5 Expert Tips To Choose A Coffee Table

Coffee tables are a key item of furniture for the living room. A good one provides you with the surface space needed for setting down drinks and other objects while adding the final touch to the room’s look.

While you don’t necessarily need a coffee table in your living room – after all, it’s your space to do what you want with – a lot of people will tell you that it is, in fact, a necessary piece of furniture. A good coffee table:

  • Provides a place for setting down glasses, drinks, and snacks.
  • Allows for easy access to items such as remotes, books, and phones without them getting sat on or lost down the back of the couch.
  • Anchors the room, giving it a clear focus.

Here we offer a few tips to help you select the right kind of coffee table for you.

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What size coffee table should I buy?

The coffee table size should be decided by how much space is available in the room, as well as what you need the table to hold.

A table that is too small is preferable to one that is too big, and there are specific rules you can follow to ensure that the table is not overlarge for the room:

  • Select a coffee table no more than two-thirds of the total length of your couch to not overwhelm the space.
  • Ensure there is enough distance between the coffee table and the chairs around so people can comfortably stretch out their legs while sitting there. Ideally, you should be leaving 16-18 inches. In this way, it’s also possible to reach for items on the table without getting up.
  • Keep about 30 inches of space between the coffee table and all other items of furniture in the room to enable people to easily move about the room.

Should a coffee table be lower than the couch?

The height of the coffee table is an important consideration, and you will want to choose one that pairs well with your sofa. When selecting a coffee table, keep in mind that:

  • The standard height of a coffee table is 16-18 inches. They have been designed specifically to pair well with a typical-sized couch.
  • The table should either be at the same height as your couch cushions or 1-2 inches lower. This makes it easier to grab food and drinks from the table.
  • If you do opt for a table which is higher than the sofa, because it works well in the space, or because you have a particularly low couch, try to keep it within 2 inches of the sofa size. Also, avoid decorating it with large ornaments, which may further emphasize its size or make it difficult to see people sitting across from you.

How do I select the shape of the coffee table?

The great thing about coffee tables is that there is such a variety of types. There is one to suit every taste and every size and style of room.

When it comes to size, obviously, the amount of space available and the configuration of the other furniture will play a part in your decision, often though it comes down to personal preference.

Here are some of the more common options and how they used:

  • Square

Square tables work better in small spaces or when you want to offer guests a place to place their drinks without making the table the focus of the room. They can be placed in the center of a seating configuration, or to the side of the couch or chair.

A square table will not always work in the middle of a larger space as items placed there might not be easily reached from every direction.

Gray Manufactured Wood Square Coffee Table With Storage
Tan Brown Espresso Rattan Solid Wood Wicker Square Coffee Table
White Silver Manufactured Wood Metal Square Floor Shelf Coffee Table With Storage
Polyester Solid Manufactured Wood Tufted Square Cocktail Ottoman
White Brushed Gold Granite Marble Stainless Steel Square Coffee Table
Brown Light Black Pine Solid Wood Metal Square Coffee Table
  • Rectangular

Rectangular coffee tables are a popular choice, and they work well in a good-sized space. Their large surface areas allow for more room for placing drinks and snacks, as well as ornaments and books.

However, this shape isn’t well suited to small spaces and doesn’t always work well with sectional sofas.

Vintage Oak Manufactured Wood Paper Laminate Rectangular Coffee Table With Storage
White Wash Acacia Solid Wood Rectangular Coffee Table
Antique White Poplar Solid Wood Metal Iron Rectangular Coffee Table
White Italian Carrara Marble Solid Wood Rectangular Coffee Table
Rustic Brown Manufactured Wood Rectangular Coffee Table With Storage
Gold Clear Tempered Glass Metal Steel Rectangular Coffee Table
  • Round

Round coffee tables are a good option for sectional sofas, especially U-shaped ones, as they can be slotted comfortably into the space. Their circular shape also means that there is more space around the table for moving about the room.

Yet this shape provides less table surface area, reducing the functionality of the table.

Dark Oak Black Manufactured Wood Metal Round Coffee Table With Storage
Clear Black Tempered Glass Steel Metal Manufactured Wood Round Coffee Table
Gold Patina Rattan Wicker Woven Banana Leaf Solid Wood Round Coffee Table
Natural Reclaimed Teak Solid Wood Drum Round Coffee Table
Brown Mango Solid Wood Drum Round Coffee Table
Silver Metal Aluminum Drum Round Coffee Table
  • Oval

Oval coffee tables are an ideal compromise if you are looking for a table with a bit more space but have a smaller living room. The curved edges provide a little more room for navigating around the table.

This is also a handy option for those with small children due to the absence of sharp corners.

Whitewash Solid Manufactured Wood Oval Coffee Table
Silver Light Blue Clear Tempered Glass Metal Oval Coffee Table With Storage
Black Tempered Glass Themoplastic Polymer Oval Coffee Table
White Dark Brown Oak Manufactured Wood Metal Steel Oval Coffee Table
Hazelnut Polished Silver Solid Manufactured Wood Metal Oval Coffee Table
White Black Marble Granite Metal Oval Coffee Table

Which material should I choose?

