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Do I need a coffee table?

Like the idea of ditching a trad coffee table? These smart and comfortable living rooms will show you the possibilities

Houzz Contributor. I’m a freelance journalist and editor writing for nationals, magazines… More

Sofa plus coffee table is such an automatic living room combination, many of us don’t even stop to consider the alternatives. But whether you’re motivated by the idea of leaving more of the floor area free, smuggling in extra storage, or maximising the comfort factor, there are reasons to at least entertain other ideas. Here are some alternatives to the traditional rectangular coffee table you might want to replicate within your own four walls.

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Stand aside
If your living room’s on the small side, a coffee table can be the final it-feels-really-cramped straw, hemming you in on the sofa so you can’t stretch your legs, and making it hard to move through the room. In this home, the alternative is a neat nest of tables providing a place for a lamp and even a few coffee table books – without the namesake piece of furniture.

In block colours, these tables are an update on the traditional nest, and they can be doled out as necessary for visitors to set down a cuppa.

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Go into hiding
Coffee tables can add storage as well as a handy top surface, but when it’s a sizeable stash space that’s needed, a storage ottoman like this one will accommodate much more. In addition, unlike an open coffee table shelf, it won’t leave the kids’ games, books, remotes, spare cushions and throws on show.

This is a solution for rooms of a decent size, as you’ll also need a perch for a glass or mug. Here, a side table does the job, but if there’s no room, look at wooden over-arm solutions – often called arm rest trays – to fit onto a sofa.

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Favour fabric
An upholstered piece can help to make a living room look more inviting than a hard surface of equivalent dimensions, and here an ottoman boosts comfort levels as it takes the place of a coffee table. In a curtain-free room like this one, more fabric is a useful sound absorber, too.

Both the corner sofa and the ottoman are muted in grey here, keeping the ambience relaxing, with subtle contrast provided by the velvety finish of the ottoman and its tailored buttoning. Consider an attractive tray to sit on top of it if you need a hard surface for drinks.

Is it over for corner sofas?

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Look over
By opting to go without a coffee table, you can celebrate large living room dimensions. The owners of this home have left the area in front of the sofas and armchairs open, positioning side tables directly in line with the seating instead.

The size of the space is emphasised by the luxurious velvety rug, which catches the light beautifully, and it makes all the more of an impact because there’s so much of it on show.

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Step up
Sometimes it’s the ability to tweak a layout easily that we appreciate. By using a nest of tables, this living room features a coffee table equivalent in the shape of two of the threesome, with the third used as a side table. The advantages? Rearrangement is easy if the tables are needed alongside the seating, while a stepped pair creates more interesting lines than a one-level rectangle.

If you want to repeat the uncluttered look of this room, opt for fine, metal-legged tables with slim tops like these.

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Stay in place
This beautiful space is made for relaxing in, with armchairs teamed with footstools to invite lingering. Here, it’s individual side tables that are required: the sharing of a coffee table would look effortful, detracting from the sanctuary air.

The chairs are angled to take advantage of the exterior views in this room, but note how the mirror gives a second take on the outside to make the most of the scenery.

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Shun bumps in the night (or day)
Narrow rooms can also benefit from a softer alternative to a coffee table, avoiding the hard corners that are easy to catch in passing. As well as saving shins in this room, the ottoman and the rug on which it’s positioned are visual markers that indicate the way to move through the room.

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Although this is not a through room, this slender space has used a similarly soft solution where coming into contact with the furniture is likely.

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Bridge the gap
This aubergine ottoman is a supersized surface between sofas in a large family living space. It’s big enough to link the seating into one sociable grouping, but the soft lines avoid creating bulk when adding a piece that’s proportionate to the room’s scale.

Worried about using an ottoman as a complete coffee table equivalent? Take a leaf out of this room’s book and, as suggested above, add a decorative tray. Not only will it provide a solid surface, it will also protect the fabric from cups and glasses.

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Free the floor
The need to be able to open up the sofa-bed easily made moveable nesting tables the best solution in this living room. They can be used as a second bedside table when guests stay over.

The room has upholstered cubes as well – an idea worth adopting if your space is even more limited, as they can take the place of a coffee table (paired), single side tables or extra seating.

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Zone by finish
Marking the difference between dining and kitchen areas in an open-plan arrangement might also tip the balance in favour of an upholstered piece for the seating zone, leaving a solid table to delineate the dining area.

In this cottage, the ottoman is finished in an ice-cream shade that helps keep the through room light-filled. Delicate turned legs leave more floor visible, too, and complement the traditional sofa.

Tell us…
Is a coffee table a must-have in your living room or are you happy to do without? Share your views in the Comments section.
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