life in a tiny apartment.

June 3, 2015

life in a tiny apartment: coffee tables | reading my tea leaves
Tip #122: Skip the coffee table.

We don’t own a coffee table. We had one in our very first apartment in North Carolina—a funky little table that a neighbor gave us for free. It had an odd shape, like it had been made with a piece of wood originally cut for a different purpose, and even a fresh coat of paint couldn’t improve it. When we moved into our second apartment, it didn’t make the cut. We’ve been coffee-table-less ever since.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t cobble together a little something to make late-night movies or daytime loafing around more comfortable.
life in a tiny apartment: coffee tables | reading my tea leaves
Sometimes our coffee table is a chair pulled over to our bench or a wooden crate dragged out from under our cot and turned on its side. Our approach to these makeshift tables is for their temporary service more than their style. They’re places for resting an evening cocktail or cup of tea or a book we’re in the middle of reading. If we’re feeling festive they might get the addition of a bottle with flowers. More than once we’ve balanced our cutting board on top of a crate to enlarge the surface area to accommodate snacks for two. We get a particular kick out of arranging fancy hors-d’oeuvres on our board for at-home movie dates. Two crates pushed together gets you something that’s practically gargantuan by tiny apartment standards. The truth is that just about anything with a hard surface can be used in place of a classic coffee table. (And by this stage, we’re old pros. Here’s a vintage RMTL post for proof.)

When space is limited, I’ve found that creativity goes further than rule abiding. In our apartment, taking a minute to transform a chair or crate into a coffee table for the night means more flexibility in our space the rest of the time. I wrote a bit about keeping our floor space clear in this post, and as Faye gets older, that’s become even more important. These days she’s busy pushing our kitchen table chairs around the apartment as she learns to walk. She motors from one chair to the next until she’s more or less lapped the room.
life in a tiny apartment: coffee tables | reading my tea leaves
Even better for me, forgoing the coffee table can also mean eliminating a spot where clutter might otherwise build up. Coffee table styling is a big deal in blogland. There are coffee table books and trays to consider and complex tutorials on how to achieve just the right ratio of height and size and mementos. But I have a feeling that many coffee tables become resting spaces for things not to love rather than opportunities for artful displays.
life in a tiny apartment: coffee tables | reading my tea leaves
In case you’re hand wringing about what size coffee table to squeeze into a small space, here’s a little encouragement to just forego having one altogether.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 121, RIGHT HERE.

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32 Comments

  • Reply Ali June 3, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    We're staying in a tiny apartment in Paris for the summer and making use of chairs or a side table as a coffee table when needed. It works so well and saves space! Multi-function furniture is the best.

  • Reply Pat June 3, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    I'm definitely on the same page in this category. I downsized recently and even though I still have a mansion compared to you and I don't have a toddler roaming around I still have challenges. I have a dog that needs a little space to zoom without clonking his head into something and I like to be able to walk through the room without tripping over anything. The coffee table was the first thing to go. I've found the "C" table to be the perfect solution. Pushed against the sofa (yes, I have one), it takes virtually no floor space and provides a convenient place for a drink and a snack. It also provides a sturdy place for my laptop.

  • Reply Anna June 3, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    I just love all your pictures 🙂 You are SO right about the things that end up making their way to the coffee table. I am constantly trying to clear it off. I have a really large space to work with though so I am afraid taking the coffee table away would make the room look odd. I might give it a try though!

    • Reply Erin June 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Thank you! Experiment! And don't forget about breaking the rules!

    • Reply admin June 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Thank you! Experiment! And don't forget about breaking the rules!

  • Reply thebalconydresser June 3, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Indeed, instead of an actual coffee table, we use a stool. Like your box, it's another handy multi-purpose item in a small apartment. So many thanks for this post celebrating these often fogotten but so valuable items.

    • Reply Erin June 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Yes! Agreed 110%!

    • Reply admin June 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Yes! Agreed 110%!

  • Reply Willow Westwood June 3, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I love this! I've done the same for my last two years of tiny apartment dwelling (Three years ago I had no room for my current dining/kitchen table/desk so I made do with a coffee table/bench/desk/place-to-eat-if-I-sat-on-the-floor.) Aside from my undying love for open space to stretch my arms out and bend over, I love that I can have a little table just where I need it: I can drag a chair over from the table (a whopping 12 inch commute) for my feet, put a crate at my side for my tea and strawberry rhubarb crisp. With a coffee table I feel like you have to chose between not bonking your knees when you sit down and being able to actually reach your drink. Plus, you can't drag them over to your bed to plop a fan on when it's 85 and humid in May. Old crates for the win!

    • Reply Erin June 3, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      Agreed! On the fan bit, especially!

    • Reply admin June 3, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      Agreed! On the fan bit, especially!

  • Reply Cynthia June 3, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    I have a large home but enjoy your blog so much b/c I believe in your values and share your aesthetic. I bought four antique stools originally from bars in the UK. They are lined up under a long Chinese altar I have against a wall. I use one stool every morning for my coffee while I wake up and read blogs/answer email. We pull the stools out frequently to augment seating at a crowded kitchen or dining room table. My grandchildren use them when they play airplane b/c we need lots of seating when setting up a plane. I have used them for getting a plant some sun in front of a window. Best purchase EVER.

    • Reply Erin June 3, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Yes! Three cheers for stools! We have two and use them similarly. Right now, I'm perched on one at my desk and a plant is perched on another by the window! (Thanks so much for reading!)

