't miss the wall-to-wall beige at all.
• Pure Design end table for $50 on Craigslist. I'm hoping to find a mid-century modern step table for the other end of the couch from Craigslist (of course...also the source of the china cabinet).
• Vintage mid-century shadowbox beveled wall mirror. $45 on Craigslist. Its twin is listed on eBay starting at $390 .
• The other additions were lying around the house. The glass on top of the china cabinet was on clearance at Red Envelop last summer. The spray roses are sitting in a vintage jar I found at a yard sale at least 5 years ago. The blue pillow was pricey; it's hand appliqued felt from a local artist.
Combine these costs with the $31.50 I spent on the nine storage containers, and I think I got a lot of bang for my buck.
If I haven't already exhausted your goodwill, please feel free to make more suggestions. I fear a rug in front of the china cabinet might look odd since the area is more a pass-through. There is a four footish area in front of the hutch that leads into the wall that begins the breakfast bar. I know it's hard to tell from the pictures.
I really do appreciate your feedback on our room. Thank you all very much.
Thanks for the update, Meredith!