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Maximizing seating aids entertaining

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By Melissa Rayworth
Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

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: Use ottomans, stools and sturdy side tables. These pieces can work as tables or storage surfaces, then occasionally serve as extra seating for game nights or casual gatherings around the coffee table. Benches can work the same way.

Chairs from elsewhere: Use 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. Or, bring in your outdoor seating and deliberately mix it in with the indoor pieces. The juxtaposition can be nice, plus you can coordinate them with similar colored cushions or accessories.

The right sofa: Pay attention to size and depth when choosing a sofa. A standard-size sofa is 7 feet. If you have three seat cushions, people sit in a pristine way in their cushion, and you'll be limited to a maximum of three guests on your sofa. But sofas that have bench seams offer 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.

Folding and stacking: “Folding chairs are often eyesores,” Flynn says, so he prefers chairs that can be stacked when not in use.

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 from Ballard Designs (about $100) for rooms with a more traditional style, and has used clear Lucite folding chairs (“kind of like the Philippe Starck ghost chairs”) in more modern living rooms.

Schuneman likes the fabric-covered “terai” folding chairs from Anthropologie (about $200), and suggests they can serve as a “great inspiration point for a DIY project.” Try recovering the cushion of an old upholstered folding chair “in some beautiful fabric that works in your room,” he says.

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

“I always tell people to buy pieces that can move throughout your home,” he says.

Melissa Rayworth is a staff writer for the Associated Press.

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