Create coziness by adding built-in seating to room design

Don’t you just want to move into this picture and stay awhile? A squashy cushion snuggled below a window, hopefully with a little view, never fails to attract everyone from toddlers to a sleepy grandpa! It seems that the powerful draw of a window seat is universal.

Built-in seating always looks warm and inviting. What makes it actually comfortable is getting a few critical measurements just right. First, know that when your window seat has the glass of a window as a back, it is not going to be comfortable unless you provide several sturdy throw pillows as a cushion. If not, then you will need to use the spot for reclining instead of sitting.

Next, know that normal seat height is 18 to 20 inches including a cushion. You would be wise to work backward and deduct the thickness of your seat cushion from the finished height. In other words if you build the wood support at 16 inches above the finished floor, the upholstered cushion can only be 3 to 4 inches thick. If you desire a more plush and ample cushion, figure on that thickness and deduct it from your finished height.

What makes this kitchenette alluring is that in addition to the window seat, the tiny dining table uses the other built-in seating to accommodate another diner or two. The second critical dimension for functional seating is the overall depth of the seat. Know that 16 to 18 inches is the normal distance from the front edge of the seat to the back. Do not leave this fine-tuning to a craftsman’s discretion, and make certain that you discuss in great detail exactly what the finished dimensions will be before you have anything custom-made. It is easy to assume that a cabinetmaker should know how to make a banquette or a window seat, but double-check to safeguard your ultimate satisfaction.

Banquettes generally include at least one built-in bench like the one on the left side of the round cafe table here. They can snuggle into alcoves or attach to a wall and project in perpendicular direction into a space. Take care when using chairs with arms to make sure they will slip under the tabletop. Standard height for a dining table is 30 inches. Double-check arm height before buying any chairs, so there won’t be a disappointment in how you can use your armchairs.

Window seats can be charming in living rooms, dens, bedrooms and family rooms. I once designed one in a lavish powder bathroom that I am fairly certain never got used. If you intend to create function in addition to the romantic look, follow the guidelines outlined above. If you have the space to make a window seat in a bedroom as deep as a twin mattress, you might be able to create guest sleeping accommodations. Standard twin sheet size is about 38 inches wide by 75 inches long. Consider adding a memory-foam mattress topper under the fitted sheet for superior comfort, or use a memory-foam mattress instead of standard foam fill under your upholstery fabric.

With a little study and planning, it is possible to turn a charismatic feature into a space-saving and efficient addition to a space. If you have an awkward space in your home, consider turning it into a spot like the one you see here. Or imagine a built-in bed for your favorite pet in the mudroom or family room that will take up half of the room.•

   Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of “Small Space Living.” Send questions and comments to her by email at The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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