    • Reply admin June 3, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Yes! Three cheers for stools! We have two and use them similarly. Right now, I'm perched on one at my desk and a plant is perched on another by the window! (Thanks so much for reading!)

  • Reply Lily June 3, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    I love this idea and want to totally forgo our coffee table! My husband is quite attached to our current coffee table (acquired prior to meeting me) and is our most expensive (& nicest) piece of furniture. The coffee table is HUGE, a giant glass & wood square of a beast that weighs a ton. It worked well in our previous place when we had the space for it but right now in our current super tiny apartment, it simply does not fit. I rather have the space.

  • Reply Steph June 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I'm sooooo agreeing with you! I haven't had a coffee table for 11 years and I love it! The room is open and flexible, not blocked.

  • Reply Laura June 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I've never had a coffee table in the places I've lived as an adult! In my current loft I think we'd have room for one, but I feel like it would just create visual clutter. I think you're absolutely right that they have a tendency to become a dumping ground! We have 2 TV trays that we keep folder up behind an arm chair that we break out when needed (and we do have little end tables at either arm of the couch and by both arm chairs).

  • Reply Margaret June 3, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    I love this very thoughtful Living in a Tiny Apartment series! I loved the video tour and larger pictures of your old apartment – and would love to see a full tour or photos of your current apartment to get an idea of the flow of the apartment and how these more intimate photos and essays work within the whole space!

  • Reply Stacy Rutherford June 3, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Thinking back to my last apartment, we totally could have gotten away with this and forgone a coffee table in lieu of something smaller & more temporary. Unfortunately the thought never crossed our minds (with sofa comes coffee table, like a rule in my mind). We've since moved to a much larger place and have more room than we know what to do with. My boyfriend is almost finished building us a new coffee table with reclaimed wood and metal legs he welded himself. I love it. I truly love this idea though, and if we were ever in a small space situation again, this is a great solution. The one good thing about the new table: our old one has a bottom shelf where too many things accumulated, and this table has just one surface. It feels cleaner already!

  • Reply tiff322 June 3, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I love this! I totally agree that most coffee tables are probably less pretty and styled than we would all love to believe. It's something fun to play around with and look at, but not truly real life for most people. I also recently wrote a post about this topic (https://thebeautifulindoors.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/1443/). I love to see how others are making the "no coffee table" work. 🙂

  • Reply Diana June 3, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    Our apartment is by no means tiny but our coffee table takes up so much space because it's gargantuan. In fact, I've finally convinced my husband to push it against the wall so that I could have some space to exercise. It's since become a catchall and I hate it. I can't wait to get rid of it!

  • Reply Rachel A Manning June 3, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Exactly right, in a tight squeeze, the table just ins't worth the space you could have otherwise. Love the crate idea. 😀

  • Reply Rachel June 3, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    When my son was crawling/pulling himself up on things/learning to walk it made me nervous at the idea of a coffee table (even if they have corner protectors). So I used the ottoman that came with the couch. I'm personally not a fan of ottomans but it did it's job! I prefer your crate though. It's much prettier 🙂

    xo
    Rachel

  • Reply Lauren Martin June 3, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Adore this idea! I've been wanting to switch up my living space for summer and as we prepare for the tiny house where a coffee table is def. not an option, I love the idea of using pieces that can easily convert to something else if necessary. Beautiful photos and great post. 😀

    | Lauren Jade |
    Lauren Jade Lately
    'Simplify Life, Maximize Happiness'

  • Reply Archana June 3, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Any regrets on switching to a cot ? I grew up in rural India where we used cots for sleeping and lounging. Its so strange seeing one in America.

    I know I need to let go of my coffee table but can never do it. Somethings, I just cant !

    – A.

    • Reply Erin June 3, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      None! We LOVE it!

    • Reply admin June 3, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      None! We LOVE it!

  • Reply mon_and_mia June 3, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    We don't live in a tiny apartment but we do live in a small house and we decided to get rid of our coffee table a year or so ago. It seemed to attract clutter & was taking up far too much precious floor space that our toddler needed for playing. A few months ago I picked up a set of 3 small nesting tables-they're beautiful mid-century designed teak ones by a famous Australian designer-they take up little room & can be stacked together & pushed out of the way when not not in use. And I scored them for just $5.

  • Reply Lucy June 4, 2015 at 12:35 am

    We've also been living sans coffee table in our tiny house but have been toying with the idea of getting one as of late. Lots of good reminders here about why it's not necessary!

  • Reply Lexie June 4, 2015 at 7:16 am

    I agree, when I downsized to 300 square feet in two tiny rooms, I did away with the coffee table and do not miss it. Not having one prevents you from being tempted to have clutter on yet another useless surface or to eat in front of the TV which is so awful. I have seen people with coffee tables that are nothing but clutter and places to eat in a uncivilized manner . love the feeling of open space around my couch and no cutter on a table in front of it. I often use the open space for my beautiful area rug and to play on the floor with my cat or work on projects which is so much better then a table in the way.

  • Reply Ina Laguerta June 4, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I don't have a coffee table either! Ottomans and crates are my go-tos. It's half the fun!

  • Reply Carissa Thilgen June 18, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    When my husband and I moved from a 2 bed 2 bath condo in San Diego to a 1 bed 1 bath, 740 sq ft apartment in Florida, we had to "lose" our coffee table too. Well, not lose entirely. Our coffee table got pushed up against the wall to hold the TV and we bought a cheapie side table from Ikea (LACK, $9.99!) to hold drinks and plates of food. It was quite crammed at dinner time but it worked!

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