If you live or have ever lived in a dense urban milieu (like I do), it’s likely that you have experienced living in apartments. While the hustle-and-bustle of city living makes them worth it in spades (where else can you get a poutine at 3AM?) these small abodes have their obvious drawbacks. For me, despite my thin walls and weird neighbors (it’s midnight why are you vacuuming), my biggest qualm with living in a smaller space is just that: I don’t have a lot of space. I live in a small bachelor apartment with a bedroom, office, and living room opening up into the kitchen, which forces me to think creatively about how I can maximize the space I have.
How do I create a home where I can host 5 of my friends for dinner, yet still have an area to do my work, exercise, relax, fix my bike, cook, and not feel like I live in a tiny, cramped apartment? Seems almost impossible. Pondering this question led me to modular furniture: filling my home with intentionally-designed multipurpose pieces was a key step in making sure my workshop could still be an office, my living room could still be a guest bedroom, and my kitchen could still be a dining room. Being able to actively adapt my space to the context and the moment makes my apartment feel like it’s double the size. Therein lies the beauty and the solution to urban living – reclaiming your space with intelligent design will be critical in making sure your smaller home is a sanctuary and haven, not a cluttered mess.
Now I’ll paint you a picture: I’m having a small dinner party. After spending the day cooking, I greet my friends and hand them a glass of wine, showing them to the couch. We hang out and as we get ready to eat, I disassemble the coffee table and tuck it behind the fridge. In its place I pull out a tabletop with screw-on legs, which I assemble and place in the living room. I raise the low hanging light up and pull out a set of stacking stools – seemingly from thin air – which I position around the table. A few serviettes, a tablecloth, some cutlery, and maybe some sort of decorative centerpiece – boom – a half-decent dining space emerges. Once we’ve finished eating, I simply swap out the tables, stack the stools, lower the light and my living room is once again a cozy and low-lit space where we can settle into the rest of the evening’s debauchery. In less than 2 minutes and with a few key pieces of furniture I can easily transform the different spaces in my apartment. I bask in the warmth of my friends’ compliments about how good my salmon was.
While my apartment is far from fully modular, being able to change the way I use my living room is a huge benefit to my lifestyle: it expands the utility of my apartment and allows me to be busy and active in a small space. It’s likely that you already have some form of ‘modular’ furniture: a pull-out couch, a mobile table with spice storage you sometimes use while you’re prepping dinner, etc. Throughout this article I encourage you to think of modular furniture in its simplest sense: multipurpose elements of your space that give it organization and functionality. It’s important to remember that everyone’s individual living situation will work differently and a main part of making your home more multifunctional means using the specific nuances of your space to your advantage.
On the other side of things, it’s becoming more common for apartment owners to custom-build modular furniture specifically-designed for their unique space. Take a quick gander around some of your favorite video hosting sites and check out some of the modern multi-functional apartments built and designed in Japan: you’d be amazed at the way a tiny space can still have all the modern amenities of a large apartment just by some creative changes. Custom-built bedframes that fold up vertically to turn a bedroom into a living room, false sliding walls that offer privacy and become shelving units, nesting dining tables that can extend for a family meal and more all challenge us to rethink the way we view our spaces and importantly, how we continue to make them our own. With the growing interest in Tiny Homes, there seems to be a resurgence of people looking to creatively and intelligently design spaces that break through what their space may have limited them from before. While I personally dream of the cabin in the woods, I’ll have to be realistic about what my (lovely) apartment can do for me in the meantime.
I want to break down some of the ways we can incorporate multi-use furniture into our everyday – transforming a space that can initially seem too small into the perfect, personalized home is one of the great pleasures of modern urban living.
I’ve done some of the work for you and assembled interesting and multi-functional pieces of furniture that are readily accessible online and can give us some inspiration for our multifunctional homes. Let’s take a look.
The Kitchen/Dining Room
The kitchen is a great place to incorporate multifunctional furniture, especially if you love to cook (like me). It’s also one of the places we tend to accumulate a lot of bits and baubles, so organizational furniture is key.