As with both size and shape, there are many options available for the material of your coffee table. The aesthetics of the space itself need to be incorporated into any decision made about this. Popular materials include:

  • Wood

This sturdy and stable option can easily be blended into the décor of many styles of room. This is due to the variety of woods available. Dark types are great for more traditional-feeling spaces, and light woods are ideal for more contemporary or nature-focused designs.

In terms of functionality, wooden tables can easily hold a multitude of things, from cups, glasses, and plates through to books or even tired feet. Just take care to pick out a table that has been correctly treated to prevent stains, scratches, and discoloration.

Mystic Oak Manufactured Wood Coffee Table With Storage
Brown Acacia Rubberwood Solid Wood Coffee Table With Storage
Brown Teak Solid Wood Coffee Table
Antique Oak Solid Manufactured Wood Floor Shelf Coffee Table With Storage
White Pecan Brown Oak Rubberwood Solid Manufactured Wood Coffee Table With Storage
Distressed Plank Black Solid Mahogany Wood Metal Steel Wheels Coffee Table
  • Glass

Glass-topped tables are great for providing a sense of light and space in a room. They work well with many styles, particularly ultra-modern, simplistic ones. They are available in various shapes and sizes, and storage space is often included below.

Glass-topping is easy to clean (fingerprints will be a pain!), and staining and scratching are less of an issue than with their wood counterparts. Yet you need to be cautious with how much weight is placed on them. Additionally, they may have sharp edges, which makes them less than ideal in a house with small children.

Clear Tempered Glass Glossy Gold Metal Iron Coffee Table
Light Gray Tempered Glass Manufactured Wood Coffee Table With Storage
Clear Tempered Glass Metal High Polish Steel Floor Shelf Coffee Table With Storage
White Frosted Glass Coffee Table
Natural Clear Tempered Glass Ash Solid Wood Coffee Table
Clear Tempered Glass Sled Coffee Table

Light-weight, versatile wicker and rattan tables are great for creating a laidback, relaxed atmosphere. They work well in boho or eclectic-themed rooms and can be moved about the space as you see fit.

Take care, though, although the woven fibers make the table sturdy and durable enough to hold heavy items, they also make the table rather hard to clean. This means that you probably would want to keep any food or drinks away from them - not ideal for a coffee table.

Wheat Rattan Metal Solid Wood Leather Wicker Coffee Table With Storage
Brown Rattan Wicker Coffee Table
Weathered White Rattan Wicker Tempered Glass Coffee Table
Brown Rattan Wicker Abstract Coffee Table
Black Rattan Wicker Solid Wood Coffee Table
Brown Tempered Glass Wicker Rattan Coffee Table
  • Acrylic

As with glass tables, acrylic ones can be used to stop a room looking overly dark and cluttered. The stylish material is also suitable for sleek and modern-looking spaces. Although they can be blended in with other styles.

They are likewise easy to clean and harder to scratch. Still, they are certainly a more durable and so safer option than glass around small children.

The only real downside with this type of table is that some people may feel that they don’t look quite as elegant as other kinds.

Clear Acrylic Plastic Lucite Coffee Table
Clear Acrylic Cross Legs Coffee Table
Lichen Plastic Acrylic Solid Coffee Table
White Black Plastic Acrylic Coffee Table
Black Plastic Resin Metal Sled Coffee Table
Clear Tempered Glass Metal Acrylic Coffee Table With Storage
  • Upholstered

A more alternative approach to coffee tables is to center a large, upholstered ottoman in the room. This super-soft table replacement is an excellent option for family homes. It provides a place for putting your feet up to watch a movie.

The upholstery is usually styled in to match the other furniture in the room making this an incredibly versatile option.

The downside is that it can be quite tricky to balance cups and glasses on soft furnishings. So, the functionality is reduced.

Blue Polyester Blend Solid Manufactured Wood Oval Tufted Cocktail Ottoman
Beige Fabric Polyester Solid Manufactured Wood Rectangle Tufted Storage Ottoman
Light Brown Faux Leather Manufactured Wood Tufted Cocktail Ottoman
Orange Blue Beige Polyester Manufactured Wood Square Cocktail Ottoman
Heathered Beige Linen Tufted Round Cocktail Ottoman
Beige Linen Manufactured Wood Coffee Table

What should you display on a coffee table?

Again, this is very much a matter of personal taste. Some people like to place decorative objects on the coffee table. In contrast, others prefer to save the space for practical usage.

If you do wish to make use of coffee table space to help with the look of the room you should:

  • Be selective

While you might want to make the most of all the space available to you, putting too much on a coffee table can make it look rather more cluttered than stylish. Instead, use the table to showcase a few decorative pieces that you really love.

  • Use a tray

If you like to add smaller ornaments to your table, a tray can be a chic yet practical addition. This allows you to quickly move the objects should you require the space for something else.

  • Go green

The coffee table is the ideal location to add a little touch of nature to a space. A small, low-maintenance plant can make a great center-piece.

  • Follow the seasons

Ranging the decorations and ornaments by season is a nice way of switching things up while adding to the effect of the room. Holiday-themed decorations can make a charming addition to the table.

Lily is a modern designer with great appreciation for sleek architecture, a love for art in its many forms, and a passion for sharing her experience with people. If you’re looking for advice on how to modernize your old-fashioned place or make your new restaurant a visual blast, she’s definitely the one to ask.