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Seating in a Modern Kitchen

Photo credit: Cornerstone Architects

Kitchen seating requirements are central to main floor design when renovating, building new, or designing an addition. Cindy is a partner with Snap Design + Contracting.

Bruce and Cindy discuss the importance of kitchen design and seating.

An interview with Cindy VanRyn, interior designer for CVR Designs. Cindy is a partner with Walden Homes in Snap Design & Contracting. Snap makes kitchen, bathroom and interior renovations easy.

Cindy has worked with Bruce Borden and Walden Homes for seventeen years. Bruce has been renovating and building new homes with his company Walden Homes, for twenty five years.


The following is an edited transcription of the interview


Bruce: Hi Cindy! How's your day going?

Cindy: Things are terrific. Very excited about the new projects we're working on together!

Bruce: Yeah, things are really good. Snap Design & Contacting is getting going, so I'm pretty excited about that. We've got a bunch of interesting client projects underway. So all in all, things are really good.

Why don't we get started with our interview? I want to discuss kitchen layout with you. Specifically how kitchen seating requirements are central to main floor design when renovating, doing an addition or building new.

Cindy:  Sounds good to me.

Bruce: Cindy, we can draw from both our own personal experiences as well as our clients’.  Let's look at the options and the benefits of the different ways that kitchen and eating areas are designed. Let’s get this started by talking about your own home. What setup do you have at your house? How it works, or doesn't. Let’s start there.

Cindy: Sure. In my house, I have a kitchen and dining room that are open to each other. They are set up as two separate rooms, but they’re all within one larger space. They’re open to each other. I don’t have an island with stools. We sit at the table. So even without the island, when I'm in the kitchen preparing meals, discussions and conversations can continue while people are still sitting or standing around the table.

Bruce: I think the big advantage to that is that you’re using more of the overall space for kitchen by having it open to a dining area. Having this flexible dining space, gives you a bigger combined space than you would have individually. Imagine that you had a closed-off kitchen and then a closed-off dining room, you'd wind up with a much small kitchen as well as a smaller dining area. At least they would feel much smaller.

Cindy: Right, now, as it is, I have a bigger kitchen than I would otherwise and a bigger dining space. We're getting more flexibility by give up a bit of separation between the two areas.

Bruce: But I think that’s a good trade-off, isn’t it?

Cindy: It is. I mean, the kitchen’s the hub of the home. No one wants to be isolated while they’re preparing a meal or in the kitchen. So, whether the kids are doing their homework or grabbing a snack or actually eating a meal, family members tend to congregate there and it’s really nice this way.

Bruce: When we look at kitchen design with a client, and seating specifically, the functionality is one of the considerations that we focus in on. The other is the amount of space - what do we have to work with? In a smaller home, having one, two or even three seating areas is not uncommon – three seating areas would be a formal dining space, a small breakfast nook or a small bump-out at the back of some houses.

I mean, there are probably some people who still want that, but certainly today, we see that this type of redundancy is as a waste. Instead of multiple tables and seating areas, many homeowners prefer to have an island with four or five stools that are used day-to-day and an open dining space that can seat eight or ten. It is much more casual. You get bigger spaces.

Cindy: Yes, definitely. I mean, homes are much more open-concept than they used to be, which makes larger, more interactive rooms than they were years ago.

Bruce: Yes I agree. I know that in my own house, I have an unusually shaped kitchen. Our kitchen is a square. Kitchens are usually rectangular. So, I’ve got a big oversized nearly square island that is 8' x 10' with seating for eight people. So, four on one side and four on the other. Cathy and I use the island day-to-day. The kitchen has a large open entry to an open dining area that is somewhat more formal. Our dining table will seat anywhere from eight to 16 people, depending on how much we extend the table. In our case, we gave up the separate breakfast area for a bigger island.

Cindy: I think that we see that a lot with a lot of our clients. They don’t really need the three seating spaces. Two seems to work re

Photo Credit: Ownby Design

Bruce: Cathy and I have four grown children who don’t live at home, they come and go. Most of the time it’s just Cathy and I. There are times where we’ll have one or two of the kids or sometimes they’re there with friends. We use our island all the time. The best part is that it doesn’t feel empty when it’s just the two of us. We can easily accommodate eight or ten around it, which is nice. The flexibility is great.  Then, when we are entertaining, we wind up using the dining space. So, that’s pretty handy.

Another option that we’ve seen with clients, and which I don’t discount, are separate breakfast areas. A seating space with a smaller table for four or six, at the back of the kitchen. It could be set into a bay window. Or incorporate a banquette. You know, those are also nice. Cindy, would you agree that overall, things are definitely more casual than they were when we started doing this 20 plus years ago?

Cindy: Yes, they definitely are. I mean, I have a client who has a formal dining room and I was looking for a buffet for her. I was having a really difficult time finding a formal buffet, because the majority of new homes and renovations with more interactive kitchens don’t have formal dining rooms. They’re either eating at a breakfast table or on their islands and foregoing the formality and having a large great room, instead of a separate traditional dining room. So, even finding furniture for a formal dining room is difficult these days.

