life in *your* tiny apartment

September 19, 2012
photo courtesy of unico
Dear Erin:

We live in a (super) tiny apartment in Tokyo and we have a small kitchen/open plan living room but no dining table/dining space. 
We always have dinner in the living room on the sofa and use the coffee table in front of the sofa as a dining table, but it’s a tiny table and we usually cook lots of small dishes. 

We’ve come up with a couple of options (but we’re open to suggestions):

1. We can replace the coffee table with a longer table and keep on eating in the living room.
2. We can put a small dining table for two with two chairs in the kitchen.

I like option #2 because I like the idea of having a separate dining area, however in my mind adding a piece of furniture = smaller space. Also, our kitchen is already tiny! I’m not sure adding a dining table + 2 chairs is a good idea.

Let me know if you have any advice.


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Oh, dinnertime in a tiny apartment. First, there are the smells to contend with, then there’s the space.

I’m embarrassed to admit that on many nights, James and I snuggle on our (tiny) couch to eat our dinner. Here’s the thing: almost every single night of my childhood I sat at the kitchen table with all three of my sisters and my parents, not to mention any of the various neighbors, friends, boyfriends and passersby who also happened to be hungry. Only on special occasions were we allowed to eat our dinner on the couch in front of an episode of Nova (graphic depictions of juvenile orca whales foraging, anyone?).

As an adult, I feel pretty strongly about having a kitchen table. In our first two apartments, James and I ate at the table every night, with candles burning. In this apartment, even if I lug my computer onto the table during the day, by evening its always clean and ready for whatever tea drinking or meal preparation, or dinner eating that needs to happen there. And still, we end up on the couch.

There are a few reasons: the most important one being that, hysterically, I’m a bit of a claustrophobe. Sliding myself into a tight spot between table and chair makes me cranky. If we use serving bowls, there’s barely a spot to slide my dish, let alone my wine glass, and we can’t have that. Beyond the tight quarters, we have less than a foot of actual counter space in our kitchen. Try as I might to clean as I go, the table sometimes holds the last of the dinner prep materials. In my effort to enjoy my dinner while it’s still hot, sometimes leaving those things be until the meal is finished is just easier.

Knowing all this about me, this is what I would suggest for you: If you’re really hankering to draw a line between couch time and eating time and you’re in desperate need of additional surface space in your kitchen, by all means consider getting a table and chairs for the kitchen-y side of your apartment. But to be totally honest, it looks like you’ve found a pretty beautiful solution in this slim wooden table. If it fits nicely in front of the couch and doesn’t make you feel crowded, I’d go for that option. If you really need the surface in the kitchen, consider a small, high table and no chairs, because if you’re anything like me, you wouldn’t end up using them much, anyway.
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Do you have a tiny apartment quandary? Send me a note, along with pictures if you’d like, and we’ll see if we can’t tackle it together.

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  • Reply p e b b z September 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    an ideal option for this would be a coffee table that could raise up to a dining table (similar to those tables that fold)I recently saw one on a Spanish market in which there was some kind of lever that allowed the table to be raised for a dining table and back down for a coffee table. I have no solution for the chairs though ha ha xo

    Gina | pebbz notebook

  • Reply sarah e. September 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    i had a fantastic gate-leg table from pier 1 for a while that folded down into more of a sofa table size that was great for having extra counter top space. when we actually wanted to eat at the table or i had company over we could fold the table out and have a normal size surface space. the table also came with 2 short stools that fit into a shelf at the base of the table so that made storage even easier. i ended up replacing it with a sideboard cabinet because we just didn't sit at it enough and i needed additional storage more than a place to eat but it was a great alternative.

  • Reply Kristen September 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Even with a dining room table we still eat on the couch in front of the tv every night…nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

  • Reply Anonymous September 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    there are great options for folding tables, tiny tables that attach the wall to fold down flat or small tables with leaves to expand them when needed, as well as folding chairs, or even using the same chairs at the table and in the living room or desk area – works better if the chairs are on casters. if you continue with the coffee table, you might get one with tiers or shelves so you can gain a bit of space that way.

  • Reply Chelsi September 19, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I love the idea of the tables that fold down flat. They can be attached to walls, which is nice. That way, when it comes to eating time, you have a table. When you are not dining, poof! Table is gone in a matter of seconds. No table legs to worry about, either.

    Chelsi \ Truly Yours

  • Reply Anonymous September 19, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Your couch and table are both beautiful. Who needs an extra table? Space is the most hard thing to find and to keep…

  • Reply Jen September 20, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Thank you for your advice. I'll discuss it with my boyfriend. We were going to buy a small dining table but now I feel we'd probably end up having dinner on the sofa (or forcing ourselves to have dinner at the dining table to justify buying it…) so I'll try to convince him to go for a long table in front of the sofa 🙂 Thanks again!

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic September 20, 2012 at 3:37 am

    I usually eat dinner on the edge of my bed, because I live in a studio and my bed takes up most of the room. But that often leads to crumbs in my sheets, so I've thought about getting one of those little TV tables (or whatever you call them) that can be folded up and put away when I'm not eating.

  • Reply Joy September 20, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Oh you give such good advice. I wish I can go out and live on my own.

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