Built-in kitchen seating can maximize space in smaller kitchens and highlight a great window view. It can even become the most distinctive design element in your home.
The term “breakfast nook” sounds hopelessly trapped in the 1970s, but modern homeowners are embracing the style and practicality of built-in seating in the kitchen.
“The idea of the built-in, with the kids piled in it and the pillows” can bring the casual fun of a beach house or farmhouse to any home, says Massachusetts-based interior designer Kristina Crestin, featured this season on “This Old House.”
Maxwell Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy.com, says built-in kitchen seating can maximize space in smaller kitchens and highlight a great window view.
It can even become the most distinctive design element in your home.
“People, especially children, will gravitate toward it,” Ryan says. “Who doesn’t like to get a booth at the diner over a table?”
For homeowners with an open-plan kitchen, built-in seating creates a cozy gathering place that functions like a formal dining room but is right in the heart of the cooking and socializing.
In smaller kitchens, a nook allows the dining table to be positioned along a wall or in a corner without looking as if it were stuffed awkwardly out of the way.
Built-ins also offer lots of space for storage.
“The space underneath a built-in banquette is ripe with possibilities,” says stylist and crafter Marianne Canada, host of the “HGTV Crafternoon” web series. Closed cabinets can be designed to match your existing cabinetry, or you can add open shelving, she says, to “add texture with baskets, show off your cookbook collection, even use it to store large ceramic bowls that take up too much cabinet space.”
Just be sure the design of the built-in seating area matches the architecture of the rest of the house, says Crestin. Sketch out what you want and plan carefully before starting construction. If the breakfast nook will include a window, she says, consider the height of the sill and whether it will hit the backs of people seated along the wall.
Also, be sure to use a pedestal table so you’re not bumping into table legs when sliding into the seats.
If you can’t commit to a fully built-in breakfast area — or if you worry your kitchen will look too much like a roadside diner — Canada suggests adding a banquette to just one side of the kitchen dining area.
“This gives you the best of both worlds,” she says, “an architectural feature that provides storage and easy seating, and the opportunity to mix things up with chairs.”
This approach is cheaper to build and easier to remove if you want something different later.
One popular option: Extend the bench the entire length of one wall, installing open or closed storage underneath.
“A table at one end for kitchen dining, general seating for those times when everyone ends up in the kitchen, and a space near the door that serves as a landing area for shoes, backpacks and jackets,” Canada says. “Add some hooks above the bench, and baskets below, and you’ll find that clutter disappears effortlessly.”
One big draw of built-in kitchen seating is the softness and color of the cushions and pillows. A tip from Crestin: Invest in high-quality fabric in a pattern and colors that are neutral enough you can love them for years to come. Then get really creative with fabrics for loose pillows, spending a bit less so you can swap those out seasonally for new ones when the urge strikes.
To highlight the fabrics you’ve chosen, Ryan suggests painting the backrest area behind the seating in a coordinating color.
“You can easily swap out the fabric on the seat or the paint on the backrest anytime you want to shake up your kitchen décor,” he says.
And here’s a secret: If you love this look but want to avoid the commitment and cost of real built-in seating, you can create a faux version. Ryan suggests installing a large upholstered bench along one wall and painting the wall around it with semi-gloss paint (easily wiped clean) to highlight the space. Add pillows and you’ve got a perfectly cozy space where guests can lean back and enjoy your kitchen.