Pullout tables are a fitting eat-in solution for small kitchens. The Hallmark model ($2,000) from Wood-Mode sits completely concealed behind a false drawer front until it slides into action.
What Works Best for What
Nearly every kitchen configuration lends itself to some type of eat-in arrangement. For instance, while a narrow galley floor plan rules out a freestanding table, it's the perfect candidate for a space-saving pull-out table like the kind shown above. An L- or U-shaped plan could accommodate a peninsula extension at counter or table height. And if you have an island, you might be able to build up a breakfast bar along one or more of its edges. Of course, if you're planning to remodel, your options open up even more. For example, a windowed alcove at one end of the kitchen could be a sunny home to a banquette, a table incorporating built-in bench seating, shown below.
Banquettes are tailored to fit you and your kitchen. That's why they often cost more than other eat-in kitchen schemes. But the investment pays off in a number of ways. These build-in dining nooks can be the focus of the kitchen or, in an open plan, serve as a transitional area to an adjoining space. With a table-and-chairs setup for four commanding an area of about 220 sq. ft., where you locate your dining area is crucial. Don't site your dining spot where it will disrupt the flow of foot traffic. All legs of the work triangle—the well-traveled paths between the sink, cooktop and refrigerator —should be unobstructed. So should walkways to other parts of the house that pass through the kitchen.
Who Uses the Kitchen?
Other factors in balancing the eat-in equation are the ages, abilities and routines that make up your family profile. Consider not only your current situation but also events and changes in the years to come so your family can grow into the design.
Is there a baby in the picture? Make sure there's adequate floor space - at least 4 sq. ft. - for a high chair adjacent to the table. For youngsters, a booster seat bridges the gap between that high chair and full-size chairs. Older folks will appreciate seating that's easily accessible and stable, so skip the three-legged bar stools.
And if you're anticipating a gaggle of teenagers whose pace makes kitchens feel like a fast-food drive-through, consider an open-ended counter that allows meals to eaten as well as served on the fly.
How Will the Dining Space be Used?
Also think about how your eating area will function on a day-to-day basis. Then choose the materials that go into it accordingly. For example, if your dining space is likely to do double duty as a food-prep center, choose countertop surfaces made of butcher block or solid-core laminate rather than marble, which dulls knives, or tile, with its stain-prone grout.
Use the same technique when choosing lighting. If, for instance, you suspect a table or peninsula will be pressed into service as a homework station or auxiliary office, forgo the fluorescent fixture in favor of a more eye-friendly incandescent or halogen lamp.
And because convenience is at the heart of an eat-in kitchen, you'll want to have everyday dishes, glassware and flatware close at hand. Make sure there's sufficient storage within reach.
Once you've analyzed the functional fine points of your kitchen, you're ready to make some creative decisions. Among the designs explained on this page, at least one can be crafted to suit your style and needs.