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Folding chairs can be a stylish way to make room for guests

The Upton Expandable Dining Table has a leaf that stores in the table itself.
The Upton Expandable Dining Table has a leaf that stores in the table itself.
Published Dec. 12, 2014

A dining table that can extend, extra folding chairs to seat more guests — it's the time of year when flexible furniture can save a big family meal. We asked the pros for their top furniture advice for holiday hosting.

The most important thing to remember, says Haymarket, Va.-based designer Paola McDonald, is that you need to be as flexible as your furniture. Whether you're hosting a crowd in a small space or trying to make a cavernous room feel intimate, the secret sauce is in your ability to rethink furniture function and room layout. "Think about the type of party you're having and how you want it to flow, and then move your furniture accordingly," she said. "It doesn't have to stay where it is all the time."

Andrew Law, a designer in Washington, says that sometimes, when you're having a large party, you actually need to remove furniture from a space: "Don't be afraid to tuck a couple upholstered chairs in another room." Benches can become seating for cocktail conversations, bar carts can become dessert stations, fabric covers can class up folding chairs. Smart, multifunctional furniture: That's something we can raise a glass to.

Folding chairs

Folding chairs are the best solution for hosting large holiday gatherings, and there are a surprising number of attractive options. If you want to dress up standard metal folding chairs, though, try Parsons-style slipcovers, which McDonald says can be tied in the back or arranged for a relaxed look.

Examples:

Ballard Designs' Ballroom Folding Chairs, in black, wood, gold or weathered white, are like nice reception chairs, only foldable for storage ($239 for a set of two, ballarddesigns.com).

Izzy Million has been making folding chairs since 1930. Today's models feature such finishes as ikat fabric, brightly colored leather and even python. But, you can't go wrong with classic black leather ($150, izzymillion.com).

Even if you host dinner parties often, "you only want so many chairs in your dining room" on a regular basis, Law says. The embroidered Terai Folding Chair is attractive enough to be an everyday chair — and then tuck a couple away for guests ($198, anthropologie.com).

m Lacquer finishes on Crate and Barrel's Spare Folding Chairs boost the sophistication of a standard folding chair ($50, crateandbarrel.com).

Table with room to grow

Small dining rooms can benefit from extension tables, which add extra seating when needed, or gate-leg tables, which can be used alone, pulled up to another table, or folded down into a console or buffet, "providing additional serving space for appetizers or dinner items," McDonald said. For DIY types, Law suggests getting a piece of plywood cut larger than your tabletop and covering it with a nice linen.

Examples:

m The leaf in the Upton Expandable Dining Table, made of ash wood and rosewood veneer, stores in the table itself, so there is no need to find a place to store it. ($999, westelm.com).

The Span White Gateleg Table can shrink from 65 1/2 inches wide to a trim 9 1/2 inches when not being used as a dining table, making it a good size for a console, too ($299, crateandbarrel.com).

Small versatile tables

Don't feel like you have to seat everyone at one table. A smaller round table can create a more intimate space within the room or serve as a spot for desserts.

It can also come in handy beyond entertaining season. "When you have a really large dining room, you feel compelled to use it only when you're hosting a large amount of people," Law said. But if you set up more than one seating area or place a round or oval table in front of a window, "it gives you more permission to use the room on a more regular basis."

Examples:

It's easier to squeeze in another chair around a table that's round than one that's square or rectangular, McDonald said, such as the Aero Round Dining Table ($1,395-$1,795, restoration hardware.com).

The Shaker-inspired Adams Round Extension Table, when closed, hosts a meal for four and for six when opened ($1,499, roomandboard.com).

Nontraditional seating

To squeeze in even more people at a dining table than possible with folding chairs, consider benches or settees.

Law loves a hosted dinner for 20, but he says that many people also enjoy an informal buffet. "Have your guests sit around your home on sofas, chairs, ottomans and benches," he said. "It gives the evening more spontaneity." (Just make sure to offer large napkins for covering laps!)

"A dining room has a lot of hard furnishings, so bring in some sort of settee or upholstered bench that lets people linger after dinner," Law said. "It's comfortable, it brings in more color and fabrics, and it makes dinner more approachable."

Examples:

, The Blue Paige Bench adds softness with linen-viscose upholstery and lightness with its distressed finish ($280, worldmarket.com).

The streamlined but solid Branch Bench can pull up to a table or be moved to offer extra seating elsewhere ($499, hivemodern.com).