Comfort comes next
Once the big questions of location, layout, and lighting are settled, it’s time to move to the ergonomics of the seat itself. There is no need to reinvent the seat. You might start with a bit of empirical research, trying out restaurant booths until you find a comfortable one, then measuring it. If you don’t find one quickly, this method could get expensive, though enjoyable as long as the food is better than the seating.
There is a lot of anthropometric data out there. Because a lot of industries depend on it, I was surprised to find that not much solid information is available online. The American Institute of Architects’ Architectural Graphic Standards
, 11th ed. (Wiley & Sons, 2007), probably has enough to get you started on a comfortable design, but the best source I know of is Humanscale 1/2/3
(MIT Press, 1974). This portfolio contains a booklet with anthropometric measurements, a comprehensive list of seating-design considerations, a discussion of design requirements for the handicapped and elderly, and three pictorial selectors containing rotary dials that give specific dimensions for designing for people of various sizes. Unfortunately, it is now out of print. The drawing below shows how I applied Humanscale
dimensions to a particular project.
If you plan to use seat cushions, 1-in. to 2-in. of firm padding is plenty. Don’t lower the seat by much, because the foam will compress. Lumbar support is an important feature for long-term seating comfort, but I usually ignore it for built-ins. Properly curved lumbar support would require bending plywood or horizontal slats (coopered or butted) for the back rest. Throw pillows are simpler and more cost-effective.
After arriving at a design in cross section, make a mock-up about 24-in. wide. (I did this for the seat shown in "A Built-In Corner Seating Nook
" from FHB
#225.) I had started with a seat pitch of 5°. However, test sitters found the seat more comfortable when angled back about 5° more, so I adjusted the angle.
Once you have a comfortable seat, consider storage. The table usually will make access to any space under the seat a bit awkward, so it’s better to make the access from the ends. If that does not work for your layout, try drawers under the seat. A lift-up seat is easier to build but awkward to use. The space behind the seat backs is usually easier to get to, and the seat backs can be doors that are hinged on the sides or at the bottom. If there is enough room, the seat backs can be made deeper to accommodate more storage. If your seat makes a diagonal corner in a square room, a corner cabinet behind it can hold a lot of stuff.