A coffee table is more than just a surface to rest your mug. It’s a focal point, a statement piece, a catalyst for connection. The living room coffee table sets the tone for the space, influencing both aesthetics and functionality.
As an interior design expert hailing from the architectural wonderland of New York City, I’ve seen my fair share of living rooms. And in my decade in the field, it’s become clear that a thoughtfully chosen coffee table can make or break a space. It sits at the center of the action!
So, how do you pick that perfect coffee table to anchor your living room? Let’s dive in…this is going to be fun!
- 1 A Little Background on the Leading Lady of Living Rooms
- 2 Determining the Right Size and Shape for Your Space
- 3 Key Materials to Choose From
- 4 Styles to Match Your Personality and Decor
- 5 Functional Features to Search For
- 6 Accessories and Décor to Style Your Table
- 7 Choosing Coffee Tables for Small Spaces
- 8 Eco-Friendly Tables: Good for Your Home and the Earth
- 9 Maintaining and Protecting Your Investment
A Little Background on the Leading Lady of Living Rooms
Before we get to the how-to, a quick history lesson is in order. Coffee tables originated as tea tables in the late 1800s in Britain. They were dainty little pieces placed near seating to hold tea service. It wasn’t until the 20th century that larger, lower coffee tables designed for mugs and magazines gained prominence.
Over the decades, the coffee table evolved from a practical piece to a stylish centerpiece. These days, it’s available in a spectacular array of materials, shapes, sizes, and designs. The one constant? Its starring role in the living room layout.
Whether you’re sipping your morning latte, kicking back for movie night, or hosting a game night with friends, the coffee table remains the heart of the living room. It’s where life unfolds. And it reflects your style better than any piece of furniture.
Now, let’s explore how to choose the coffee table of your dreams and delights!
Determining the Right Size and Shape for Your Space
Coffee tables come in squares, rectangles, ovals, and circles. And they range from itty bitty snacker tables to expansive pieces that anchor oversized sectionals. So, how do you pick the proportions that work for your parlor?
Here are a few tips and considerations:
- Match it to your sofa/seating. Your coffee table should be low enough to reach comfortably from your sofa or chairs. The standard height is around 16 to 18 inches. An ideal coffee table length is about two-thirds the length of your sofa or seating area.
- Mind the clearance. Allow enough breathing room around the coffee table so folks can comfortably get in and out without bumping knees or toeing the table legs. A good rule of thumb is to leave 12-18 inches between the edge of the coffee table and the sofa or seating.
- Consider your floor plan. The shape of your coffee table should complement the overall proportions of the room. Rectangular and oval work well in many spaces. Round and square can be excellent choices for smaller living rooms.
- Accommodate activities. Will you use your coffee table mainly for holding drinks and décor? Or will you eat meals and play board games there? Consider how you’ll use the space when choosing size and shape.
- Sectionals and unique seating? If you have a sectional, modular, or otherwise uniquely shaped sofa, consider a coffee table with an organic shape like oval or round rather than boxy. This helps soften angles and keep the visual lines fluid.
Bottom line? There’s no universal formula. Choose the size and shape that best suits your space and lifestyle!
Key Materials to Choose From
The materials your coffee table is crafted from have a significant impact on the look, feel, and functionality of the piece. From warm, natural wood to sleek metal and glass, let’s look at some of the most popular options:
Wood: Timeless and Versatile
Wood coffee tables are beloved for their rich, timeless warmth and versatility. Oak, walnut, maple, and mahogany are all popular choices, and they come in a spectrum of stains to match any color palette. The downside? Wood is prone to scratches and watermarks. But a little care goes a long way.
Metal: Sleek, Durable, Modern
From industrial chic iron tables to gleaming gold and silver finishes, metal coffee tables range from vintage to modern. The material is naturally durable and perfect for high-traffic areas. The sleek, streamlined aesthetic works well in contemporary spaces.
Glass: Light, Bright, and Classic
Glass-topped tables immediately lighten up a room visually. They come in clear, frosted, colored, and patterned glass. The material feels classic, elegant, and bright. The transparency keeps the look lightweight, too. Just take care to use coasters and trays to prevent scratches.
