While good interior design certainly has some solid rules you can follow time and time again to great effect, there are always some rules that can be bent a little to make your space work better for you. Having a coffee table in your living room is one such rule; while a surface to perch a cuppa is always handy, it might be that a traditional wooden design isn’t doing your room any favors.
As our selection of esteemed interior design experts will attest, it’s well worth shaking preconceptions when it comes to furnishing your home. Instead, evaluate the space you have (not the space you wished you had!) and consider what your own unique requirements are. Do you need the option of extra seating? Or does your room demand a more flexible solution to surface space as part of your living room furniture?
Rather than blindly following the norm, I implore you to think outside the box - and hopefully these beautiful rooms will give you an encouraging nudge towards the perfect solution for your home.
5 coffee table alternatives to consider
1. Try an upholstered stool
For a really versatile solution, it’s hard to beat the humble upholstered stool. With a smaller footprint than an ottoman, they’re much easier to move around making them a flexible addition to your living room.
Beth Dadswell, the interior designer behind Imperfect Interiors, is in agreement. ‘If you like to put your feet up while watching TV, an upholstered stool is much more comfortable than a hard coffee table,’ she says. ‘You can also place a tray on top when you want to use it for drinks or snacks.’
As well as being practical, they’re also an opportunity to add visual interest to your scheme. ‘Upholstered stools are a great way to add additional pattern or color to a space,’ says Beth. Their petite proportions make them an ideal place to go bold and contrasting.
2. Go for a supersized ottoman
At the total opposite end of the spectrum, you could opt for an extra large ottoman. If you’re lucky enough to have a big space, it’s always well worth exaggerating its generous proportions with large scale pieces - the room will instantly feel more grand and opulent.
Emma Gurner, founder of interior design studio Folds Inside, designed this beautiful ottoman as a focal point to not only anchor the space, but to also provide some added practicality too. ‘The great thing about ottomans is that they are so multi-functional’, she says. ‘They’re solid enough to be used for coffee table decor, but soft enough to also be used as a footrest or extra seat.’
Choosing your upholstery fabric may be daunting, but the beauty of an ottoman is that it’s not too much of a commitment. ‘Updating the fabric of an ottoman is one of the easier and most cost efficient upholstery jobs,’ says Emma. ‘Instead of changing your sofa or entire decorating scheme, a fresh ottoman fabric will do the job of giving your space a whole new look.’
3. Consider a grouping of tables
For the utmost flexibility, there’s definitely something to say for giving yourself a few options - and a cluster of tables is brilliant for this. ‘Grouped tables offer greater flexibility,’ says Rachel Usher, Director and Founder of Rachel Usher Interior Design Studio. ‘If space is limited, a cluster can add variable heights or sculptural interest, which can be an interesting focal point in a smaller room.’
While a grouping looks gorgeous styled together, they can also be separated and used in different areas of the room as and when an extra side table, for example, is required. It’s best to go for a cluster that offers slightly varying sizes or shapes, as you’ll find each one will meet a slightly different need.
As well as the practical benefits, there’s also the pleasing aesthetic quality as Rachel explains. ‘A cluster allows materials and textures to be mixed to a great effect, complementing one another and adding depth to the overall scheme,’ she says. ‘It works particularly well if a unique shape is exaggerated, perhaps a pendulum shaped cocktail table which sits taller and counterbalances a companion arrangement of a lower, more rotund alternative.’
4. Design something bespoke
If you really want a solution tailored to your exact needs, having something designed specifically for your room is hard to beat. It may also not be as expensive as you might think, depending on the materials you’re after and the skill set required. If you have a design in mind, approach the relevant craftsperson - be it your local carpenter, upholster or even metal worker - and see if they’re able to make your dream a reality.
For their project at One Crown Place, Bergman & Mar wanted something that could offer both a side table, ottoman and coffee table. Used separately, the marble side table can sit beside the living room sofa, and the ottoman can be a footrest or even an extra seat. Used together, they offer more of a traditional coffee table scenario.
‘We wanted to give the user added comfort with a practical, yet elegant solution’, explains Petra Arko, founder and director of Bergman & Mar. ‘When the two pieces are combined, the marble sits just above the ottoman to create a pleasing sculptural element to the room.’
If you’re looking to include marble in your own design, Petra has the following advice. ‘The Calacatta Viola marble we used can only be purchased in slabs, which can come with a huge price tag. Instead, we set out to source offcuts and leftovers which would typically be disposed of, as these are much more affordable.’
A solid marble side or coffee table might be a budget breaker, but this marble-finish design from Overstock is made from concrete, so still feels luxuriously weighty, without the $1,000+ price tag you'd expect for marble.
5. Opt for a vintage trunk
Shopping second hand is a brilliant way to furnish your home; not only is it better for the environment, but it makes for a varied and dynamic interior too. ‘We mix all kinds of antiques in our schemes,’ says Tom Cox, co-founder of HÁM Interiors. ‘It helps to offset the uniformity of new pieces, and decorating with antiques means natural character that’s hard to recreate.’
Coffee tables are no exception, and while there are plenty of beautiful vintage options, you might like to try a vintage trunk. ‘In our Barnes pied-a-terre project, we sourced a metal trunk in place of a traditional coffee table,’ explains Tom. ‘We always aim to elevate spaces with bespoke and unusual finds, and a trunk offers valuable extra storage as well as adding personality to a room.’
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Interiors stylist and journalist Amy Neason was the Deputy Style and Interiors editor at House Beautiful for years. She is now a freelance props and set stylist, creating work for a range of national publications and brands such as Imogen Heath. She has previously worked at Established & Sons, and her skills include styling still life and interiors shots for editorial features and sourcing unique products to create inspirational imagery.
She is particularly respected for interpreting seasonal trends into feature ideas and style stories.
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