Coffee Table Buying Guide - Height, Styles & Decoration
The humble coffee table is something of a workhorse, combining style and practicality into one neat package. From injecting colour and texture into a space to providing somewhere handy to put coffee cups and remotes, there’s more to choosing a coffee table than you might expect.
As a key focal point in your living room, it’s understandable that you want to make sure you’re making the right choice. However, with almost endless options for colour, material, size, shape and style on the market, picking a coffee table is a surprisingly daunting task.
We’ve put together a guide on how to choose the right coffee table to help you narrow down your options and find something you love.
How high should my coffee table be?
To make sure your coffee table works within the space, its height should be balanced with the sofa or armchairs surrounding it.
You should also bear in mind the overall size of your living room, as a tall coffee table may look out of place in a smaller space.
The standard height for most coffee tables is between 14 – 16 inches (36cm – 40cm). Aim to match the height of your sofa cushions, or just an inch or two lower.
Can a coffee table be too low?
While coffee tables are traditionally a similar height to the surrounding sofa and chairs to make them easier to reach, more modern design trends are moving towards lower tables.
This is particularly common in Scandi and Japanese-inspired décor, creating a clean, open feel while still offering the practicality of another usable surface.
As well as being a handy place to put your drink, low coffee tables are also perfect for putting your feet up, creating a more casual and relaxed atmosphere.
Can my coffee table be higher than the sofa?
In the Victorian era, coffee tables were actually positioned behind the sofa rather than in front of them, making them much taller than what we’re used to today.
Unless you’re looking to create a Victorian-inspired parlour, a coffee table that’s taller than the sofa will look out of place – and will be uncomfortable to use!
As well as being easier to reach from a seated position, a low coffee table helps to preserve sightlines, particularly if you plan to decorate the tabletop.
How large should my coffee table top be?
As a general rule of thumb, the width of your coffee table should be around two-thirds the width of your sofa to create balance.
After that, it depends on the size of the room, the furniture surrounding it, and your chosen aesthetic. If you only have one sofa, a smaller tabletop will suffice. If the coffee table will be used by people sitting on multiple sofas, a bigger surface is more practical.
How far from the sofa should my coffee table be?
Your coffee table should be within easy reach when sitting on the sofa, while still allowing for room to pass between the two.
18 inches (46 cm) is a good distance between the sofa and coffee table, as it makes it easy to reach the tabletop while seated, and to sit comfortably without bashing your knees.
For large living rooms, position the coffee table closer to the sofa and leave more space on the other sides rather than placing it in the centre of the room.
Check out Ballard Designs’ great guide to spacing furniture in your living room for more pointers.
Coffee table styles
Whatever your preference, there’s a coffee table to suit! Here are some of the most popular coffee table styles right now.
Scandinavian coffee tables
The understated simplicity of Scandinavian design carries through to coffee tables, making this style a great choice if your living room is open and uncluttered.
As with all things Scandi, you can expect elegant lines, soft curves and pale woods paired with monochrome detailing.
Industrial coffee tables
Industrial coffee tables look great in rooms with darker décor and work best in large spaces that give these unique pieces more room to breathe.
Think rustic, repurposed wood, imposing metal frames, and characterful details like rivets, hinges and wheels.
Japandi coffee tables
As the Japanese culture of sitting on the floor at low tables is credited with influencing the low coffee tables we’re used to today, Japandi is a great design trend for the living room.
Combining function and beauty, Japandi coffee tables are carefully considered to create an impact without overpowering the space.
Mid-century coffee tables
Whether you opt for a vintage piece or a modern one inspired by this era of interior design, mid-century coffee tables add a fun, kitsch feel.
Unusual shapes, dark wood and functional storage dominate this style of coffee table, creating an eye-catching centerpiece that still offers practicality.
Boho coffee tables
Boho furniture is perfect for adding a relaxed, carefree aesthetic to your home, which is a great vibe for the living room.
You’ll find lots of natural materials, neutral colours and interesting textures in bohemian coffee tables. Carved wood and handwoven natural fibres are both prevalent in this style.