Source: HOMCOM Drop Leaf Table
- A perfect example of a space-efficient table with many modular capabilities
- Has two separate sides that can be individually lifted, making it extremely adaptive to your space
- Is advertised to seat 6 people, but both ‘leaves’ of the table can be folded down and tucked into against the wall
- A great piece for the kitchen given its various sizes and the wheels – you can use it as a prep surface, dining table, workspace or storage unit
Source: KOTPOP Folding Dinner Table
- If you aren’t a big fan of the sterile-looking table from earlier, KOTPOP makes a very nice-looking, modern extending table with similar features
- Two leaves that can fold independently make this piece extremely adaptable
- I particularly like the storage underneath that, when the leaves are down, is covered almost completely. This piece seems like it could just disappear into the background of your kitchen or become a centerpiece whenever you needed it
Small mobile kitchen islands
- Multiple tiers of storage underneath at adjustable height levels can help the surface be flush with your counters, unifying the look a bit more
- The wheels on this piece are great: tuck it in the corner of the kitchen or let it hang out in the middle as an island
- Can operate as a prep surface, storage space, bar cart, and more
- Same idea as the previous cart, but for a little extra you get some nicer-looking shelves and a few extra features
- The support on the back of the cart can mean you can safely put smaller appliances here when they aren’t in use, like toaster ovens and microwaves,
- Lots of hook space: washcloths, cooking utensils, etc
Source: HOMEFORT Wall Mounted Table
- I love this piece – it’s obviously designed with a very modular approach in mind
- While I’m sure this would work in any room of the house as a foldable, storable table, I find this most compelling in the kitchen as a breakfast nook
- Equally, you can position this close to your kitchen counters and use it as an additional prep surface when you’re working on larger meals
- As an extra kitchen station, the inner shelves can be used as a spice rack or as utensil storage. As a breakfast nook, spice up the look and maybe add some flowers, a radio, serviettes, etc.
- This brand also advertises a model with a blackboard
Compact, stackable kitchen seating
Source: COSTWAY 18-inch Bentwood Stools
- I’m all for stackable stools and I think everybody should own a set – they tuck away easily but are huge when you have some people over and not enough seating.
- Make sure you check the stools are the right height!\
The Living Room
The living room is the space where the most modular and storage-efficient furniture can be easily incorporated. Multi-use sofas, coffee tables, side tables, and chairs are key to transforming what is usually the largest space in our home. In my apartment, the living room is just as equally a media center, dining room, and workspace. I try and get creative with storage and seating here, making use of folding shelves, mobile tables, and nesting stools to accommodate any situation.
Small coffee table with storage
Source: Lavish Home 80-MOD-2
- This is a cool example of a dual-use table, which can also be used to store things practically or decoratively
- It’s got a very chic, minimal, modern look
- It can be flipped over and used as a basket to hold linens, towels, etc.
- I can see this as a living room side table, a vinyl holder next to the record player, even clothing storage in a closet
Stackable (nested) side tables
Source: Winsome Wood Nesting Table
- I love nesting tables, especially ones in solid wood like this (walnut? wow)
- The nesting table is a piece of modular and space-efficient furniture we tend to overlook, given that we may already own a set or remember seeing them at our grandparent’s place (or at least I do)
- The beauty of owning a set of side tables like this will show itself most explicitly when you’re hosting: having a bunch of surfaces and coasters floating around the room is the way to avoid a massive red wine stain on your rug because somebody placed their glass precariously in their search for a surface
- If you decide to have them out (they’ve flown the nest!) as permanent decorative pieces to your living room, having a number of tables that are the exact same material and design does a lot to unify the look of your space
- Nesting together, however, they take up very little space and can be stored easily, whether in a closet, the garage, or out in the living room
Stylish mobile serving / bar cart
Source: sogesfurniture Sofa Side Table
- I love these sort of side tables, which give you space for lots of storage but can still keep a minimal look
- I particularly like the “invisible” storage shelves on the side that appear or disappear based on how you position it in the space (put that side against the wall and whatever’s stored in there stays hidden)
- Wheels! Use it as a side table in the living room or, when it starts to get later, pack it with an ice bucket, bitters, spirits, a shaker and roll it over to your guests as a mobile ‘bar’
Source: HOMCOM Storage Ottoman Bench
- The humble storage ottoman: we know it well, it’s likely we already own one, and it’s proven itself time and time again. I believe it deserves a mention in the pantheon of efficient organization and storage design
- Put it at the entrance of the house or living room to sit on when you’re putting on shoes: fill it with gloves, scarves, beanies and other bulky winter gear to have them easily-accessible but out of sight
- Alternatively, put it in the living room and use it as storage for books, board games, DVDs (yes, some people still use DVDs – I don’t know who exactly but I’m sure they’re out there), the infinite number of remotes that begin to accumulate, videogame accessories, etc.
