Interior designer Breegan Jane has shared her simple rule for small living rooms, and it throws away the rule book in favor of something much more practical. When we're trying to make a small living room work, it can sometimes feel like a game of Tetris, trying to fit everything in while maintaining a sense of flow and a focal point.
But what Breegan Jane suggests is to remove your coffee table entirely, and replace it with multiple small side tables. The easy trick frees up a whole load of space in a small living room as well as giving you a flexible furniture layout that you can adapt depending on how you're using the space.
The coffee table is an interior design staple, traditionally used as a focal point, but in living areas with a small footprint, Breegan recommends finding alternative solutions. As we all know, rearranging the furniture can breathe new life into a room, and this approach to designing a living room stops it from feeling static.
Breegan Jane's coffee table rule for small living rooms
‘I’m all about ditching your traditional coffee table right now and doing small occasional tables,' says Breegan Jane, who has appeared on HGTV's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. 'I can’t get enough of tiny tables, and I’m talking four in your living room area so you can constantly create different modular scenes.'
As well as giving you more freedom with your living room layout – changing it from 'daytime mode' where kids might be playing to a more adult atmosphere in the evening, for example – it also means you can continually create new little vignettes with decorative pieces.
Breegan Jane says that a few smaller side tables have proven to be more functional than one large coffee table when she's at home with her two young boys. 'We’re constantly using the computer or making popcorn or serving wine,' she shares, 'and small little tables are always useful.'
Breegan Jane says you can never have too many small tables. 'I notice even in my house, I have tiny tables everywhere and they’re always moving throughout my house in different places based on different needs,' she comments.
Breegan recommends purchasing more small side tables than you think you need because you'll find they'll serve a purpose in any room of the home. Side tables of varying heights that stack or fold down are particularly effective small living room storage solutions, as you can easily hide them away when they're not in use.
'When I was at High Point Market this fall, I saw lots of different new interpretations of the classic coffee table. There were footstools designed with an integral tray and modular coffee table nests that can easily be dissembled as side tables,' says Lucy Searle, Global Editor in Chief, Homes & Gardens. 'You can also find circular side tables that have one quarter cut out of them, that slot neatly into the arm of a sofa.
'Personally, I prefer having a long footstool in the living room because it's softer and more multi-functional,' Lucy continues. 'Mine is usually layered up with blankets and trays and it's the perfect spot to put your feet up with a cup of tea. Admittedly, a large footstool might not work in small living rooms, which require us to think outside the box a bit more, but even a small one with a lift-up lid for hidden storage can be a better alternative to a traditional coffee table, especially as the rounder edges feel more space-efficient and look softer and more inviting. Ultimately, it's got to work for you, but we're definitely seeing more creative solutions that work just as well if not better than the standard coffee table.'
Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens for over 30 years, starting within the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-1990s. She spent five years as Associate Editor on Ideal Home, one of Britain's biggest and oldest interiors titles. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success, with a large US audience. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine, which is the UK's oldest interiors magazine at 103 years old. Lucy is a serial renovator and also owns rental properties in the UK and Europe, so brings first-hand knowledge to the subjects she oversees.
Coffee tables are a classic for a reason: they're a great way to anchor a larger space, and they go a long way in making a convivial setup, as demonstrated in the cozy living room above. But unlike side tables, they aren't especially versatile, so they just aren't the best solution for a small living room that might well be doubling up as your home office or playroom.
Another option is to find an ottoman that has storage inside it and then use a tray on top for displaying homeware pieces. This provides you with more storage that's hidden out of sight. Thinking carefully about how you use the space is always better than buying a coffee table just because you think you have to.
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Millie Hurst is the Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. She has six years of experience in digital journalism, having previously worked as Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York. She then gained experience writing for women's magazines before joining Future PLC in January 2021. Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home before taking on the position of Section Editor with Homes & Gardens. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.
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