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In a small space, do you really need a dining table?

One designer says eating around a coffee table is fine in small spaces. (iStock)

As small-space living and working from home have taken hold, one piece of furniture has had its necessity called into question: the dining table. Does it really make sense to set up one (or more realistically, a bistro table and a couple of chairs) when space is at a premium?

We turned to the experts to get their takes on whether you truly need a dining table in a small home. For some designers, having one is nonnegotiable; others have found ways around it. Read on to see what works best for you.

Yes, you need a dining table

Let it serve double duty. “I personally always prefer a dining table — even a small one tucked in a corner, … perhaps one that extends for company,” rather than having nowhere to eat, says Charli Hantman of August Black Interior Design in New York. Have a rectangular or oval table? This can be a workspace, she says, while a round table can double as an entryway station.

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Have a place to put items. For Tiffany Piotrowski of Tiffany Leigh Design, “a dining table is necessary no matter your space.” The Barrie, Ontario, designer says: “It’s a surface to put out drinks and a charcuterie board when you’re entertaining. It’s a spot to sit and do some journaling, a puzzle or try a hobby like painting.”

While living in Toronto, Piotrowski and her partner incorporated an antique 6-by-2-foot harvest table into their 700-square-foot apartment. “When I started working from home during the pandemic, this doubled as a boardroom table, office, scheme-development area and so much more,” she says. “I was very grateful to have it.”

No, you don’t need a dining table

Don’t underestimate the floor or sofa. Falls Village, Conn., designer Abigail Marcelo Horace says that, during her days as a single woman in New York City, she and her friends mostly ate out. Her apartment did have a dining nook, but she and her guests usually sat on the floor or on the sofa during dinner get-togethers. “I felt it was so intimate, and I loved it more than the traditional meal at a dining table,” says the designer behind Casa Marcelo.

New York designer Nicole Arruda of Nicole Alexandra Design Studio also says that eating in the living room is just fine when your apartment is short on square footage. “Don’t underestimate the floor,” she says. “I love a comfy pouf or floor pillow I can just pull around a coffee table.”

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Get creative with a convertible table. Some “of my favorite pieces for smaller spaces are console tables that pull out to reveal a dining table, which is a perfect solution for apartment dwellers who love to entertain,” says Rande Leaman, an interior designer in Los Angeles.

“Tray tables would also work,” Horace says, noting that some have tops that can be removed and used as chargers or charcuterie boards.

Other things to consider

Think about your guests’ comfort. The casual floor-and-pillow approach works only for entertaining the same tightknit crew week after week. “If you’re one to bring new guests into the home often,” Horace says, “perhaps a dining table is a priority, so guests don’t feel awkward.” Note that, for elderly guests or people with disabilities, sitting on the floor may not be an option. Keep some folding chairs tucked away in a closet to accommodate guests who would be most comfortable sitting upright.

Evaluate your own needs. You’ll want to consider your apartment’s overall layout and how you wish to use every square foot before committing to a dining table. “I’m a firm believer in only incorporating that which offers ease,” says designer Leah Alexander of Atlanta-based Beauty Is Abundant. “If forgoing a dining table means more wiggle room to move about, more open breathing space or space for a yoga mat/meditation area — that’s what I opted for in lieu of a dining table — then I’m all for it.”

Plus, it’s more than acceptable to veer away from traditional design customs. “Almost nothing is mandatory anymore outside of electrical, plumbing and appliances as we evolve our home lives so quickly,” Alexander says.

Sarah Lyon is a freelance writer and stylist in New York. Find her on Instagram: @sarahlyon9.