If you're short on space but need to build a dining area, a custom banquette could be the right solution. These upholstered benches can take the form of couch and be somewhat moveable, but in most cases they are fixed or built into a home. It is this “built in” nature that poses the most challenges.
Spacing and scale
One design parameter that makes a banquette “work” is the space between it and the dining table. When sitting at a table, there is an ideal distance between the person and the table's edge, and this distance varies by the scale of the person and personal taste. As an average sized adult, I like to have about 4 or 5 inches between the table and me, while my preteen daughters like to have about ½ that space. A fixed seat or bench cannot be adjusted to fit family members and guests who vary in size, so spacing is the biggest challenge in designing the banquette layout. One way to address the problem is to build a banquette that only serves one or two sides of a table, and use chairs on the other side or sides.
Another spacing issue to consider is making room for an angled seat back. For a chair to be comfortable it needs to have a bit of angle beyond a basic 90 degrees. Dining chairs are often set with the chair back sloped at 3 to 5 degrees off the vertical. More casual seating with lounge chairs and couches are often set at 10 to 15 degrees from vertical.
Seating with storage
A banquette that is built in has a feature that regular chairs lack. That large boxy base can be used for storage. Granted it is not as handy as opening a cupboard door in the kitchen, but the space does work well for large, seldom used or seasonal items. At my cabin, this space houses our interior solar power components.
Building and installation
Since many of these installations are “custom”, the materials used can be quite varied and the design will vary from home to home. Here many opt to match the home’s existing décor so these seating options can range from simple painted panels to inlaid and raised panel construction using exotic or domestic hardwoods in solid stock, or with fancy grades of plywood.
Painted panels are often built from MDF and trimmed with standard moldings. These “prefab” styles are installed very much like regular kitchen base cabinets, with some heavy screws through the cabinet backs into the home’s framing. More complex and large versions can be built using raised panels built over a skeleton frame of 2x stock. In these cases, the individual panels may be assembled one at a time to this framework using trim carpentry methods. Once the “box” is in place, some type of cushion is in order. The “core” of these cushion is typically an open cell foam in thickness of 2” to 4” Higher density foam is used for the seat, with a light density for the seat backs (if present).
Designing and implementing a built-in banquette for your home can provide a new look. Getting the angles and spacing right will have you sitting comfortably.