Kitchens have long been the central gathering place in many homes, and
homeowners are always looking for fresh ways to improve the flow and atmosphere of these treasured spaces. Banquettes, or upholstered benches used for dining, are a popular addition to many of today’s most stylish kitchens.
First made popular in the 1930s and 40s as a space-saving solution in “modern” kitchens, banquettes have become popular with today’s homeowners who are looking for added storage and a comfortable spot for family gatherings. Not only can they accommodate a varying number of people, they also provide an efficient use of space in the dining area, create an intimate feeling during meals and conversation, and provide a large amount of storage under the seat.
Dave Alderman, CKD, owner of Alderman Cabinet Inc. in Chesapeake, Va., has
crafted custom banquettes for 28 years and has recently seen an upswing in requests for built-in seating. “I like banquettes because they add an element of coziness,” he says, “people like the feel of them.”
Although some people consider banquettes accessories for quaint country-style or traditional kitchens, they can work in any style and size of home. “Even the most modern of kitchens can have a banquette—they are not just for a traditional home,” says New York designer Susan Serra, CKD, who writes a blog about kitchen trends. “After all, we are human and we have certain needs and those can be done well with any décor.”
Large or small, elegant or rustic, homeowners gain the ultimate creative license when planning a kitchen banquette. The built-in look of these furniture pieces adds architectural interest to a space and provides plenty of decorating opportunities. The building materials, size, shape and fabrics can be tailored
for any look. “People are more into built-in, personalized use of spaces in their kitchen,” Serra says. “Banquettes allow you to conform seating to any configuration in terms of height, depth and length.”
Some kitchens don’t have enough square footage or the right footprint for a full dining table and chairs, but these built-in pieces can provide ample seating for a party of two. They can also be super-sized to accommodate larger groups. “Banquettes can be customized for the space you have to work with,” Alderman says. “One of my clients hosts pajama parties for their kids where 16 or 18 kids sleep over and they can stack them in around the banquette for dinner or breakfast.”
There are many ways to construct a banquette. One easy method uses pre-built cabinets or a wooden box as a base. Alderman recommends building a base that is 18 inches high and topping it with a thin 2-inch cushion. Custom banquettes can take on any shape, including rectangles, curves and angles. Homeowners can address storage needs by incorporating bookshelves or sets of
drawers into the design. Although often constructed of wood, some banquettes are framed out and covered in drywall or coated in a layer of plaster for a built-in look that visually blends into walls.
The first step to creating comfort: eliminate the hard, stick-straight back of early banquettes. Today’s banquettes are much more comfortable than older ones. “I’ve been a strong advocate for having a comfortable kitchen for a number of years,” Serra says. “With so many hard surfaces there, it’s nice to have something soft to recline on.”
Alderman recommends building the back of the banquette at a 6-degree angle that’s more comfortable to lean against.
The second step to a cozy banquette is lots of cushions. “I’m a big proponent of a cushy banquette,” says Serra, who uses a raised sofa for banquette-style seating in her own kitchen. “Eliminate the traditional 2-inch cushion! Make cushions for a banquette like a sofa—comfortable, cushy, yet supportive. A
thicker cushion will dramatically improve your family’s and guest’s experiences at the dining table.” Accent pillows along the back also provide that extra touch of softness. “If you have pillows, you can just prop yourself up to watch TV, work on your laptop or just relax and have a conversation,” she adds.
Serra says that a comfortable banquette will quickly become a magnate for family gatherings. People will want to lean back against the pillows, pick up their feet and stretch out—maybe even take a nap if the banquette is wide enough. Broad banquettes situated against large kitchen windows are the perfect place to curl up with a good book or the newspaper and a cup of coffee.
“I don’t see it as a trend which may ever really go out of style—it’s a fresh idea that can work well aesthetically and functionally in any home,” Serra adds.
Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac