Small space counters shine design spotlight on kitchen stools

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      The kitchen used to be a place that was hidden away, a place where someone would labour away at the stove and sink. It was a mysterious room that food magically appeared from and dirty dishes disappeared into while visitors enjoyed themselves in the candlelit dining room.

      But all that’s changed radically. For one thing, thanks to celebrity chefs and the Food Network, cooking has come out of the closet, and it’s a skill everyone wants to show off. At the same time, the kitchen is becoming most homes’ gathering place—for making dinner, for entertaining, or for finishing up your office work.

      Now pair those trends with Vancouver’s ever-shrinking condo floor spaces and you see something really interesting happening. Urbanites are finding innovative ways to centre life around their counter and culinary pursuits—even when they don’t have any room at all for a dining table.

      “They’ll have enough room for a sofa but no dining space, so often the kitchen counter will become the dining space,” explains Jesper Langballe, general manager at Danish furniture importer Möbler (3351 Sweden Way, Richmond). “It’s simply because most condos nowadays are getting smaller and smaller and the kitchen is becoming a more and more central part of our lives.

      Möbler’s cool Diamond stool features wipable faux leather.

      “In Northern Europe, where they’ve been living this way for a long time, they actually have a name for this kind of kitchen being installed now in North America,” he adds. “They call them conversation kitchens. It’s where the family meets, where the homework gets done at the kitchen counter.”

      The biggest effect of all this is a boom in stylish, comfortable kitchen stools. Think upholstery, padding, hydraulics, chrome, and sleek lines.

      These aren’t the utilitarian, hard, backless barstools of old. If you and your guests are spending more time at your kitchen counter, you want to have higher-quality seating and make a style statement at the same time. And as Langballe points out, “You can’t put old-fashioned bar-stools into a hypermodern kitchen.”

      Langballe is seeing more and more people opt for a clean, white palette. Check out the Rachelle or Diamond, with their futuristic upholstered seats in white PU—a faux leather that wipes up easily with a damp cloth and mild soap solution. Now picture it with white quartz counters, white appliances, and a white glass backsplash.

      Langballe says another popular style is the Loft, a cool faux-leather style on a chrome trumpet base that features subtle walnut trim—a perfect tie-in for wood cabinets if you have them. It looks smart in basic white or black.

      Inspiration’s chic Cavalli counter stool features tufted white-leather seats and a space-saving C-shaped base.

      But Langballe reports the strongest colour trend for upholstered stools is grey, and of the store’s many new fabric styles, true blue and navy are also picking up strength.

      For the smallest of condos, look for styles with cutout seats or unobtrusive leg styles. At Möbler, look for the gorgeous, crescent-shaped Eve with the cutout back or the Simeon with its almost deco-flavoured shell-like cutout back, both in sleek PU. (Prices range from about $89 to $239.)

      Amid the large selection of contemporary counter stools over at Inspiration Furniture (1275 West 6th Avenue), we like the ultrachic Cavalli counter stool ($995), with its chunky, tufted white leather seat and a floating, C-shaped steel frame that makes it seem weightless when it’s tucked under a counter. For a more stripped-down, almost tech-y look, we like the versatility of the shop’s simple, airy Toro, with its steel-chrome base, swivel seat, adjustable height, and comfortable leather-covered seat ($1,395).

      At Moe’s Home Collection (1728 Glen Drive), assistant manager Irma Mele is noticing another trend to go along with the great-looking new stools. “A lot of homes are built with an island but we are getting a lot more of the freestanding bar tables in as well,” she tells the Straight. “A lot of the kitchens are long and narrow and sometimes it’s harder to find a dining-room table that will fit.”

      The solution? Slide a slim Riva bar table ($799) against that bit of wall at the end of your galley kitchen, with its brushed-steel legs and walnut or clean white top. Pair it with a couple of stools that slide neatly under it when it’s not in use. With its stainless-steel legs, the half-swivel upholstered Giro ($399) makes a nice match, in wipeable white, grey, or black faux leather. For tighter fits, Mele recommends the almost backless, space-age-curvy white and chrome Cain ($280), with its metal footrest.

      Moe’s elegant Pippa features old-school silver upholstery studs and solid oak bistro-style legs.

      Moe’s has a number of more traditional upholstered stools, too. Check out the almost winged Pippa ($465), elegant in grey cotton, and old-school silver upholstery studs, with solid oak bistro-style legs. Mele says more and more customers are mixing styles and eras, and the new kitchen areas are no different.

      Still not convinced you want to sit high on your perch to enjoy dinner and drinks? We have one more innovative solution for a tight condo where you have to eat at the counter. In the showroom at Solterra’s new Milano apartment-and-townhome development (4247 Lougheed Highway, Burnaby), designer Phyllis Lui and her team have installed unique tables that can extend from the counter.

      “We wanted to add another element of flexibility for people,” she explains. “Everybody’s entertaining a lot more, and these islands need a lot more functionality.”

      In the smaller suite, a table pulls out of the end of the island for a little, lower dining area—enough to seat two and a place where you can eat or work on your laptop. Lui has put the white pullout with two bright-blue upholstered dining chairs. In bigger suites, the island has a flip-up that becomes a dining table that can fit four comfortably off the long front of the island—dark wood in the show suite, with intricately detailed gold chairs.

      “You can still have your little dining area and can yet have a decent-size living area,” Lui says. “It’s different than just having an overhang.”

      So whether they’re sitting high or sitting low, condo dwellers are keeping the kitchen party alive and well.

      Follow Janet Smith on Twitter @janetsmitharts.