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Create a comfy kitchen

Designer Patricia Fisher created this display in the

Designer Patricia Fisher created this display in the recent Inspired Designs showhouse. It features a chocolate-brown upholstered settee from Niermann Weeks, topped off with decorative pillows from Calypso in East Hampton. For kitchen-friendly comfort and scale, Fisher likes small club chairs at the ends of the table. Credit: /Dave Sanders

It's as certain as death and taxes: If you're having guests, no matter the occasion, everyone will wind up in the kitchen.

You can't escape it, so just embrace it, says Manhattan and Hamptons interior designer Patricia Fisher, who owns a house in East Hampton.

"Let's quit pretending we have live-in help and admit we're all hanging out in the kitchen because that's where the food is, that's where it's all happening," she says.

That's the attitude behind a decorating trend that's blurring the line between kitchens and family rooms. "The kitchen has become the new den," says Port Washington-based designer Keith Baltimore.

This kitchen-den fusion can take many forms, from adding a simple window seat to constructing a sprawling space with a designated family zone. "That's where couches and chairs come in, and maybe a TV, and of course, the fireplace or a bay window," says Bridgehampton architect and designer Kathryn Fee.

To expand your kitchen without adding onto your house (and your tax bill), Baltimore suggests stealing space from the oft-ignored formal dining room and giving it new life in a kitchen remodel. "It's the best real estate in the house, and nobody goes into the room," he says. As literal walls come down, so do figurative ones, with a surprising result: The new space, though larger, feels much more intimate. "There's a decrease of formality in the home," Baltimore says.

To give your kitchen a more den-like feel without the renovations, plump up the seating around the table, suggests Denyse Rinfret, an interior designer from Manhasset who specializes in this type of kitchen. For a creative look that encourages lounging, Rinfret says, "Mix it up." Try using a padded bench with pillows along one side, conventional dining chairs on the other and cushioned wicker seats at each end, says Rinfret, whose design firm also operates out of New York City.

Read on for a sampling of the many faces of the kitchen-cum-comfort zone.

USE A SETTEE

Fisher's display in the recent Inspired Designs showhouse in Manhattan featured a chocolate-brown upholstered settee from Niermann Weeks, topped off with decorative pillows from Calypso in East Hampton to add comfort and glamour. "I like a settee to be particularly deep, so you can have enough pillows that you can sit up for eating" or sink in for relaxing, Fisher says. For kitchen-friendly comfort and scale, Fisher likes small club chairs at the ends of the table.

THROW IN A WING CHAIR

"I really feel strongly that a kitchen should be more than a kitchen. It should be a place where people can be comfortable, gather and be encouraged to stay," Rinfret says. "When my kids are in the kitchen, that's where we get most of the talking done. It's a less intimidating atmosphere." Her own kitchen is designed for serious lounging. "I prefer wing chairs, so people can lean back and throw a leg over the side of it," she says. Rinfret shows how to make a comfy kitchen beautiful in a display she created for the 2007 Hampton Designer Showhouse in Bridgehampton.

UPHOLSTER IT

Designer Mercedes Courland of Roslyn Harbor says larger-scale upholstered seating has become almost a must in today's high-end kitchens. "The kitchens are so much more opulent that the furniture has to be upgraded to the caliber of the cabinetry," she says. Courland says after she designed this red sofa for her own kitchen, guests spend so much time in there, she could almost do without the rest of the house. "It's the best thing I ever did," she says. "We couldn't live without it at this point."

CREATE AN AREA

Even in a comfy kitchen, "I think you need a little bit of the stainless and sterility for the function," Fisher says. "There's nothing prettier to me than a stainless refrigerator or dishwasher front. It adds some sparkle, kind of like jewelry." Form and function peacefully coexist in this Water Mill kitchen, designed by S.R. Gambrel at this new Joe Farrell house. Sleek stainless appliances and cool white cabinets by Ciuffo Cabinetry are warmed up by the cozy seating area.