Stone: Dramatic, Luxurious, Natural
For pure drama and elegance, marble, slate, and other natural stone coffee tables can’t be beaten. But faux options capture the high-end aesthetic at a lower price point. Stone makes a profound style statement but requires maintenance to prevent stains and etching.
Mix and Match: Dynamic, Personal and Fun
Who says you can’t have two (or three) materials in one room? Mixing up wood, glass, metal, and other materials keeps the room visually interesting. This eclectic look also feels fresh, personal, and fun.
The material options for coffee tables are nearly endless. So consider which speaks to your style and complements the existing furniture and architecture.
Styles to Match Your Personality and Decor
Like choosing the perfect outfit, selecting a coffee table is a chance to showcase your taste and style. Do you lean toward classic or modern? Minimalist or ornate? Here are some popular coffee table aesthetics and how to work them:
Modern and Minimalist: Clean Lines and Simple Forms
If sleek, contemporary style is your thing, keep your coffee table pared down and geometric. Think stainless steel bases, wood plank tabletops, and floating glass forms. Stick to neutral colors with metallics for accents. This unfussy, streamlined look works well in lofts, apartments, and modern homes.
Traditional and Classic: Rich Wood, Carved Details, Timeless Elegance
For a traditional feel, look for classic cherry, oak, and mahogany wood tables with carved cabriole legs. Opt for ornate details like scrollwork accents and inset panels. A medium stain feels stately and elegant. Add a decorative tablecloth for extra sophistication. This style is perfect for formal living rooms.
Rustic and Farmhouse: weathered and welcoming
Prominent on the hygge lifestyle? A rough-hewn wood plank table with artisan details is right at home in a rustic living room. Look for raw-edge wood, visible knots, metal banding, and turned legs. Whitewash and lightly distressed finishes keep it casual. Feel free to mix metals like iron and bronze for texture.
Eclectic: Creative, Bold and One-of-a-Kind
If your motto is “rules, what rules?” decorating with a bold, eclectic coffee table will make you smile. Use your unique finds from flea markets or your travel souvenirs, or choose a bright, unexpected color. Incorporate details you love, whether gold inlay or quirky animal figures. Anything goes with this creative style!
The most important thing is choosing a table that reflects your personality. Don’t settle for a “nice” table that blends safely into the background. Your coffee table deserves to tell your unique story!
Functional Features to Search For
Beyond the aesthetics, don’t underestimate the power of practicality. Clever functional features can make your coffee table even more useful. Here are a few to look for as you shop:
- Hidden storage – Lift-top coffee tables are mega popular for good reason. Who couldn’t use the extra storage space for remotes, chargers, and blankets? Look for lift-top, drawer, and shelf storage options.
- Custom organization – Does your coffee table have a designated spot for the TV clicker? Or drawers that perfectly fit your favorite magazines? Pay attention to organizational details like trays, coasters, and bins that simplify your life.
- Charging station – Our phones and tablets are constantly dying, am I right? Choose a table with built-in charging ports or USB hookups to stay powered up during movie night.
- Laptop friendly – If you often work from home at your coffee table, choose a size and height that comfortably accommodates your laptop. Bonus if there’s storage for computer accessories.
- Caster wheels – Love flexibility in your furniture placement as the mood strikes? Tables with caster wheels allow you to reposition your coffee table anytime easily.
Thinking through the features that would simplify or enhance your day-to-day will help narrow your search to the most functional coffee table for your lifestyle. Who said practicality can’t be beautiful, too?
Accessories and Décor to Style Your Table
Once you’ve chosen that dream coffee table, it’s time for the fun part—decorating! Accessories and meaningful personal touches turn a basic table into a beautiful display. Here are some easy ways to style your coffee table like a pro:
- Books – There’s nothing like the timeless look of beautiful coffee table books. Opt for subjects you’re passionate about, whether architecture, botanicals, fashion, or art. Stack horizontally or vertically in groups of threes, fives, or sevens.
- Trays – A tray (or two or three) instantly makes your coffee table look curated and pulled together. Trays corral smaller objects and provide a landing spot for drinks. Opt for wood, marble, or metal that complements your table.
