Design With Multipurpose Furniture

Learn how experts use storage and get tips to outfit your living room with function and style.


Photo courtesy of Ann Lowengart

Photo by: Dacian Groza

Dacian Groza

Photo courtesy of Ann Lowengart
By: Julie Cole Miller

Too many things with too little room: As anyone who's ever had this challenge can attest, careful editing is the key to making it work. It's a bit like a puzzle, designating the best spot for everything. Once we know where everything belongs, the systems are already in place for keeping a home organized and tidy, taking away much of the burden of straightening up. But careful editing doesn't always mean purging. Sometimes it just means reorganizing, prioritizing, and creatively tucking a few things away, underneath, or behind—all in the spirit of organization and efficiency, that is.

With smaller living spaces, furnishings that present options become even more attractive. There are plenty of ways to effectively and surprisingly not only make things work, but work well, when the right pieces are incorporated into a room's design. A layered room is oftentimes a cozy room, and many of us are happier in a space where there's more than meets the eye.

Stack of Books on a Plant Stand.

Creative End Table

A vertical stack of books placed atop a plant stand on wheels moves to where the reader is but also functions as an end table. Design by Libby Langdon

Photo by: Capture One PRO

Capture One PRO

A vertical stack of books placed atop a plant stand on wheels moves to where the reader is but also functions as an end table. Design by Libby Langdon

Designer Lauren Liess likes to use plenty of multipurpose furniture in her rooms. "My favorite pieces are tiered side tables or consoles," she says. "I love to use side tables that have shelves beneath the tabletop because it's a great space to stash things like books and games. Baskets can corral and hide the messes," she says. "And coffee tables with storage or ottomans with storage are also great."

Designers Alison Vanderpool and Ariana Villalta of The Elegant Abode like to repurpose pieces for creative problem solving. "We like to use old trunks as coffee tables," says Vanderpool. "A beautiful chest or an antique cabinet with closed doors can hold books, games, and children's toys but keep them hidden from view." Even a simple basket cleverly placed in a room can store dog toys or cozy throw blankets, she says.

Why place a spare side table in the room when a shelf could effectively hold more? If that table has room underneath for a pretty woven basket (filled with dog toys or shoes or whatever you have a lot of), a sculptural stool, or an artistic stack of photography books, you've optimized the use of a couple square feet of floor space while bringing in a bit of texture and interest. Sofa tables and modern coffee tables with baskets tucked neatly underneath—these are all opportunities for bringing order into your living room. And perhaps you've seen stacks of vintage leather luggage used in living rooms—that's one more landing spot for organized storage.

And don't forget: Skirted tables can hide a multitude of clutter—including shelves or filing cabinets or that jigsaw puzzle collection that's grown out of hand. So when faced with a mountain of stuff in the square footage of a molehill, don't despair. Add a few pieces in the room for multiple functions. Careful editing can go a long way.

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