How do you feel about people stopping by? Whether it’s a pop-in for a glass of wine or a casual Sunday family dinner in the Newport Beach bungalow where she and her husband live, interior designer Denise Morrison loves it. (And she’s not judge-y if you are one of those people who might “prefer an advance call” before someone stops by your place.) She’s always ready. She’s got the stools, poufs, benches and ottomans tucked away, ready to pull out to make her guests feel welcome. “It’s one of the things no one really thinks about in advance,” Morrison says. “Every space can use extra seating.”
Even without guests, dual-purpose seats make a room more functional. “I like to put my feet up on things,” she says. “That’s how I live.”
Morrison started decorating homes two decades ago when her four sons were settled in school and she wanted to turn her passion into a business. Three years ago, she opened House of Morrison at 1801 Westcliff Drive in Newport Beach to offer her “warm modern” furniture designs and accessories to the public.
Her store is now stocked with secondary seating and other ways to make the pop-in more comfortable — for everyone. She designed a wood “cufflink” that hugs the arm of a sofa to allow a glass or plate to rest. She’s also a big fan of stain-resistant Crypton fabric and is excited to pour a dark cola on a beige ottoman to show me how the fabric rejects it, adding that all her design work has a “you-could-live-here feel.”
As for eating a meal while balancing a plate on your lap? “I personally like eating at a table,” Morrison says. “There’s something so civilized about not sitting in front of the TV throwing food in your mouth.”
We tagged along as Morrison scoped out stools, poufs, benches, cork tables, terrazzo and ceramic garden stools, and ottomans to perch on — and to have just in case.
Aside from the obvious benefit of extra places to sit, what’s so great about secondary seating?
Stools balance a space, they work for conversation, you can enlarge a space by six people or create a coziness you can’t really get with more furniture. Also, it’s an opportunity for a huge statement without a huge investment. You can take a risk and do something loud or colorful or patterned.
You seem partial to wood stools.
They give you flexibility. You can put a tray with drinks on them. But wood does warm up everything. Like a bathroom — they tend to be sterile — warm it up with a wood stool by the tub.
How can someone who’s not a designer choose extra seats that will look good?
Think about what you have in your space.If it’s a lot of wood or hard surfaces like stone, then look for softer, upholstered pieces. If you have a lot of upholstery, like fabric chairs, think about a wood bench or stools. Look for that balance; it shouldn’t be all one way or the other.
What’s your feeling about poufs — those round ottomans?
Love poufs. A pouf can be so many great things. They’re kind of Moroccan. You can pull them in for seating, great to perch on, great for your feet; you can do them in a fun color or fabric. They’re kind of playful, they’re soft, so great in a kids playroom. I just wouldn’t overuse them.
What makes for good secondary seating?
It can’t be too hard to move physically. Ask, “Can I move this into my space and will it look good?” It has to be pretty adaptable. Once it’s there, it has to be sturdy enough to sit on. Around tables where families need more seating, you can fit a lot of little people on a bench.
We asked Morrison for shopping suggestions in Orange County. And before you ask, “Why should people drive from L.A. to Orange County to shop,” Morrison says: “It’s a breath of fresh air, literally. You get out of the city, it’s not as crowded, parking is a little easier. ... I think we’re overlooked a little. We’ve got some great shopping.”
Here are her top picks:
“I love [owner Milena Sefferovich’s] store,” Morrison says. “It’s unique; it’s not a big-box store in any way, there’s always something different and fun, one-of-a-kind pieces, reasonably priced,” Morrison says. “Terrazzo is making a comeback. Plus, I love stools that have a little personality — it makes it fun for a stool, the hourglass shape [pictured below]. And the weight of it makes it work as an end table too.” 1729 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach, heirloomdecor.com
Sean Woolsey Studio
“He makes all his furniture here himself, beautiful, limited-edition pieces,” Morrison says of Sean Woolsey. “He’s a craftsman; it’s artisan-made. These are more unusual accent chairs you would pull in. This rocker is kind of fantastic. I love chairs that move. These are pieces that are so unique and well-made; they’re made hyper-locally too.” 770 W. 17th St., Costa Mesa, seanwoolsey.com
“This store has been open 20 years. If I need accessories or pillows or to grab something for a project, I come here to fill in,” says Morrison. “For the O.C. area, [owner Michelle Graham] is the guru of how to do this well, this coastal look. She has a lot of Americana, the flag, the portraits, even the black-and-white stripe feels Americana to me. There’s folk art in her approach, vintage pieces that have a folksy feel to them.” 7976 E. Coast Highway, Newport Coast, juxtaposition.com