GO FOR CUSHIONS

"One thing that's very trendy is putting the banquette into your kitchen," says Centerport interior designer Patti Johnston. "It takes up less room, and it's so cozy, it's hard to get people out of the kitchen," says Johnston, who owns Patti Johnston Designs. If you don't want the permanence of a built-in banquette, a cushioned bench or settee can serve the same function without the commitment. A pedestal table will make it easier to slide in and out than one with four legs. In designer Eileen Kathryn Boyd's Huntington kitchen, shown here, pretty pillows in feminine colors make for a soft, serene setting.

TIPS FOR CREATING A COMFY KITCHEN

Without a homeowner's financial constraints, and with no threat of red wine ever dripping onto the upholstery, Fisher was free to design a stunning space for the Inspired Designs Showcase. But she says she's happy to dish on how to bring the look home and make it work in the real world - budgets, spills and all.

Size it up

"You want to make sure things aren't too large or small," Fisher says. For accurate room planning, she swears by grid paper. "You don't have to be an architect to learn how to use it. Scale it to the exact room size. Then you can actually even cut out, with more grid paper, a table, chairs, a settee or banquette, and set it into the space, and fully count out the boxes to see how large the pieces are."

Shop smart

"I used fairly pricey items in this room," says Fisher, whose display included a $5,000 upholstered settee and two $5,000 upholstered chairs. But for everyday use, she'd make a few modifications. "It doesn't have to be an expensive piece of furniture," she says. "You can achieve the same look by shopping at Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma. The key is to measure first, have a plan and shop carefully."

Spill-proof it

"Make sure the colors and fabric are forgiving as far as staining," Fisher says. One trick is to have the seats upholstered with materials designed for outdoor furniture. "There are a lot of wonderful outdoor fabrics that are available today." Fisher says they're nearly stain-proof and are "just beautiful." If you go with indoor fabrics, protect them with a spray such as Scotchgard, she adds.

MORE TIPS FROM DESIGNER PATRICIA FISHER

Patricia Fisher's kitchen design commemorated Audrey Hepburn for Inspired Designs: A Showhouse Celebrating Extraordinary Women, which ran in New York City from October through early December and benefited The Breast Cancer Research Foundation founded by Evelyn H. Lauder. Here's how she created the high-end look - and how you can copy it for a steal.

A Cheaper settee: Fisher used a $5,000 chocolate-brown upholstered settee from Niermann Weeks, but says a pricey piece isn't necessary to achieve this look. One word of advice about using a settee in a real kitchen: "You should choose one without arms so you can slide in and out."

The Pinzo Torrington Armless Settee in bark fits the bill. It's available for $699 at Amazon.com.

>>Find the settee online here

Add some pillows: Decorative pillows from Calypso in East Hampton add comfort and glamour to Fisher's show space. The center pillow costs $275; the other two cost $175 each.

You can also pad your seating without padding your costs: The Marlin pillow in cream silk dupion fabric is available at homedecorators.com for $49.

>>Find the pillow online here

Find reasonably priced chairs: The two upholstered chairs in the show space are from John Boone Inc. and cost $5,000 apiece. But Fisher scouted out one at Restoration Hardware. It's on sale for $340.

>>Find the chair online here

Cost-cutting tricks for bar stools: The Nancy Corzine bar stools in Fisher's show room run $4,500 a pop. "They're upholstered in a very light, creamy leather," says Fisher. But she offers this cost-cutting trick: "If I were to use faux leather, you'd never know the difference. There are some fabulous faux leathers available, and ultra-suedes, that are very stain-resistant. All the big fabric houses have them." Fisher estimates these fabrics run about $40 to $80 a yard, and that you'd need one yard per bar stool. By comparison, "If you did it with leather, a hide is sold by the square foot and could cost into the thousands."

Delmar High-Back Swivel Counter Stool with cherry-finished solid hardwood legs is plush, pretty and not too pricey at $199-$219 from homedecorators.com.

>>Find the bar stools online here

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