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Designers: Maximize Entertaining Seating

  • This undated photo provided by Kyle Schuneman shows party seating in a living room in a townhouse in Santa Monica, Calif. The cowhide ottoman functions normally as a coffee table but for parties the tray is removed for extra seating. The two Eames stools work well for impromtu seating and garden stool next to the chair can be used either as a seat or surface for drinks. (AP Photo/Kyle Schuneman, Joe Schmelzer)

    This undated photo provided by Kyle Schuneman shows party seating in a living room in a townhouse in Santa Monica, Calif. The cowhide ottoman functions normally as a coffee table but for parties the tray is removed for extra seating. The two Eames stools work well for impromtu seating and garden stool next to the chair can be used either as a seat or surface for drinks. (AP Photo/Kyle Schuneman, Joe Schmelzer)

  • In this undated photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn, for extra seating, especially during the holidays, interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn often incorporates benches into spaces which can serve as decoration most of the time, but be pulled out to accommodate guests when entertaining as seen in this living room. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Christina Wedge)

    In this undated photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn, for extra seating, especially during the holidays, interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn often incorporates benches into spaces which can serve as decoration most of the time, but be pulled out to accommodate guests when entertaining as seen in this living room. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Christina Wedge)

  • In this undated photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn, when designing living rooms for clients who entertain heavily around the holidays, designer Brian Patrick Flynn often pairs sofas with swivel chairs which allow for easy conversation in any direction, as well as coffee tables which can double as benches, and occasional tables which also work as stools as seen here. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Christina Wedge)

    In this undated photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn, when designing living rooms for clients who entertain heavily around the holidays, designer Brian Patrick Flynn often pairs sofas with swivel chairs which allow for easy conversation in any direction, as well as coffee tables which can double as benches, and occasional tables which also work as stools as seen here. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Christina Wedge)

  • This undated photo provided by Kyle Schuneman shows party seating in a living room in a townhouse in Santa Monica, Calif. The cowhide ottoman functions normally as a coffee table but for parties the tray is removed for extra seating. The two Eames stools work well for impromtu seating and garden stool next to the chair can be used either as a seat or surface for drinks. (AP Photo/Kyle Schuneman, Joe Schmelzer)
  • In this undated photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn, for extra seating, especially during the holidays, interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn often incorporates benches into spaces which can serve as decoration most of the time, but be pulled out to accommodate guests when entertaining as seen in this living room. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Christina Wedge)
  • In this undated photo provided by Brian Patrick Flynn, when designing living rooms for clients who entertain heavily around the holidays, designer Brian Patrick Flynn often pairs sofas with swivel chairs which allow for easy conversation in any direction, as well as coffee tables which can double as benches, and occasional tables which also work as stools as seen here. (AP Photo/Brian Patrick Flynn, Christina Wedge)

The joy of home entertaining at the holidays often comes with a challenge: How do you provide enough seating for a roomful of holiday revelers with just a sofa and a few chairs? Are there creative options besides resorting to folding chairs?

Los Angeles-based interior designer Betsy Burnham frequently hears from clients who want help solving this puzzle.

“People are doing more home entertaining than ever,” Burnham says, so they want to design their living space to accommodate guests easily. For those without huge rooms, that can be challenging.

Here, Burnham and designers Brian Patrick Flynn and Kyle Schuneman offer advice on maximizing seating without sacrificing style.

Stealth Seating

“I’m a big fan of vintage ottomans, stools and sturdy side tables like stumps for this exact purpose,” says Schuneman, author of The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces. These pieces can work as tables or storage surfaces, he says, then occasionally serve “as extra seating for game nights or casual gatherings around the coffee table.”

Benches can work the same way. Schuneman suggests buying two benches that coordinate nicely with the decor of your living room, and then placing them at the foot of beds in your home.

When extra seating is needed, “you can easily pull them out for the holidays and bigger dinners,” he says. “And you have a cohesive looking space, as opposed to a bunch of stuff you just pulled from around the garage.”

Flynn, founder and editor of decordemon.com, uses ottomans in a similar way. “What I often do is use an upholstered or hardy wood storage ottoman on casters instead of a coffee table in the sofa area,” he says. “Inside the storage ottoman, I keep floor cushions. When it’s time for guests, the ottoman can be wheeled just about anywhere as extra seating, and the floor cushions allow guests to lounge.”

Burnham points out that using ottomans or benches may be more appropriate in a casual family room or great room than in a more formal living room. But even for formal spaces, an elegant ottoman can work: “Done well, it’s a beautiful way to bring another fabric into your space,” she says.

Chairs From Elsewhere

Flynn often uses a mixture of different chairs and benches at a dining room table year-round, rather than a matching set. The look is stylish, and when chairs need to be brought into a living room for a party, they don’t necessarily look like they’re been taken from the dining room set. The mix can include “a three-seater bench, squatty stools, armless chairs, six chairs and a pair of wingbacks at each end,” he says.

The Right Sofa

Pay attention to size and depth when choosing a sofa, Burnham says. “A standard-size sofa is 7 feet. If you have three seat cushions, people sit in a pristine way in their cushion,” she says, and you’ll be limited to a maximum of three guests on your sofa. She prefers “sofas that have bench seams, so that it’s one big seat,” making it more likely that four guests might use the space.

Longer sofas offer additional seating, but Flynn says they’re best used in what he calls a “floating space plan,” where two identical long sofas are placed across from one another in the center of a room, rather than having one sofa against a wall. They need to be “balanced with an extra-long coffee table,” he says.

If you have extra space after choosing your sofa, Burnham suggests focusing on adding chairs to your living room rather than a loveseat. Although loveseats seem to offer more seating than chairs, they are often occupied by just one person. “A loveseat’s a tough one,” she says, “because I don’t think people want to be super physically close” at parties.

Folding and Stacking

“Folding chairs are often eyesores,” Flynn says, so he prefers chairs that can be stacked when not in use. “My favorite stacking chair is the Emeco Navy chair. It’s super light, maybe 7 pounds or so, and it’s classic in design. When not in use, stack them seven high in a closet and you’ll never know they’re there.”

Burnham and Schuneman have each found a few types of stylish folding chairs, but they tend to come with higher price tags.

She favors black bamboo folding chairs for rooms with a more traditional style, and has used clear Lucite folding chairs in more modern living rooms.

Planning carefully, shopping well and using a little DIY creativity are the keys to solving any holiday seating dilemma, says Schuneman.

“I always tell people to buy pieces that can move throughout your home,” he says, “so that chair in the guest room can come into the living room, and that bench in the bathroom could double as an extra surface for gifts or what not. If you purchase pieces in your home that work throughout, it really maximizes your potential.”