Top 10 Tips on Selecting a Coffee Table
Are you in the market for a Coffee Table? Coffee Tables can really make a statement and set the décor for the entire room. They are both fun and functional. And, you don’t need to break the bank to buy one.
Coffee Table Buying guide
This buying guide is intended to help you understand the features and options for Coffee Tables. Sometimes, the possibilities seem endless. But, once you know your style, size and shape you’re looking for, you’ll find it much easier to make the best decision.
Often, the coffee table is the last missing piece of the puzzle, coming after the sofa and seating are chosen. This can make it even more challenging. Even decorators have challenges selecting the ideal coffee table. Other times, it’s the defining piece of the room and you are working with a clean slate.
Note: As an added bonus, many of the links and pictures on this page will take you to online stores where you can purchase directly and have the item shipped directly to your home. This certainly saves time and hassle.
I’ve organized this Coffee Table Buying Guide into Sections
- Size and Scale – Length, Width, Height
- Shape – Rectangular vs. Square vs. Circle vs Oval
- Functionality – Use, What’s under the coffee table? Kid and Pet friendly
- Style and Material – Style, Glass, Wood, Metal, Color
After this, I’ve provided some other helpful resources and a couple of places to buy coffee tables online.
How to choose the ideal size and scale for your coffee table. Think Goldilocks.
1. Consider your space and plan for leg room and ease of use
You need to consider comfort and spacial design. It’s ideal to have the distance from edge of coffee table to edge of sofa be 18 inches (or 1.5 ft). This is close enough to reach for your drink down or reach for the TV remote and yet far enough away to stretch out your legs.
If the coffee table is too small or too big, the room will feel awkward because it’s out of proportion with the furniture.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is that either people don’t leave enough room or they leave too much room. Think Goldilocks. The 18 inch rule of thumb should help you avoid this common mistake.
2. Leave some white space
Think about the room’s main passageway and make sure to leave at least 30″ (or 2.5 ft) on all edges (i.e. on the right, left and in front of coffee table). This includes the area from the coffee table to the TV stand, a 2nd sofa or love seat (if you have one) and walkways to other rooms.
If your room is very narrow, you can sometimes get away with 2 feet, but 3 feet (or more) looks and feels much more comfortable.
The length of the coffee table should be no more than 2/3 the length of your sofa. So get out your tape measure. and calculator. After you’ve measured the length of your sofa, multiply that number by .67.
For example, if your sofa is 96″ (or 8 ft), then multiply 96 x .67 = 64″ (or 5 ‘4″). Of if your sofa is 75″ (or 6’3″), then your coffee table should be no wider than 50″ (or 4’2″). This one on the right is too large for its setting. But, it would probably be perfect for a 3 seater sofa.
Meet your new best friend – the tape measure. If you don’t already have one, you can buy an inexpensive one from Amazon. And, you may find that this inexpensive laser will come in handy, especially for measuring your whole room.
The Bosch GLM compact laser is easy to use. It’s measures up to 50 ft in length and has 1/8″ accuracy. It’s light and compact. I have one of these lasers. This works with 2 double A batteries which are included.
3. Select the height: Make sure it’s not too high and not too low
In addition to the length and width, you need to consider the height. This is another place where I see homeowners making mistakes. The coffee table surface should be 1-2″ lower than the couch. Most standard coffee tables are 16 to 18 inches high.
But, if you have a high couch, consider a higher coffee table (e.g. in the 20-21″ range) so it’s easier for you and your guests to enjoy your food and drink.
Finding the best shape for your coffee table
Coffee Tables are one of those ubiquitous pieces of furniture found in almost every home. They come in a variety of shapes and choosing the right one can make the coffee table the focal point and unifying center of the room as family members and guests gather.
4. Advantages and disadvantages of coffee table shapes
- It’s hard to go wrong with a rectangular coffee table. You will probably find the most options in rectangles. These can work well for wider sofas so that everyone has easy access to the coffee table.
- Oval can work as well in the same way. They have softer edges so they are safer for kids. They work well for those that like the curves of round tables but have longer sofas. You can find some oval coffee tables here.
- Round tables work well for gathering groups of people. They can also work well in smaller spaces (since they take up less room), and w/ both sofa/love seat combo or L shaped sectionals. You can find some round coffee table options here.
- Square tends to unify seating areas that may look too far away. They work much better in larger rooms and with L-shaped sections and sofa/love seat combo. Conversely, they can make smaller rooms look smaller. Be aware that these may not be wide enough for long sofas.
Tip: If you have sofa/seating already, buy some poster boards (or tape pieces of paper together) and cut out different sizes and shapes to see which works best for your space.