Minimalist coffee tables
A minimalist style can help to keep your living area open and free from clutter, making it a more relaxing place to be.
For a minimalist coffee table, look for sleek surfaces, clean lines, and natural or monochrome palettes. Glass, wood or stone tabletops paired with slender yet sturdy metal frames make a great minimalist addition to your home.
Contemporary coffee tables
There are two approaches to contemporary coffee tables: understated and over-the-top.
From gloss white rectangles to complex shapes with mirrored surfaces, there are lots of ways to make a statement with a contemporary coffee table. Just be careful to make sure this piece complements the rest of the room.
How to decorate a coffee table
While the predominant use of a coffee table is a convenient place to put your drink down in between sips, it also presents a great opportunity to create a focal point in your room.
Coffee table books
There’s a whole industry dedicated to creating books specifically to be used as decor on your coffee table.
Whether you’re into art, film, architecture, or music, there’s something beautiful for you and your guests to flip through while enjoying a coffee. Mix and match your coffee table books, and switch them up with the seasons the same way you would with cushions and rugs.
Plants & flowers
Fresh cut flowers, succulents and air plants are all great additions, creating a sense of life and freshness. Smaller vases work best on coffee tables, as taller floral arrangements can be easily knocked over.
For those who lack a green thumb, artificial plants and dried flowers can inject a little nature into the space without the worry of keeping them alive.
Mementos & keepsakes
Placing treasured keepsakes, framed photos or souvenirs on your coffee table will turn these mementos into an interesting focal point.
You might also opt for a glass-top coffee table with a shelf underneath, allowing you to create an attractive display without cluttering the tabletop.
Lighting a few candles is a great way to create an atmosphere, and your coffee table is the perfect space for them.
Select shorter candle holders that are harder to knock over and won’t obstruct your line of sight. Match your candles to your living room décor and make use of coffee table storage for matches and spare tealights.
Should I choose a round or rectangular coffee table?
Rectangular coffee tables are probably the most common style, but they’re far from the only option out there.
In many instances, a square or rectangular coffee table will work well and look great and provide a spacious usable surface. However, there are plenty of occasions when a round coffee table is a better choice.
If the shape of your living room is square rather than rectangular, or if you have limited space, a round coffee table is a great solution. Thanks to the lack of sharp corners, they can be easily tucked into smaller gaps without making the space uncomfortable.
From an aesthetic point of view, circles, ovals and curves serve to soften the overall look and feel of a room. A round coffee table might be a good choice to break up your living area and make it feel more inviting.
What type of coffee table goes with a grey sofa?
As it’s a neutral colour, there are lots of options for a coffee table that complements your grey sofa.
For lighter shades, pale woods, silver metals and white or cream paints are all good options. Darker greys stand up well to something rich and elegant like dark woods, gold metals and black paints.
What type of coffee table goes with a leather sofa?
A leather sofa is often the centrepiece of a living room in its own right, so you need to choose a coffee table that can hold its own.
Brown leather sofas are complemented by rustic styles such as reclaimed pallets and coffee tables with natural wood tops. For black leather, pairing it with a contemporary metal coffee table with a glass or marble top will look absolutely stunning.
What type of coffee table goes with a sectional sofa?
Whether L-shaped or U-shaped, a sectional sofa can be difficult to pair a coffee table with, as there are multiple sides to consider.
Round coffee tables are a good choice for sectionals, as they create more open space around the table than a square or rectangular table of the same width. This makes them easier to slot into the available space while still allowing access to the sofa.
Our final thoughts on choosing the right coffee table
While there are lots of guidelines on how you should and shouldn’t style your coffee table, ultimately it’s down to your personal preference.
Remember that you’re choosing the right coffee table for you, not for anyone else. As the centrepiece of your living room, you’ll see it all the time, so make sure to choose something that you love.
As long as you consider the size of the space and your overall interior design theme when purchasing your coffee table, whatever makes you happy is the right way to go.