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Multipurpose Furniture: Then and Now

The September 2021 issue of Better Homes & Gardens declared furniture with built-in storage and extra function as one of the new creature comforts for homes. And who doesn't love pieces that lead a double life? A bed with built-in drawers or a coffee table with a top that lifts so you can stash blankets inside just make life easier. Although multipurpose furniture may be trendy today, the concept has been around for decades. This then-and-now comparison shows how much things have changed—and also stayed the same.

Starting Point: 1939

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In the August 1939 issue, Better Homes & Gardens touted the benefits of "furniture with added features." A vanity table with a cosmetic tray built into a drawer and a chair and bench that slid together to form a chaise longue were among those early offerings. These days, a drop-leaf table that could be transformed from a console into a dining table for six guests may not seem cutting edge, but back then it was "sheer table magic." Fortunately for all of us looking to use our spaces and time efficiently, furniture designers continued to work their magic. Read on to see how some of the forward-thinking pieces from that 1939 story hold up today.

End-of-Bed Storage

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Then: "Quite an idea—this, of using the end of the bed as a handy storage space for that extra blanket!"

Now: How about putting a freestanding storage chest at the end of the bed and tricking it out with a TV? Flip open the top, and the TV is right there in close viewing range for bedtime binging. Now, that's quite an idea! Of course, if you're looking for storage space for bedding, blankets, or out-of-season clothes, there's plenty of options available these days for beds with drawers built in to the bases.

Living Room Storage

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Then: "It's a resourceful couch that not only takes care of the extra guests but offers a deep compartment for all the sleeping equipment necessary to care for a double bed."

Now: Instead of lifting up the sofa seat, rummage through what's stored in the coffee table in front of it. Ones with tops that lift off or up are storage sweet spots. Tuck away throws, blankets, board games, toys—you name it. Upholstered coffee tables double as ottomans, bedroom storage chests, or seating (depending on the piece's sturdiness). Plus, you don't have to worry about kids bumping their heads on a hard surface or sharp corners. Pictured: Convenience Magnolia Storage Ottoman With Trays in Soft Blue, $92; walmart.com.

Photo credit: Walmart

The New Telphone Stand

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Then: "Such a comfort to have your telephone books at hand and a drawer for the elusive pad and pencil."

Now: The need for phone book storage may have waned, but those little wooden stands of the past may just be the forerunner of today's drop zone. A slim console-style cabinet with shelves is up to the task of corralling little things that are constantly coming and going. The do-it-all hub functions as an entry table, storage space, homework and mail catchall, and charging station for cells phones. Assign baskets or shelves to each family member so everyone knows what goes where and whose items are whose.

Bunk Beds

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Then: "Just the secret for doubling up in grand comfort. Or lift off the upper deck and you've two separate twin beds."

Now: Space-saving bunk beds live on! These staples of kids' rooms now come in fun colors and a range of styles. For the most flexibility, look for models that detach. Full-over-twin versions offer more sleeping space on the bottom bunk and can be good options in a guest room. Loft beds, a cousin to the bunk, have also become popular, and allow space below the raised bed for a desk or to set up a lounge or play area. For nurseries, convertible beds have been in demand. They allow the crib to change into a toddler bed and, in some models, a full-size bed.

Extendable Dining Table

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Then: "No danger of warped table leaves when they're folded neatly and cached under the table top instead of traveling to attic or closet. They're always ready for use, of course, saving precious minutes in a busy homemaker's day."

Now: Tables with self-storing leaves aren't as common today, but they're still around. Anyone who remembers helping Grandma expand the table for holiday dinners can vouch for the convenience of having leaves stored right in the table. But there's nothing grandmotherly about modern butterfly leaf tables, which get their name from the leaves that fold upward. Today's styles can be surprisingly sleek—no one would guess the added function hidden inside. Pictured: Fortunato Butterfly Leaf Dining Table, $609; wayfair.com.

Photo credit: Wayfair

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