5. Think about what’s under your feet – the Coffee Table legs, base and support
This can impact the comfort and convenience. Think about where you like to rest your feet (e.g. on the table, beside it or on a lower rung of the table?. Do you like to sit of the floor and use the coffee table as an alternate setting for casual dining? All of these can have an impact on whether you prefer an open area underneath or somewhere to rest feet (or put stuff on).
If you have kids, pets, lots of foot traffic, a tendency to stub your toes, or use the table as an alternate location for meals, consider a table with recessed legs.
And, if you have (or are getting an area rug), think about how the coffee table and area rug fit together. Do you love your area rug? Do you want to see more of it or less? If you want to see more of it, consider glass tops as well as recessed legs so you can see more of it.
Determining the functionality of your coffee table
Function refers to how you use the coffee table. Is it primarily a canvas to place objects? Or will it function as a fully functional second dining table or a place to rest your feet?
6. Think about how you will use your coffee table
Form follows function, as they say in architecture. So ask yourself how you’ll use it. Is it primarily for decorating? Will it hold your magazines or be a perch for your doodads? Those who entertain should consider round or ovals which guests will naturally gather round.
Do you need it for storage? How will you rest your legs? If you need storage space, consider lift tops (which are great for blankets) or mission tables with a lower shelf for books or coffee tables with drawers (for coasters, photo albums.
Glass can be easiest to clean, but can be dangerous if you have little kids. Be wary of tempered glass or safety glass. It’s certainly less expensive, but made to shatter when broken (like car windshields).
7. Consider a kid or pet friendly design if you have kids or if they are on the way.
- Avoid sharp edges
- Oval or round with smooth edges is often ideal
- Probably avoid glass – both for safety and for finger prints (and paw prints
- Consider draws for extra storage (and neatness)
Selecting the style and materials
8. What is your style of decor?
What is your decor of your home and what’s your style? What’s the style of your sofa (and are you keeping it for the long term? If your sofa is plush and solid, you may want to try a glass table for some lightness. If the couch is slim, you’re fine with a more solid or chunkier style and one with a base.
Do you prefer a traditional look or modern/contemporary? Or is it somewhere in between – often called transitional. Is there a specific genre you are going for? Do you prefer more linear designs or rounded edges? Do you prefer light and airy or cozy and warm? Do you want a “back to nature” look? Do you just want something basic and functional or do you want something unique that makes a statement?
9. Selecting your materials
The advantage of glass coffee tables
- Less bulky, let in more light vs wood (or metal coffee tables
- Usually easy to wipe down and don’t scratch
- Don’t have to worry about coaster
- Great to show off your area rug
- Looks more modern and contemporary
- Alternatively, use lucite or acrylic for the same effect and benefits, but lower cost)
Wood coffee tables can add warmth and comfort to the area.
Because wood table are often heavy (and sometimes bulky), they tend to work better in larger rooms with lots of light and high ceilings. If you don’t have those conditions, but still prefer wood, consider choosing a long narrow table so it doesn’t look so bulky.
Weathered wood creates a mix of old and new
These pieces can give your home a retro or shabby chic look. They are also more “forgiving” as the camouflage scratches and dirt a bit more.
Metal coffee tables
These can work well, especially if you already have lots of wood in your space. Be sure not to mix metals in the room (e.g. chrome with brass) or styles of metals (shiny vs matte or brushed).
Consider Color for your coffee table, if you want to be daring
Generally going neutral is best…usually. I prefer to see color in paint, pillows, window treatments and artwork, but in some homes and styles,a colored coffee table can add drama and pull a room together. Some decorators can pull this off as they have a great eye. Check out this creation from Joanna Cohlan’s (Fresh Eyes For You Home – Living room with blue and pale yellows and blue end table. She has a wonderful eye for color. Sometimes this is easier to do with end tables (rather than the coffee table).
If you choose a colored coffee table, it tends to work best with subtle and neutral colored couches and then pillows that coordinate with the coffee table and/or area rug. (check out above link to see this in action).
10. Don’t go overboard
Details in a coffee table can make it special, but too much can detract from the room and throw it out of balance. So make sure and decide on whether the coffee table is the focal point of the room. And, make sure the coffee table, sofas and chairs work in harmony.
Coffee tables are not a one size fits all. They help unify a room making them more comfortable and cohesive. It’s important to think about the role of your coffee table and how it fits in with your room’s space and décor. I hope you find this guide helpful.
Let’s go Shopping for a coffee table
I will be filling out this section soon. In the meantime, here are 2 places online that you can search for and buy coffee tables.
Other resources for Home Décor:
The Ultimate Coffee Table Buying Guide – Top 10 Tips