- It would even look great at the foot of your bed: you can use it to store slippers, extra blankets, towels, or cellophane-wrapped treats for when you feel too lazy to walk to the kitchen for a midnight snack
- The organizational capability on these, given their depth, is usually quite large. A storage ottoman is a great piece of furniture to own for any part of the house, in nearly any context
Sleeper sofas and chairs
Sleeper sofas of all types serve as excellent space-saving furniture in living rooms, family rooms, dens, bonus rooms and even bedrooms.
- Ahh, our dear, dear, friend the sofa bed. Always efficient, always comfier than you thought it would be, always there for you when it’s all that’s available
- The futon/sofa bed is absolutely key to own if you don’t have a spare bedroom – your guests will thank you endlessly as they imagine the alternate timeline where they slept on an air mattress instead of a supported, cushioned bed
- They come in many different shapes and sizes, colors and materials: what matters most about the sofa bed (to me) is that when it ‘s a sofa, it looks like a sofa. When it’s a bed, it should look like a bed. Sometimes you see certain sofa beds that look like a melted cross between the two – I’m not a fan of that
- Try and pick out something that complements the pre-existing decor of your space and you’ll come to appreciate the aesthetic and utility of the sofa bed for the rest of the time you own it
- If you have the space, many people choose to put a sofa bed in their spare room, which can now operate as a guest room if the bed is down or an office/den/workshop when the couch is in use
Source: Vonanda Sofa Bed
- Love these sort of pieces – this is advertised as a 4-in-1 living room piece, turning into an ottoman, a daybed, a loveseat (couch is a stretch), and a lounge-y chair
- The simplicity of the design makes it really adaptable to different spaces
- I really like the ‘ottoman’ feature, it looks like it would fold up really small and fit into a pocket of the room if it’s ever not in use.
- Perfect for a power nap in the office, the guest room, or the living room
Lift-top coffee table (turn living room into home office)
Source: Dulci Lift Top Coffee Table
- Huge fan of this piece. I’m a big ‘hidden compartment’ guy with furniture
- The lifting tabletop feature adds another dimension of utility: this coffee table can turn into a living-room workstation where you can prop your laptop up. Alternatively the lifting tabletop can be an eating surface while you watch TV in pajamas on a Saturday morning
- This piece could also work really well in a kid’s room (board games inside the hidden compartment?) or the office as document storage
- Debating getting this myself
The Bedroom & More
Multifunctional furniture in the bedroom is key if you live in a small home. I grew up being told that the bedroom was an intimate and personal area, and should thus reflect the organization, cleanliness, and relaxation that we hope to foster inside of us. In a smaller living space, the bedroom can start to feel neglected: we pile clothing on chairs, refuse to look in the closet for fear of confronting mess, and can barely get any work done if it isn’t well-kept. Furthermore, in a small bedroom the bed itself can start to dominate the visual space, and your already-small room begins to feel even smaller. There are ways to avoid this using creatively-designed furniture that can maximize your storage capabilities. Trundle beds, loft frames, hiding desks and more are all key to making your bedroom a sanctuary (as it should always be).
- Ahh, the loft bed: if you can’t build sideways, why not build up?
- Something a lot of people overlook with space-efficient furniture is that you aren’t restricted to just smart storage and foldable tables – furniture like loft beds help maximize the space by elevating certain features of the living area, creating a work environment where there used to be a bed and creating a bed where there used to be nothing
- As long as you don’t mind the climb-out-of-bed-when-you-have-to-use-the-bathroom routine, the loft bed is a simple and extremely effective way to turn a small bedroom into a multi-purpose area with an open floor plan
- Just a touch more adult than a bunk bed
Source: Zinus Newport Twin Daybed
- A really cool piece if you want to transform a room into a multi-person sleep setup
- Perfect if you have kids who share a room: having these beds tuck underneath each other opens up the space for daytime play, as well as a comfy place to sit when it’s not being slept in
- Ideal slumber party furniture
Bunk bed with trundle bed
Source: KOTEK Bunk Bed with Trundle
- I was really impressed with this product: it advertises as a bunk bed with dual detachable frames and a hidden trundle underneath
- In theory, this is a 3-bed piece of furniture that stacks up into the size of single mattress – something like this is perfect if you have kids with friends who like to stay over
- Alternatively, the base of the trundle bed can be used as storage instead of as another frame, giving a huge amount of space for organizing toys, clothing, and art supplies
- Now we’re getting modular
- I think this piece is really interesting and part of me wishes they made it for, yknow, adults.
