coffee table too small

The coffee table conundrum


I like Apartment Therapy — it’s a site devoted to decorating rental spaces. None of the “give me $10,000.00 and I’ll remake your closet” articles. Typically just good, down to earth ideas at reasonable costs.

 But the other day the headline was something like, ‘The one thing you can do without in your living room’. Which turned out to be the coffee table. They did, actually, use a small stool ottoman as a place to put their coffee, but that was only good for the two people nearest it. The rest of the people had to put their cups or plates on the floor. Nope. Not good usage.

 It reminded me of a coffee table conundrum I was asked to help fix. I’ll get to that in a minute.

 The thing about coffee tables is that they are, in fact, often functional furniture. Not everyone wants a place to display the latest shelter magazines, a few mini-sculptures and some flowers. 

 Many people, in the lived-in homes I’m most familiar with, actually need a coffee table to hold the coffee cups, the current magazine, maybe the crochet project, the two remotes, and, of course, the nail polish from the touch-up on the toes a few days ago.

 The classic instructions for coffee table choice are:

 1. Everyone sitting in the conversation area should have access to a flat table surface within 18 inches. 

 2. The size of the coffee table is dictated by guideline number one.

 3. The shape of the coffee table mimics the shape of the space it occupies.

 4. Only three different woods in any one room.

 5. The coffee table typically fits into the mood and feel of the rest of the room decor and also fits with the room usage. This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how often people want to put a glass and iron table, for example, in a log home full of cowboys and their boots. Be realistic, people. And yes, there ARE homes where outside shoes get worn in the house, and people DO rest their feet on the coffee table.

 So, here is the conundrum I was faced with. This is true.

 Around the perimeter of the room was: 

Two recliner love-seats, one recliner chair, one recliner sofa, a 40 inch T.V., corner fireplace, electric piano and a full sized organ. There was a tiny coffee table in the middle of the room, an octagon about 20 inches in diameter and it was about three feet from any seat. The client wanted a new coffee table for the middle, but the problem was that when the recliners were all in use, (as they often were), the foot rests just met in the center – almost touching the little octagon – like a big sunburst. So a 20-inch octagon was about all that would fit.

After agreeing that the most important function of the coffee table was to provide a place for someone to put down a glass or plate, it became apparent that the coffee table in the middle really didn’t meet the function criteria at all. When the recliners were not reclining, as when the ladies came for tea, the table was too far into the middle of the room. The solution? Nesting tables. Three small tables that sit one under the other,  which could be be tucked into a corner between sofas and pulled out for the ladies.  We bought three sets. These small tables would also provide a low-foot print receptacle for a cup or glass for the recliner users. 

 Nobody said you have to have one big coffee table. Form Follows Function

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