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It's time to table this decorating dilemma

Years ago, the legendary interior designer Mark Hampton lamented: "Oh coffee tables! People are so hung up on them."

I know I am. That's because we don't have one. A coffee table -- or equivalent thereof -- is one piece of furniture we haven't gotten around to buying for the living room.

There is something in its place, but it is all wrong. Several years ago, I "borrowed" from my mother a wicker trunk that measures 26 1/2 inches long, 14 3/4 inches deep and 15 1/2 inches high. I plopped it in front of the sofa, filled it with old paperbacks from college literature classes and told myself it was only temporary.

It was not.

One problem is I don't really think about getting a new table until we are days away from hosting a gathering, and I know we will be serving buffet style.

Not many plates or wine glasses fit on that table. And forget a tray of hors d'oeuvre.

"What will people do?," I wonder for a few moments -- then forget about it and go back to planning the menu.

Somehow we always manage, but the other problem is this: I don't know what kind of coffee table I want. I only know what I do not want.

I don't want a coffee table crafted from a tree trunk. I don't want a long piece that barricades people on the sofa. And I don't want a curio coffee table with glass top and sliding drawers for displaying seashells and other collectibles.

I don't collect anything. Except ideas for coffee tables.

Years ago, in one of my first apartments, I came up with an idea for creating a coffee table on a budget. I bought at a clearance sale at Pier 1 two rattan cubes that were stained a dark brown. I didn't like the color, but the cubes were very, very inexpensive. This was a good thing because I spent all my money on cans of white spray paint. This was my light and airy period.

After transforming the cubes, I topped each with a piece of glass cut to size. When the mood struck, I would turn the cubes on their sides and place a fern in each one. Watch out HGTV!

I was young and broke, but those two tables looked better than what I have now. Years later, I used them on a covered patio until, finally, the rattan fell apart.

Another option has been sitting in our basement for seven years -- my husband's old contemporary glass-top table with black base. I stand corrected. It is not an option. The hardware is missing, and the glass has a big chip. That won't do, either.

Years ago, when coffee tables with lower shelves for storage baskets became popular, I had my eye on them. I'm a bit of a neat freak, and I liked the idea of stashing children's books, magazines and puzzles in those baskets.

But I wasn't sure.

Next, I considered using a weathered bench as a coffee table but decided against that, too.

I also went through my upholstered-ottoman-as-coffee-table phase until I realized that we would only be giving our cats yet another place to sleep and shed.

I have seen beautiful tables out there -- tables incorporating combinations of stone, metal, wood and other materials, for example, some of which have been handcrafted by artists.

But have I bought one? Of course not. Not yet, anyway.

We have company coming this weekend, and we are serving buffet. Unless I come up with an idea quickly, it will be the same old balancing act.

The wicker trunk filled with books remains. After dessert, maybe we can open it up and read a little Ernest Hemingway.

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