Bruce: I guess the option would be to go to something custom, which winds up getting more costly. But the market has definitely shifted. I know for a fact that we used to build with these four spaces – formal living, formal dining, kitchen and family room. Now, it’s much more likely to be three spaces, or sometimes even two. As a result you’ve got big spaces that are designed for flexible use and seating. So seating is central part of how everything is planned. It’s something that people need to think about early on, because that will dictate a lot of how things get laid out.

Cindy: Absolutely.

Photo Credit: Brookfield Residential Colorado

Bruce: I'm currently working on a main floor rebuild renovation where the kitchen is being repositioned  along the back wall of the house, which is a bit different. We’re using a nice sized island with stools for four and then an informal or casual dining space that’s within the large kitchen/living space. Now, the beauty of having the kitchen at the back, is that the sink has a 10- or 12-foot window facing the back yard. The whole back yard is visually open to the kitchen, which is really nice.

Do you think that defining the seating scheme and how a client and their family will use and live within the space - whether a breakfast area or an island or a dining room or some combination - is an important starting point?

Cindy: Yes, that’s true. A bit earlier you mentioned banquettes. I'm still doing a lot of banquettes, because they save space and they’re also very comfortable and interesting in a layout.

Bruce: A banquette can be used like a casual dining room as well, not just a kitchen.

Cindy: They’re real space-savers and you get storage in them and that kind of thing. So, they’re an interesting alternative.

Bruce: Is there anything else about seating or eating areas that you want to talk about?

Cindy: I would just mention outdoor eating as well. A lot of people have decks and as soon as the weather gets better, they’re eating outside. They’re barbecuing. They’re eating on their decks. We like to include French doors or sliding doors out to the back yard. You know, they really bring outdoors in as part of the interior space.

Bruce: Well, that’s true. You know we can now call the outdoors eating/seating space the third or the fourth eating area. I guess, in your case, it would be the second. Do you use the outdoor eating area often?

Cindy: Always in the good weather, yes.

Bruce: Is it out on an elevated deck or on a patio on grade? 

Cindy: It’s out on a stone deck, a stone patio. We use it all the time. Again, barbecuing, entertaining, you’re playing in the back yard. Everyone can be there together enjoying the weather.

Bruce: You know, for us, we have a kitchen that walks right out onto grade. We open the doors and walk right out to a patio where we have a table set up. It can't be any more convenient. But we don’t really use the table much for eating. We’re out there a lot and we sit around our pool, but our kitchen opens up with a 12-foot sliding door, but we find that it’s so much easier and more comfortable to eat inside. We always have the doors opened, screens closed. It feels like we’re outdoors.

Cindy: I guess that best of both It would be to have some coverage so you’ve got a table and all that, with a coverage. So you have a combination of both. That would be nice.

Bruce: We’re doing, a new home design now that has outdoor eating and seating as a central element. The eating area and the barbecue area are covered, so that the owners will be able to use that with heaters for an extended period of time. They're not as weather-dependent.

Anything else that you can think of that we haven’t talked about?

Cindy: One thing that relates is the unspoken taboo, the television. Unfortunately, we do sometimes eat in front of the TV, so that, again, can be, for some families, a critical component of the eating area.

Bruce: Well, that’s true.

Cindy: Even at breakfast, if you want to watch the news or, you know, television.

Bruce: That’s a good point. Where and how the TV gets placed is important for some clients.

Cindy: Yes.

Bruce: I know we’ve done an island, that have incorporated, not on the surface, but with an upright panel at the end of the island where the TV gets mounted. That was one of the more unusual ones I could think of. In most other cases, we just want the orientation of the island, for example, facing the TV then, I guess, you can also think of adding a small TV somewhere into the kitchen itself.

Cindy: You do see that more often, yes.

Bruce: One last part of seating in the kitchen would be a desk or an organizing area. Oftentimes, there’s a stool or a chair or a seating space incorporated within a kitchen for that function.

Cindy: Yes. Or for a laptop computer. Again, because the kitchen is such a central part of living. We’re all on our social media and Internet and things that you do need a desk.  Your mail and items like that – it’s pretty critical to have that in a kitchen as well.

Bruce: I agree. And the other thing is – you had mentioned this before – kids and homework. We see clients using kitchen seating areas almost like a desk. The island, or the kitchen table or even in your case, the communal dining area, all of these now become a place for the kids to do homework. Homework is one of the things I know that clients are always thinking about as well.

Cindy: Definitely, because homework is such a constant with a younger family. In my family, it was usually done while I was preparing a meal, the dinner. So, it needs to be accessible to where meals are being prepared.

Bruce: That’s another reason that the open concept idea is so popular right now.

Cindy: Definitely.

Bruce: All right. Cindy, I think we’ve covered this topic. I am going to end the interview here. But thanks for doing this with me tod