How to seat a crowd when space is tight

A room designed by Brian Patrick Flynn in his home in Iceland showcases how an armless banquette takes up less visual space.
A room designed by Brian Patrick Flynn in his home in Iceland showcases how an armless banquette takes up less visual space.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • How do you add more seating to your family room when you have friends over for a dinner - and there are not enough places to sit before you move to the dining room?

Here are some suggestions by Brian Patrick Flynn, a designer and television producer who is the founder and president of Flynnside Out Productions in Atlanta in the United States.


Although it may seem counter-intuitive, Flynn says to go as big as possible when choosing pieces for a small space.

In a 3.6m-by-4.2m 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 cut up," says Flynn, whose work has been featured on HGTV.

He adds: "A sectional adds less things to a room and makes it seem less cluttered and more open."


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.


Go with pieces that feel coordinated but are not 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.


Flynn prefers neutral colours on larger furniture, such as sofas and sectionals, adding interest through texture instead. He suggests linen, wool boucle or aged leather for upholstered pieces.


Ideally, you will be able to test pieces by sitting on them in a store before buying. But it is 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 attention to the material used in cushions on upholstered pieces.

Cushions stuffed with poly-fill tend to be stiff initially and do not hold up over time, tending to give and sag, he says.

He recommends choosing furniture with down or down-poly blend filling, which will have more cushion from the start and last longer.


Flynn identified three versatile and maybe unexpected pieces that can boost your family room's seating capacity and recommended a few stylish options in each category.

Extra dining-area seating can also add options for accommodating guests.

Flynn likes stackable chairs that do not look like the standard metal or plastic seats that are seen in schools and meeting spaces.

They can be stashed in a closet and pulled out for extra seating anywhere you need it.

"Never underestimate the power of the pouf," Flynn says.

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.

Finally, Flynn says banquettes and other armless three-seaters can transform a wall in your home that might otherwise be wasted space.

They can be used as comfortable seating for conversation. You can also pair them with a small dining table to create a gaming area, breakfast nook or craft space in your family room.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2019, with the headline 'How to seat a crowd when space is tight'. Print Edition | Subscribe