There was a time when my coffee table was my most prized piece of furniture. Before the days of “shelfies”, it served as the focal place of my living room, a curated display of my 20-something aspirations. On top of the rectangular sheet of glass perched on legs made of industrial copper pipes sat a couple sleek books — Design*Sponge at Home to showcase my modern aesthetic and Edible Selby because I loved the idea of going on culinary adventures around the world — along with an assortment of issues of The New Yorker that I’d tell myself I would sit down and read very soon.
Next to all the reading material was a pretty candle that had never been lit, along with decorative trinkets that would rotate seasonally. (A family of glittered reindeers appeared every December, which made my husband groan.) “Oooh, nice table,” new guests would say as they entered the room, and I’d smile.
And then — and here’s the page when so many stories take a sharp turn — we had a baby. As this baby grew and became increasingly mobile, the coffee table transformed into something else: a danger trap. “Why is this thing here?” I’d ask, scowling. “And why does it have so many corners?”
There was no longer any beauty in it — instead, whenever I looked at it, I’d have a flash-forward vision of a gash in my precious daughter’s forehead, which would lead to a permanent scar, which would lead to a story that would start with, “So my mum had this stupid table.” It was clear that the coffee table had to go.
But what would replace it? My in-laws had a massive tufted ottoman they no longer wanted, so we decided to try that out. It was soft and definitely kid-friendly, but aside from being a fun thing for my daughter to climb on and bang like a drum, I found it to be more clunky than useful.
It wasn’t exactly comfortable to rest our feet on unless we pushed it next to the couch (and it was bulky), and while I know some people balance drinks on it using a tray, that just seemed like a bad idea. So the ottoman went, too.
Then, for a long while, we had nothing. Just a wide open space. It felt a little off, like a glaring abyss. But soon, something kind of magical happened. We started actually using that area. It became the place where my daughter would do kids’ yoga, the place where we’d all spread out on the rug and play board games, the place where I’d wrap Christmas gifts while watching Netflix, the place where we’d live.
It seems that others like me are seeing the coffee table as a furniture relic. I’m in a Facebook group called KonMari with Kids, inspired by Marie Kondo’s decluttering guide The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and there are hundreds of comments celebrating a coffee-table-free existence. “It does NOT spark joy,” one member writes. “We chucked ours and it was one of the best decisions we ever made,” declares another. “Just wasted space and an extra thing to clean!”
People share all sorts of coffee table workarounds, as you sometimes do need a small flat surface to place things like a drink, remote, book or reading glasses. There’s the option of small nesting tables, like these, which can be spread out when you have people over. Others have a long, slim console table or shelf behind the couch.
Or some do a table that fits over a couch arm, like this, or an end table, like this. I have a lightweight accent table that I can pull close to me when I’m binge-watching Black Mirror, or shove against the wall when my daughter wants to practice her somersaults. It works.
As pretty as my coffee table was, I never realised how uncomfortable it made the room — every time we wanted to get to the couch, we’d have to manoeuvre around protruding corners and try to not to get jabbed in the shin. Now the space feels more open and inviting. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back to having a coffee table, even once my kid gets older. There’s just so much freedom that comes with getting rid of it.