Potomac homeowner Wendy Gross likes to slip into a cozy booth when eating out at a restaurant. In remodeling her kitchen, she decided to create the same type of comfortable seating with a bench built into a bay window.
“It doesn’t take up any traffic space and provides a place for six or seven people to sit in the kitchen when we entertain,” says Gross, 55, an empty-nester who shares the four-bedroom colonial with husband Eddie, 56, a lawyer.
The banquette — designer-speak for upholstered bench — appeals to renovating homeowners as an efficient way to gain a dining area in the kitchen while making the most of existing space. It occupies less room than free-standing furniture because the seating is built into the wall.
“The bench can seat many more people than a table and chairs would,” says another Potomac homeowner, Theresa Goldsholle. “It was really key to fitting everyone in at mealtime.”
Goldsholle and husband Gary, both in their 40s, added a window seat to their kitchen as part of a 2008 renovation of their 1980s home. They use the L-shaped bench for meals with sons Evan, 14, and Andrew, 12, and as auxiliary seating when entertaining.
Even in her aunt’s small Georgetown kitchen, Bethesda designer Marika Meyer was able to fit a pair of benches into an 8-by-4.5-foot nook. Handy wall cabinets and a display ledge for art extend above the upholstered seat backs. The dining table was made from a desk purchased from Green Front Furniture in Manassas and customized to fit the space.
“We use it like crazy,” says the homeowner, Susie Moore, 55. “We eat all our meals here, play cards here and watch TV here.”
Banquettes can be configured into a variety of shapes — I, L and U — to accommodate tables and chairs. But they may not work in every situation.
“If you don’t like the idea of having to move to let someone in and out, and possibly shifting your table, it’s probably not a good fit,” says designer Nadia Subaran of Aidan Design, the Bethesda firm responsible for remodeling the Grosses’ kitchen. “It also has to be a fit architecturally. You need enough depth to make the bench comfortable, and ideally, the bench should be under windows or face a nice view when you are seated.”
Without the right space, designers say, some seating configurations can be tricky to maneuver. “A U-shaped banquette can be too hard to get in and out of, and it takes up more room,” says Chevy Chase architect Bruce Wentworth, who designed the Goldsholles’ kitchen. He recommends L-shaped seating or a straight-across bench.
But even simpler banquettes can be expensive to custom-build. Wentworth says the carpentry and upholstery required of an L-shaped bench with 10- and five-foot wings can cost $7,000 to $8,500, not including design fees. A less-expensive option is to buy an upholstered bench, such as Ballard Design’s Coventry sectional ($899 to $2,227), to fit the space.
Designers say the seat should measure at least 18 inches from front to back, and most recommend 22 to 24 inches in depth to accommodate cushions. “Otherwise, it’s like sitting on a ledge,” Subaran says. “The trend now is to do a booth-style banquette with a thick foam pad that is wrapped in the fabric rather than loose cushions.”
Wentworth recommends using durable indoor-outdoor fabric and adhering cushions to the seat and back with Velcro. He says the height of the bench should be about 18 inches and its base recessed or angled for more foot room.
The space inside the bench is ideal for storage, Wentworth says, and he suggests drawers rather than a hinged bench seat for access. “When you have a seat that lifts up, it’s more of a nuisance, and you tend not to use it because you have to lift up the cushion.”
The table should be 29 to 30 inches high and supported in the middle to provide room on all sides. As Theresa Goldsholle says, “We bought a pedestal table so the legs don’t interfere with the seating.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer.