The Art of the Coffee Table

The Art of the Coffee Table

There are hundreds of choices when it comes to picking a coffee table, but only a few that would really look amazing in your room. The choices you’ll have to make revolve around materials, size, functionality, and balance with the rest of the room. Here’s a walkthrough on each of the key considerations, so you can find a coffee table that absolutely shines!


The first decision is the table’s material. This should be a pretty straightforward one, as your personal preference will kick in to help you figure out what you like and don’t like. Try to match materials with the rest of the room, but don’t be afraid to mix it up a little. Metal coffee tables look great when your room already has a lot of wood in it, colored lacquer is sure to make a statement, and marble can add an unspoken elegance.

IKEA wood coffee tableJoss and Main Alec metal coffee table

Glass coffee table from All ModernRound marble coffee table

Gilt Abbyson Living Villagio square leather coffee table ottoman Polyvore red lacquer coffee table - ShopAD - Barclay Butera - Columbia table


Combination of Materials

Some coffee tables are made of one material throughout, while others have several. This is another “you’ll know what you like when you see it” decision. Our one suggestion here is to find a glass-top table if you really love your rug — that way you’ll be able to see more of it!



Some coffee tables have storage built in, either with drawers or a shelf below the tabletop. It’s important to note that tables with storage space look bulkier than those without, since they have less open space underneath the tabletop. However, drawers or shelves can be critical to maintaining the tidiness of your living room — stash those books, toys, and gadgets away!


Form vs. Function

One of the first steps when choosing a coffee table is acknowledging which you value more: form or function. Would you choose a fragile table that looks incredible over a sturdier one that doesn’t look as nice? Or the other way around?

This beauty is a true form-over-function table:

Kingston Natural Driftwood Oval Glass coffee cocktail table from Arteriors Coffee Tables - eclectic wood tree trunk coffee table

Note that glass tables require frequent cleaning (from fingerprints, water rings, dust, etc.), and you must take care to watch young children near them.

Wood tables are a happy medium between form and function.

Sirah Coffee Table - Mediterranean wooden coffee table - balance of form and function

You can find a carved antique wood table, a more modern straightforward wood table, or anything in between to suit your tastes. In any case, keep in mind wood is prone to permanent water rings. Be sure to use coasters!

An ottoman is the best choice if you value function over form.

OnlyOttomans - Fintan rectangule leather ottoman

Ottomans may not be as fancy as some other coffee tables, but they let you put your feet up comfortably and also not feel bad about it. They are less convenient to serve food from since the surface is not completely flat, but you can still entertain by placing a tray on top.

If you have young children, safety is a key concern when choosing a coffee table (as we’re sure you already know). Avoid glass corners and sharp edges. Circular tables are a great option!



The coffee table should provide balance in your room by contrasting with the furniture and colors already there.

  • Relative size — A large, chunky table will make your living room feel cramped if your sofa is also large. Maintain balance by matching a large couch with a thin, sleek coffee table, and a streamlined couch with a bigger and bolder coffee table.
  • Relative complexity — Another aspect of balance to consider is simplicity: a detailed coffee table will shine in a simple room, while a simple coffee table will provide good contrast with a highly-decorative room.
  • Contrasting color — Finally, be sure to consider how all the colors in your room work together. A colorful lacquered coffee table can be just the pop you need in a neutral room, while a simple white table can balance out a room that already has several colors.


Sizing Advice

It’s important to order the right size coffee table.

  • Put 18 inches between the front of your couch and the table. It’s the optimal amount of room to sit down on the sofa and then be able to reach food, drinks, or books on the table.
  • Try to leave a walkway between the coffee table and the TV stand (or other furniture) that’s at least 30 inches wide.
  • Aim for a table height that’s 1 or 2 inches shorter than the seat of your sofa. For most couches, this means the standard coffee table height of 16-18 inches will work fine.


A Few Additional Resources

10 Tips for Finding the Perfect Coffee Table — HGTV

Coffee Table Styles and Materials Guide — Wayfair

Beautiful Coffee Tables — Brit + Co


Tag us in your favorite coffee table on Instagram @decoratorapp!