As kitchens evolve into powerful, professional cooking centers and festive spots for entertaining, the notion of the traditional kitchen table is evolving as well. Innovative seating options are slowly becoming more the norm, making it entirely acceptable to lose the kitchen table all together. But what to put in its place?
"Everybody wants an island," says Gregg Buzzelli of CKC Kitchen and Bath Design Center in Morris Plains, New Jersey. "Everyone wants to congregate in the kitchen." As the island becomes the centerpiece of the kitchen, it also becomes the social center as well. In addition to housing the cooktop, second sinks and additional storage, most islands incorporate some sort of seating area, from a bar-like row on a single-level island to an upper level dedicated to dining.
Val Stuessi, CKD, a designer with Crystal Kitchen Center of Golden Valley, Minnesota, often includes circular areas in her islands: "I like eating areas to be rounded, so the family can look at each other rather than eat at a straight snack bar where they sit like frogs on a log."
The eating area will often feature a hardwood top to give it a more dining-like air. The choice of height can affect its purpose as well: a high top with stool-like seating often creates a more casual, grab-a-seat-and-munch feel, while a lower level closer to table height mimics the kitchen-table experience. Note: parents with young children should keep seating closer to the ground.
Tweaking The Typical Table
If you do opt for the tried-and-true route, don't feel restricted to the same-old, same-old. Swap chairs for long benches (great for country kitchens), making seating closer and more casual.
Fans of vintage wares should scour antique fairs for weathered tables or purchase a hodge-podge of chairs-stain them all the same color to infuse a little unity.
Or, should the kitchen open into an adjacent living room, consider making the table more furniture-like (or something more befitting a dining room) with furniture feet and upholstered chairs.
Additional Sitting Areas
Some homeowners aren't concerned with eating at all, considering the social, not dining, aspect of seating. "Homeowners are still very interested in the open concept," says Joey Wilinski, who has been incorporating hearth-like sitting rooms into the kitchen. "A cozy little spot with a couple of Lazy Boys; it's more of an intimate seating area for people."
She continues, "I'm seeing people going large with the island and then not having an actual table in the kitchen area." So long as the island has adequate seating for your family, and a separate area (like a dining room table) can handle Thanksgiving dinners with the in-laws, booting a table from the kitchen entirely isn't as crazy as it sounds.
Now let's get clever. Want a comfortable-size table but hate the thought of sacrificing storage space? Kathie Maughan of Maughan Design of Portland, Oregon, built a nook with bench seating that opens to reveal deep storage for linens and less-used items. To make access a snap, she included a drop-leaf table, making it easy to fold down the sides for extra clearance.
Are you eager to include extra seating but just don't have the space? Maughan has another solution for homeowners dealing with cramped quarters. "I've done fold-down panels that sit in a wall and lift and click into place to become a small seating niche," a perfect seat to install near a telephone.
If you're going to have a breakfast nook, don't ignore it. Make it an inviting space your family will want to dine at (especially if you have island seating, which often steals all the thunder when the kids select a spot to have breakfast).
Light or stained wood wainscoting can separate the nook as its own special area, making it a warm and inviting space. Make sure there's a strong light source overhead for adequate lighting, and, if possible, place near windows with cheery drapery for extra sunlight.
Padding, cushions or pillows (placed along bench seating) make for more comfortable seating-a good thing when you haven't had that morning coffee yet! And, while rich cherry and hunter greens certainly create an elegant kitchen, sunny yellows and bright blues or a farm-fresh red-and-white check bring extra cheer.
Regardless of where and how your seating takes shape, there are several rules of thumb in terms of seat and table heights to keep things comfortable and ergonomic:
Your typical chair should have a seat height of about 17 inches, and is suitable for tables or lowered countertops at 28 inches in height.
Breakfast barstools are great for islands, but make sure it's an island of the right size-a countertop at 35 inches is a good rule of thumb to follow.
High barstools with a 30-inch, versus 24-inch, seat base, fit the bill for raised, approximately 42-inch, worktops. These stools, however, aren't ideal for very young children who could take a tumble.
And, when deciding how large your table can be, be sure to allot space for the table fully extended with its leaves; it's no good having a table that seats eight if you can't open it.