Real Estate

Good Luck Trying to Resell This West Elm Coffee Table

Good Luck Trying to Resell This West Elm Coffee Table

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos courtesy retailer

Like anyone living in a New York City apartment with limited space for furniture, I sometimes scan Facebook Marketplace just to feel something. That passive shopping habit recently led to the late-night purchase of a half-off Castlery dresser and a Turkish rug, so naturally, I decided my Target coffee table needed an upgrade too.

On a recent weekend scrolling the platform, I noticed a listing for the West Elm Industrial Storage Coffee Table, priced around $200. Then I saw another. And another. I quickly realized Facebook Marketplace was overrun. Like the Peggy Sofa before it, the Industrial Storage Coffee Table seems to have gone from must-have to must-get-rid-of overnight.

On the West Elm site, the table bears the brand’s “best seller” badge and retails for $699 to $849. It isn’t cheap, but it feels like two, or even three, pieces of furniture in one: It offers a lot of storage, and one-half of the tabletop can pop up to hold a laptop or food, like a desk or a dining table. It’s exactly the kind of multiuse furniture New Yorkers love.

I dug into the various Marketplace descriptions and found similar descriptions: “had it for a few years,” “good size,” “convenient.” But over and over, one problem jumped out: “The magnet doesn’t really work.” Reddit and Craigslist also had a variation of this: “Top is lifted ever so slightly” reads one listing from Brooklyn.

The magnet in question is what keeps the coffee table, well, a coffee table; when it stops working, the pop-up mechanism stops functioning correctly, or in some cases altogether — leaving half the surface permanently uneven. Click through the dozens of listings on Marketplace, and almost none of the top panels lay flush.

Photo: Lindy Segal

Finally, one listing gave the people (me) what they wanted. Titled “Annoying West Elm Pop Up Coffee Table,” it was priced to sell at $100.

“Occasionally it’ll pop up against your will,” read the description, followed by a story about how a “li’l dog” was able to reach a piece of cake when it was in popped-up form (although that part feels more like user error than a mechanical one). Put plainly, it said: “I really want this out of my life and need the $$ to put toward a new coffee table.”

Stephanie Han, a marketing lead in Manhattan who posted the listing, says it was her second attempt to sell it. She first fell in love with the table after seeing it at her sister’s apartment four years ago. “I really appreciated how functional it was,” she says. But about two years in, Han started to get annoyed with the table’s tendency to spring open, which she says happened more over time. It would pop up “extremely aggressively” when she would bump or touch it the wrong way. She says it even gave her a few bruises in the process.

Curiously, Audrey Noble, a beauty editor in Manhattan who also owns the table, had the opposite problem. “When I lifted part of the table up to use my laptop, I realized it couldn’t hold a lot of weight or it would go back down,” she told me. “So I could either work or eat, never both at the same time.”

According to West Elm, any issues that have arisen are related to normal wear and tear and don’t reflect on the quality of the product. “The Industrial Coffee Table has been one of West Elm’s most popular products and a part of our assortment for over 12 years,” a brand spokesperson said in a statement. “We rigorously test all West Elm products, and this item has passed a pop-up mechanism hardware test. We are proud of all West Elm products, and we are pleased that the Industrial Coffee Table’s design and dynamic functionality continues to resonate with customers.”

It’s clear that people are still buying this coffee table in droves, which perhaps explains how much it’s saturated the secondhand market. When I first posted about Han’s listing on my Instagram Stories, five people messaged me to say they had the same one. Now, their biggest concern is that they won’t be able to offload it once they’re ready to move on — something Noble has tried to do through word of mouth. “Zero takers so far,” she told me.

Fortunately, Han found a buyer for hers. She first tried to sell it without the description at a slightly higher price, and though it got some clicks, no one bit. “I ended up deleting that original post, decreasing the price to $100 since I wanted to get rid of it quicker, and writing a long description about its current state because I personally appreciate when people are transparent about what they are selling,” Han says.

That seemed to work. The “annoying” listing has received over 1,800 clicks, and, more important, a buyer (plus several backup buyers in case the first fell through). It also fostered a mini support group of current and former Industrial Coffee Table owners who wrote to her with advice and empathy. “One kind person gave me tips on what springs I could buy to fix it,” she says. “Someone else reached out to tell me how she ended up selling her exact same table to someone at the West Elm store.”

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