The haute seat
There’s a new breed of stylish built-in kitchen booths.
Banquettes are back because they function so well in kitchens. They’re good at squeezing the most out of a space – something a lot of families want to do both for green reasons and because of uncertainty about the economy, experts say. “As [the] money people have to spend dwindles, they’re renovating rather than expanding,” says Sally DeGan, principal of SpaceCraft Architecture in Lexington. “And banquettes are big space savers.”
Unlike a table with chairs, which requires quite a bit of floor space, a banquette that’s secured to a wall (or even two walls) eliminates the need for circulation around every side. Newton-based interior designer Liz Caan, who recently designed a backless banquette paired with a cafe table for a corner in a Chestnut Hill guesthouse, agrees. “I use them in spaces where I can’t afford to waste an inch. I hate tables jammed in corners and chairs bumping into walls. A banquette anchors the table and really cleans up the lines of the room.”
Designers say the best banquette is open on both ends, making for easy ins and outs, or L-shaped and tucked into a corner. If benches are long enough to accommodate more than one person, there are a few details that will help ease the seating shuffle. Avoid tables with legs at the corners; they’ll just get in the way. Pedestal bases work best for smaller tables; for larger tables, trestle styles work, too.
The shape of the banquette base is also an important consideration. A banquette with curves at the corners rather than sharp edges, like the one Cambridge-based interior designer Kate Maloney designed for a family with three kids in Wellesley, makes sliding in and out easier.
Architect Carrie Shores, principal of Larson Shores, recommends building a base that slants back to allow ample room to maneuver in and out. She also likes to leave space for sitting with ankles crossed and feet tucked just under the seat. The booth she designed for a Rockland, Maine, couple (before moving her firm to the Bay Area), both of whom are more than 6 feet tall, uses these tricks. Trim at the top of the banquette’s back also provides a point to grab onto when sliding in. Just be sure the trim is not too prominent, lest it poke diners in the back.
As for upholstery, textile companies have made strides in producing gorgeous options that are virtually indestructible. Faux leathers are super durable and wipe clean easily. Many designers advise checking out commercial-grade or even outdoor fabrics that can take spills, even salad dressing or spaghetti sauce.
Chaimovitz has been known to give clients large swatches to test out at home, telling them to put the fabric on their kids’ chairs and have them eat with it there for a week. Of course, darker colors and large patterns go a long way in masking stains. Also, use a fabric with a high “rub count,” because you’ll be sliding back and forth on it more than you would a traditional chair. And if the banquette is in front of a sunny window, consider fade-proof fabric.
Finally, a modern banquette addresses the need for a versatile gathering place that the kitchen island cannot. “The banquette has become the hub of everyday life,” Shores says. “It’s way more comfortable than sitting on a bar stool, but still in the kitchen, so you feel connected.” Chaimovitz adds: “A banquette is intimate. People like the booth experience when they’re at restaurants and want to bring that home.”