- It’s a really cool example of what simple, modular furniture can be and the many ways that it can be incorporated into everyday life
- This product is equally a couch and ottoman, a raised, soft counter (table?), and a fold-out bed. It looks practically indestructible, given that it was designed for children in mind, and I can see it being a really cool way to add another dimension of use to a kid’s room.
- Call me when they make this for ‘big kids’
Bookcase and desk combo
- While less modular, the multifunctionality and storage space of this unit make it a great contender for a small-scale office setup
- I like this piece because it seems like it would fit equally well in a bedroom, kitchen, or office – the desk is downplayed, lowkey, and can be accessed from either side. This makes it adaptable to the unique space, outlet location, and flow of your room
- As you can start to imagine from this article, I like furniture that is compact and recedes into the background of the space when you need it to. Take the chair out of this desk set up and it floats by itself when not in use. Smart design!
Source: Yu Yusing Wall Mounted Table
- Similar to the earlier folding kitchen table, but a little more downplayed – makes me think it would look good in a bedroom as a more intimate place to sit, maybe with a drink and book at the end of the night
- Perfect dorm room piece: it equally operates as an organizer for your books and papers and a personal desk when you want to work privately
- In smaller bedrooms you wouldn’t have to sacrifice much space in order to have a small workstation – that’s huge
Modular desk and shelving
- I totally love this desk – this, to me, is modular furniture
- This product swings off of a main hinge, right at the corner. It can be turned into a corner desk at a 90° angle, pushed flat against the wall as a long workstation, or opened at a broader angle to maximize the space needed for the project you’re working on
- It comes equipped with a ton of storage, both hidden and open
- Put your computer on the side that doesn’t move and have a dedicated workstation that will keep your documents at arms reach when you’re in the juice. Alternatively, when you’re not working, having the desk flush against the wall will ensure your space stays feeling open and flowy
- Source: GREENSTELL Cube Storage Organizer
- This is as modular as it gets: a truly multifunctional piece of furniture, made up of separate cube segments that can be attached together to make a shelf, display case, or storage unit
- The cubes are easily attached with a plastic joint – no glue, nails, or screws required to assemble (or disassemble)
- While I’m not a huge fan of the leaf design, I can’t deny how well it could work in a laundry room, garage, bedroom, living room, or closet.
- Comes with attachments to fit the cube structure to the wall, which means you could likely make the cubes ‘float’ and make unique shelving setups throughout the house
- Staggering the shelves as a living room piece could be a cool look, leaving some space for displaying photos and flowers on top, but still having the space inside for storage or books
- Seems like the perfect addition for a kid’s room, teaching them about organization but still giving them a way to make the space their own given how they choose to use the shelves
- This is very similar to the one above with a bit more of a modern design
- I love these sorts of pieces because you can opt to use three or four of the cubicles in your living room, another couple in the bedroom, and one or two in the bathroom. A common theme between the rooms starts to emerge and it helps unify a general décor in your home.
Modular patio sofa
- Just because you have a place big enough for a patio doesn’t mean you shouldn’t need to think about space efficiency
- This is about as modular as it gets: this product advertises a wide range of potential combinations with the different modular sections of this set, which are extremely easy to setup and take down given the lightweight wicker construction: want a large ‘L’ shape? Go for it. Want to split up the cushions and have them circling the center table? Perfect for late-night chats after the day has cooled off.
- Importantly, it’s advertised with clips that allow the separate pieces to stay connected to each other: there is nothing worse with these modular sectionals than when you start to notice yourself slipping between the ever-growing cracks, only to become acquainted with some bits of loose change or a 3-year old goldfish cracker.
- My only issue with this specific piece of furniture is that I think there could be some storage space inside the sectional to make it even more space-conscious: having a place to tuck in the cushions when it rains or somewhere to organize the kid’s outside toys will ensure your patio always looks clean and organized
While by no means an extensive guide, I hope this article and product list gives some modular newbies out there a bit of inspiration as to how they might begin restructuring their space. Living in a small place can be tough – it’s easy for it to start to feel cluttered and cramped. As such, it’s important to be creative and multifunctional to maximize what we can do in our homes and ensure they remain a place of relaxation, comfort, and shared moments.