- Plants – Every coffee table needs a little life! Potted plants, a small herb garden, or simple floral bouquets infuse freshness into a room. Greenery also helps purify indoor air.
- Candles – For instant coziness and warmth, candles can’t be beat. Cluster pillar candles, votives, or hurricane lanterns. Pick unscented if your space is already tiny.
- Personal touches – Show off your personality! Display special mementos, favorite travel finds, or objects tied to your hobbies and passion. Your guests will love catching a glimpse into your world.
The décor possibilities are as unique as yours. Visit flea markets and local artisans to find unique pieces that speak to you. However you style it, let your coffee table reflect the story!
Choosing Coffee Tables for Small Spaces
Only some people live in a sprawling, great room! For apartment dwellers and tiny home lovers, the struggle is real when fitting furniture. But here are some savvy small-space coffee table solutions:
- Nesting tables – Nesting tables stack together when not in use to save precious square footage. Bonus—they can be pulled apart for extra surface when you have guests.
- Lift-top coffee tables – Look for coffee tables that lift up to reveal hidden storage inside. You get the tabletop when needed and invisible storage when not.
- Multipurpose furniture – Tables on casters can easily be rolled to the center of the room when needed, then pushed aside as a console table or tucked as a side table when the company leaves.
- Glass or acrylic – Clear glass, acrylic, or Lucite has a lightweight, barely-there look that keeps rooms feeling open. This material works with any color scheme, too.
- Metal frame – Spindly-legged designs with lots of space between the legs and under the tabletop maintain an airy, spacious feel even in tight quarters.
If you’re dealing with limited square footage, look for coffee tables scaled to your space. But don’t settle for lackluster design. There are so many options to keep your small living room stylish!
Eco-Friendly Tables: Good for Your Home and the Earth
In this day and age, we all want to be kinder to the planet, right? Luckily, there are some fabulous sustainable coffee table options made from recycled and upcycled materials. Here are a few to look for:
- FSC Certified wood – Opt for wood from responsible suppliers who don’t cut down entire forests. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council’s stamp of approval.
- Reclaimed wood – Wood repurposed from old barns, buildings, and even wine barrels brings rustic charm along with eco-cred. Search Etsy for handcrafted reclaimed pieces.
- Cork – As an earth-friendly material that regenerates itself, cork makes a great natural tabletop. The sound absorption is a bonus!
- Recycled metal – Tables crafted from recycled auto parts, old silverware, antique farm tools, or other repurposed metals give them new life while reducing waste.
- Upcycled – Check sites like Pinterest for ideas on updating flea market finds or old furniture pieces like hip coffee tables. A little paint or new hardware can transform hidden gems.
Don’t forget also to consider manufacturing practices. Seek out brands that work to reduce their carbon footprint through initiatives like energy efficiency, reducing waste, and recycling materials in their facilities.
Maintaining and Protecting Your Investment
You’ve found the perfect coffee table for your home—hurray! Now it’s time to keep it looking fabulous. I know cleaning is no fun. But routine care will keep your table in tip-top shape for years of enjoyment.
For wood tables, simply dust regularly with a microfiber cloth and clean with a damp cloth (water only!) when needed. Polish occasionally with furniture wax or oil to protect the finish. Coasters and tablecloths are a wood table’s best friend.
Glass, metal, and stone tables can be cleaned with your favorite glass cleaner or a vinegar-water mix. Buff dry with a soft cloth. Take care not to place hot dishes directly on the surface.
Try to wipe up spills right away before they have a chance to stain. For wood tables, use a damp rag and avoid excessive moisture that could seep into joints. For dried coffee or wine stains, a paste of baking soda and water or a gentle cleaner like Tovolo Stain Eraser can lift them. Test in an inconspicuous spot first.
Make your coffee table shine again by addressing scratches or worn spots promptly. Consult a furniture repair pro for more severe damage, or look into DIY fixes like marker touch-up pens and filler sticks for minor issues.
Mindfulness lets you keep your coffee table looking amazing while protecting your investment. Just get into the habit of using coasters, trivets, and tablecloths and carefully handle spills.
Well, we covered a lot of ground in picking the perfect coffee table. Whether sipping your morning latte or laughing over a board game with friends, may your new coffee table serve your family well and spark joy for years.