Q: We’d love advice on adding more seating to our family room. We love the large windows and comfortable space to read, relax and watch TV. But when we have friends over for a dinner, there’s not enough places to sit before we move to the dining room. I’d love your advice on how to add more seating.
A: You are not alone. When space is at a premium (or the budget is tight), it can be tough to find creative ways to accommodate guests comfortably. To get some ideas, I spoke to Brian Patrick Flynn, a designer and television producer who is the founder and president of Flynnside Out Productions in Atlanta. Here’s what he said.
Think big: First off, though it may seem counterintuitive, Flynn says to go as big as possible when choosing pieces for a small space. In a 12-by-14-foot living area, for example, a large sectional can be the perfect way to include lots of seating.
“If you use a lot of small stuff, it can feel kind of piecey and cut up,” says Flynn, whose work has been featured on HGTV. “A sectional adds less things to a room and makes it seem less cluttered and more open.” Modular seating is particularly useful for growing families. A sectional with pieces that can be added and removed will better adjust to fit your needs at different stages of your life.
Forget the armchairs: When choosing chairs for a small room, Flynn suggests looking for something without arms, such as a slipper chair, because it will take up less visual space and make the room feel larger.
Don’t get matchy-matchy: Go with pieces that feel coordinated but aren’t a matched set, Flynn says, to make the space look as though it was decorated thoughtfully over time, rather than during a single trip to a big-box furniture store.
Play with textures and patterns: Flynn prefers neutral colors on larger furniture, such as sofas and sectionals, bringing in interest with texture instead. He suggests considering linen, wool boucle or aged leather for upholstered pieces. If you want to add some color or pattern to your space, experiment with fabrics on upholstered dining chairs, which have a much smaller surface area and aren’t as overwhelming as, say, a plaid sectional would be. Storage ottomans are another place to sneak in a bright color or bold pattern without it taking over the space, and they can do double duty as a coffee table or extra seating.
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Pay attention to what’s inside: Ideally, you will be able to test pieces by actually sitting on them in a store before buying. But it’s hard to resist the convenience - and in some cases the prices - of online retailers. Whether you are buying in person or from a website, Flynn suggests paying careful attention to the material used in cushions on upholstered pieces. Cushions stuffed with poly-fill tend to be very stiff initially and don’t hold up over time, tending to give and sag, Flynn says. He recommends choosing furniture with down or down-poly blend filling, which will have more cushion from the start and last longer. But if you’re looking for a quick solution for a dorm room or a short-term apartment, it may make sense to go with a poly-filled cushion, because they tend to be cheaper than down-filled options.
Flynn identified three particularly versatile - and maybe unexpected - pieces that can boost your family room’s seating capacity, and recommended a few stylish options in each category. Here are his picks.
Extra dining-area seating can also add options for accommodating guests. Flynn likes stackable chairs that don’t look like the standard metal or plastic seats we have all seen in schools and meeting spaces. They can be stashed in a closet and pulled out for extra seating anywhere you need it.
He suggests Linco solid wood dining chairs ($74.99 each) and Sling dining chairs ($199 each), both from AllModern.
“Never underestimate the power of the pouf,” Flynn says. He likes them because they are relatively inexpensive, small and versatile. And though 10 years ago they were fairly limited to shaggy or bohemian styles, they now come in lots of styles, colors and materials to fit any design aesthetic. He suggests grouping several poufs in front of a sofa, where they can be used as a coffee table or pulled apart for seating when you are entertaining. Or have a couple stashed under a console table that you can pull out when you need them.
Flynn likes the Koby sphere pouf ($67.99) and the Bolin leather pouf ($155.99), both available at Wayfair.
Finally, Flynn says banquettes and other armless three-seaters can transform a wall in your home that otherwise might be wasted space. They can be used as comfortable seating for conversation. You can also try pairing them with a small dining table to create a gaming area, breakfast nook or craft space in your family room. Custom is always ideal, he says, to get the best fit and maximize your space. But retailers also sell standard upholstered banquettes.
Flynn suggests the Sawyer straight-back tufted linen upholstered bench ($706.04) and the Cuenca love seat bench ($425.60), both from Overstock.