Decorating a small space is usually more about function than fun. Reading and breakfast nooks are an occasional luxury. But a dining room? Dream on.
Not only is your kitchen counter your best bet for a makeshift dining area, it’s a social magnet: Even in homes with formal dining rooms, the counter is the hub of activity.
To make the most of that stationary slab, start with a stylish set of stools.
“It doesn’t matter how huge or tiny your home is, people will congregate in the kitchen,” says Marika Meyer, a Washington D.C., interior designer known for blending clean lines with feminine patterns and bold doses of color. “You might as well make it comfortable.”
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It’s clear why designers love decorating with stools: Extra seating is never a bad idea, and they can bring a splash of color or texture to a dull space without the commitment of hanging art or painting the walls. They subtly enhance a room much like a brightly patterned settee or accent chair, but stools are less aesthetically risky because they’re usually bought in pairs, which means the color or print will be naturally repeated.
For some playful color, try Aeon’s Galaxy stools, which are industrial, metal bistro stools in a range of summery hues such as lime and orange ($140 for a set of two, target.com).
Measurements are crucial when shopping for stools, and Meyer recommends leaving about 12 inches of space between the stool and the counter to keep guests comfortable (most counters measure 36 inches high, so look for stools that are around 24 inches). And remember, bar stools and counter stools are not the same; bar height is closer to 40 inches, which means bar stools will often be 28 to 30 inches high.
For spaces with kitchen islands, stools should slide right up to the counter’s edge. And be sure to mind the seat’s depth, especially if you’re planning to arrange seating between the island and a nearby wall. Round stools, or stools with rounded edges, come in handyhere because they let guests to swivel and face each other without feeling squished.
The Era Backless Counter Stool from Design Within Reach is simple yet sturdy ($150-$179, dwr.com), but may be too wide for some. Room and Board’s Tiffany Counter Stool is more expensive ($329, roomandboard.com) but comes in a clear, lucite plastic that can be handy for rooms that run the risk of looking cluttered.
Target’s Napa Distressed Counter Stools ($70, target.com) are just 10 inches deep and have a rustic feel. Home Depot carries a Chestnut Brody Scoop Seat stool by Carolina Cottage ($129 each, homedepot.com) for something more modern.
No room in the kitchen for seating? Try creating a makeshift counter in the living room with a high pub table. They typically measure 36 inches or higher, and take up about as much as space as a thin desk. Many come with a pair of matching stools that tuck underneath. Dorel Home Furnishings’ three-piece bar set ($165, sears.com) even includes open shelves for storage.
There’s a stool for pretty much any decorating style. Windsor-back stools (such as the Verona Arrow Back Stool, $176, overstock.com) are popular in traditional homes and look great in a room with a high ceiling. Saddle stools with perforated leather seats can look nice in a setting with more masculine design.
Meyer has a favorite, though: CB2’s acrylic Vapor stool ($189-$199, cb2.com) which she called “the miracle” stool for its ability to solve just about any decorating problem.
“It’s lightweight, elegant, yet also modern,” she said, “and it lets the space breathe. You can put three or four in a tight space and they just disappear.”