By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
You know how it is these days. The kitchen has become command central. The kitchen is not only a place to store and prepare food, but it has become a place to gather, visit, eat, do homework, sort mail, pay bills, you name it. More and more activities are being crammed into a space not originally designed for such a workload.
This narrow kitchen, above, had little room for seating other than at the counter before it was remodeled.
If space is tight in your kitchen (and even if it’s not), one solution to consider is a built-in seating area. These come in a variety of options and may be just the answer to make more gathering or homework-doing space in your kitchen.
A common built-in option is counter seating. Originally, this was only a support area to the more formal dining areas in the home. It was often considered “kids” seating — a place to serve a quick bowl of cereal or peanut butter sandwich. But today, with the trend toward eliminating the dining room altogether, in some situations counter seating has become the main family eating area, mom and dad included.
Traditional height for counter seating is 36 inches. You can also raise the seating portion to 42 inches, leaving the rest of the counter traditional height. This configuration may help you screen less-than-perfect work areas of the kitchen.
The chairs that serve counter seating have also evolved. Simple stools have long been available, but now you can get a variety of dining chair styles with longer legs. You should plan a minimum of 2 feet per chair when determining how many your counter will seat.
In the redesign, above, owner/architect Warren Lloyd, principal of Lloyd Architects, capitalized on the kitchen’s limited space and natural light by trading a few cupboards for a built-in banquette table.
Counter seating is not conducive to great dinner conversation if the family or guests are just lined up in a row. If you have the space, counter seating can also wrap around two sides of the counter. Or you can even extend the end of the counter so you have seating on three sides — sort of a hybrid of counter seating and a table.
Another option for built-in seating is a banquette, which is essentially booth seating. This feature was popular in the 1940s and is currently in vogue again. The banquette can have a table with built-in seating on two opposite sides, or have a bench against one wall with chair seating on the other side, or it can be some other variations such as an L-shaped table or U-shaped benches.
This type of seating is conducive to casual, intimate meals. You can also incorporate storage in the built-in benches and comfortable upholstered seats. The banquette also takes up less overall space than a free-standing table, allowing a dining area where a traditional table and chairs would not fit. However, it can be limiting because diners have to slide into their seats and can become “trapped” once everyone is seated.
As you expect more and more from your kitchen area, you’ll need more and more creativity and vision to make it all work. Alternative dining styles may be one way to get more out of your space. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.