The Detroit News Homestyle COVER STORY // January 2023
For all the seating and surfaces like tables and chairs that can be found throughout the average house, there are some guidelines to finding the right combination. Flexible selections are another consideration for these everyday essentials that can make or break a space.
When picking these pieces, Margaret Skinner, interior designer and principal of Margeaux Interiors in Birmingham lets function lead the way. For dining, the average height for a chair would be about 18 to 20 inches from the seat to the floor, but banquette cushions can get squishy, which is why measurements are so important. “Sadly, as time goes on, furniture will break down and you might think, ‘Am I shrinking?’” she says. A person’s height can also be a factor when making these decisions.
An angled wall in a lakefront home could have been an awkward spot, but Margaret Skinner, principal of Margeaux Interiors in Birmingham, combined a custom banquette with an extendable table and durable indoor/outdoor chairs that can be stacked and taken outside.
Banquettes can be a great solution for kitchen nooks like the one Skinner designed around a doorwall that made traffic flow a bit tricky. “The banquette can fit more people and you can sit there for a Zoom call with a nice background,” she says. “They can have people over and it is very comfortable. You don’t feel like you’re sitting in a small kitchen chair.”
Another kitchen nook she worked on features a seating area overlooking a lake with a custom banquette along an angled wall. “They have a growing family and the kids love sitting there. It really allows more seating in what would be an awkward spot,” says Skinner. The indoor/outdoor chairs are durable and easy to clean. They can also be stacked and brought outside. Cube ottomans provide additional seating at the extendable table as needed.
For a family room in Birmingham, custom cube tables supplement a sectional with durable fabric. “They can be moved easily and they make it easier for everyone to stand up and move around,” says Skinner. “Kids can play a board game on one and adults can put a cocktail on the other. You could even sit on them.”
A sofa table matches the height of the sectional, while an end table with a distressed finish supports a chair. “It’s light enough to put next to the sofa,” she says.Balance and scale are key for pieces like these. “A rectangular table could also work with a sectional, especially with a nearby chair,” says Skinner. “You don’t want your coffee table to be wider than the frame of the sofa.”
Unexpected selections can be fun, like end tables with different heights. “If you put a taller object on the shorter one, that will balance them,” she says. “You can also choose a coffee table as an end table or vice versa.”
Skinner says tables with distressed finishes can be more forgiving. Glass is a low-maintenance option, while metals tend to be durable. Even a composite product like quartz or resin can top a coffee table. For upholstered pieces, popular materials include durable indoor/outdoor fabrics. The designer also likes vinyl for seating, especially in kitchens, because it is easy to clean.
Flexible work areas have become another consideration. “It might be a sofa table behind a sectional where you work on your laptop,” says Skinner. “There are so many workplaces in the home now. You might not require a chair with back support if you only spend a short amount of time there to check your email.”
Past meets present
Antique and vintage finds make unique seating and surfaces for the home. At Judy Frankel Antiques in Troy, the mid-century trend continues. “However, people are more open to mixing other furniture with that mid-century look because of the straight lines,” says owner Judy Frankel. “French and Italian Art Deco are coming back. They have the same sensibility and really good woods with clean lines.”
More traditional styles, such as Louis XVI pieces that feature mahogany and brass have been gaining popularity. “They’re very dressy,” she says.
To make these classics fit today’s needs, Frankel says it’s a matter of measurement and scale. For antique tables that might be lower than new varieties, you should always measure the height of the arms for an armchair.
Clever adjustments can solve some problems like the 19th-century English dining table Frankel has in her own home that wasn’t quite 28-inches high until she raised it with a piece of wood beneath the surface.
People often find new purposes for these coveted pieces like 18th- and 19th-century workbenches that become consoles or sofa tables. “Anything goes,” says Frankel, who also sells dining tables as desks. In that case, a console can be added behind the chair for storage.
The new Serena & Lily Birmingham Design Shop features a polished coastal aesthetic that takes a relaxed yet refined approach to furniture, decor and more. When it comes to seating and surfaces, Drew Rogers, design shop leader, considers lifestyle first. “A table for everyday kitchen dining would be different from a formal dining space,” he says. “Most people focus on aesthetic, but you want to know if it is going to scratch easily or leave a water mark.”
There has been an increased demand for durable materials. “Since the big shutdown, the past three years have really changed the mentality. People put that mindset and focus inside the home and the pandemic showed everybody how stuff wears,” he says. “There has been such a big shift from, ‘I want this to look pretty,’ to ‘I want this to be comfortable and to last.’”
That could be why upholstered dining chairs are having a moment. “So much of that shift right now is about comfort, and they offer a really nice opportunity to pick out stellar performance fabrics,” says Rogers. “They also bring some texture into a dining space.”
For family rooms, large-scale ottomans can make great coffee tables. Whatever surface you choose should be about 12 to 16 inches from the front edge of a sofa or sectional. “I like it to be a little closer because I like to put my feet up,” says Rogers about the upholstered bench in his home that can also support a laptop like his nesting end tables.
Martini tables can go between accent chairs to hold a drink or two. “They are great when you don’t have a ton of space and they are usually light enough to move from room to room,” he says.
“Versatility is everything when maximizing seating and surface areas. You can use an end table as a nightstand and vice versa or a dresser as a media piece or a dining buffet. An outdoor bistro table can be the perfect game table.”
Classic armchairs offer flexibility as well. “They can be a computer chair, a dining chair or a bedroom accent chair,” says Rogers.
Lastly, he adds, “Don’t be afraid to use ottomans as coffee tables with a tray. There is so much function in all of these pieces for that everyday real-life home.”
Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at email@example.com.