Coffee Table Guide

Tara Dickinson
9 minute read

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How To Buy A Coffee Table

The fabulous ‘coffee’ table, such an essential part of your living room. This necessary little, or big and sturdy, table for making our lives more convenient, better organized, and absolutely more stylish has many different representations. Holding everything from our all-essential remote controls, to mugs of hot beverages, to dinner plates, bowls of movie snacks, and even our tired feet after a long day.


As posted in Furniture, Furniture History, “It began in 1652 when the first coffee house opened in London. It was so popular that more coffee houses soon opened all over Europe. Also called ‘Penny University’, the cost to enter was a penny and included a cup of coffee. The idea of a coffee table came from the need to put down your hot beverage between sips.

  • These tables, called tea tables, were tall at 27″ high, compared to today’s coffee tables at 18″-19″ high.
  • It is speculated that the name tea table was changed to coffee table because coffee became more popular than tea.
  • It wasn’t until 1938, that a coffee table was defined as a “low wide table used before a sofa or couch.
  • Today, coffee tables (also called cocktail tables) still share the same location in the living room in front of the sofa.
  • Yet, the shape, size, and functionality have changed vastly.”

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How to Buy a Coffee Table

The functions, shapes, and styles, not to mention materials, are so vast and diversified that one can have a difficult time making the right choice for your home. So let’s look at the guidelines for choosing the best coffee table for your needs. Before you even begin looking for the perfect coffee table, it would be best to first have your living room’s sitting furniture, sofa, or easy chairs, already in place. That way you can match the ideal height, depth, and width to fit perfectly with these furnishings. A coffee table helps tie together your seating area. Let’s go through the different coffee table shapes, how they work with different sofa shapes, and find the right coffee table for your home.


There are a few general rules of thumb that professional designers offer when it comes to choosing the right sized coffee table.


  • No more than 2-3 inches above or below your sofa’s seat height.
  • Close to the same height is best.
  • Too tall or too short will be impractical and the decor won’t look as good as it could.


  • Take into account the room you have available to navigate around your coffee table.
  • 17 inches from each end of your coffee table to the edge of your sofa is best for navigation.
  • If you have an area rug, coffee table placement would be in the center.


Abstract shaped coffee tables come in unique shapes. A sort of triangle table with rounded corners, a table with indefinite edges and curves, or a design that cannot be defined into any named shape are examples of tables that would be considered ‘abstract’.

  • These shapes offer the ability to break up the angle of an L-shaped sofa.
  • Abstract shapes add a bit of a flair and artistic element to a room's decor.
  • These tables may have legs that lift them off the floor and create a sense of airiness which is a trick to make a space feel larger.
  • It anchors the center of the room.
  • Can visually balance out the more angular shaped chairs and couches.


‘Organic’ shapes would be those that are similar to shapes found in nature; think shapes like rocks, plants, or vegetables- teardrops, kidney beans. What’s different about organic shapes is that you will have different ‘looks’ from various vantage points you have in the room. This gives your coffee table the feeling of being an evolving object within your space that adds dimension and a sculptural quality. As with all types of coffee tables, considering the size and scale of your sofa will determine the size and shape of your coffee table.

  • An organic-shaped coffee table is great for inspiring movement in a living room.
  • Organic shapes work well with a regular-sized sofa, offering a more dynamic look.
  • Organic shapes have a sense of fluidity.
  • These shapes can completely change the vibe of a space.


Oval-shaped coffee tables work quite well when paired with standard sofa styles. Longer in length than a round coffee table, the oval will offer some additional surface while also providing a softer, more natural shape than your angular pieces.

  • Oval shapes add some unique visual interest.
  • An oval coffee table pairs nicely as a balance to sofas with angular edges.
  • Make sure you have adequate room for walking on all sides of the table.
  • Oval shapes are ideal choices if you have younger children in the home as the rounded edges are much safer than sharp corners.


For a typical sofa, a rectangular coffee table is your best all-around choice. Basically, you can’t go wrong with this shape, fitting well with a traditional, standard-size sofa.

  • Rectangle shapes have a grounding element.
  • Offers a lot of surface area.
  • A rectangular coffee table gives you more space relative to the rest of your seating arrangement.


A round coffee table, either one large or two smaller ones, is the most versatile shape and best choice of coffee table for any sofa style. Whether you have a standard sofa, a sectional, or a sofa with a chaise, a round coffee table will tuck into any space, with proper size and proportion consideration. Round tables, especially a pair of them, are very flexible, playful, and accommodating when arranging your furnishings. It breaks up the angle of an L-shape sofa and adds an organic element that brings some breathing room to your layout.

  • They are easier to navigate around than other shapes.
  • Round tables give you room to play around with furniture placement as there are no hard lines or edges.
  • A round coffee table adds visual interest and creates a bit of a statement in your space.
  • Measure the circumference and make sure to balance out the length of your sofa.
  • Can add supplementing side tables next to other chairs or seating areas in the living room for extra surface area.
  • An additional option is to have two round tables, placing them side-by-side or staggering them, with one closer to the sofa and one further away.
  • Staggering creates varied walking space around your tables and sofa and more visual interest.
  • Round shapes are also the most kid-friendly as there are no hard edges or corners.


One secret tip professional decorators offer when choosing square shaped coffee tables to go with two versus a single square table, placing two squares side-by-side rather than just one. A single square coffee table would feel small, leaving the seating area feeling unbalanced. Using two eliminates any awkwardness a single table might look on it’s own paired with a long rectangular couch. Double squares provide a more balanced, cohesive look. Bonus: two squares offer double the surface area plus the addition of visual intrigue while using the concept of a rectangular coffee table.

  • This is the perfect choice for a coffee table shape when you have a chaise or sectional couch.
  • A single square coffee table works really well for a sofa with a chaise or a sectional.
  • It tucks perfectly into the angle of the chaise while still giving you enough breathing room.
  • It’s also great for those who love a more traditional take on a seating arrangement, since the lines of the coffee table align with the lines of the sofa, with edges meeting edges and the square shape echoing the angle of the sofa.
  • Prefer the look of a square but want softer edges? An ottoman is a great coffee table alternative, which also provides a comfortable, makeshift seat or footrest.


Glass Coffee Tables

Glass is quite stunning but remember that even tempered glass can break more easily than other materials and that glass requires regular cleaning to remove fingerprints and beverage rings.

  • Glass coffee tables create a feeling of openness.
  • Glass tabletops allow the design of the table’s base to shine.
  • These are best to showcase your favorite treasures and all coffee table accessories.

Marble Coffee Tables

Coffee tables made of marble or with marble table tops are popular choices, used to brighten an area or create a natural contrast against darker-colored furniture. Most marble tables are expensive, although they can vary in price depending on size and quality. Faux-marble options also are available.

  • Marble coffee tables offer elegance and formal appeal.
  • Marble is noted for its durability against stains and scratches.
  • Marble also offers design versatility.
  • Mixing marble with other materials, such as metal or wood, can work as contrast and soften harder-looking materials.

Metal Coffee Tables

While some coffee tables are built exclusively with metal or steel, most of them use a metal frame or incorporate metal as trim with another material.

  • Industrial-style metal tables offer both function and aesthetic appeal.
  • Workbenches or industrial-type storage constructed with metal and wood are typical choices in this category.

Wood Coffee Tables

Wood coffee tables are the most common type of coffee table. Weathered wood can add warmth and softness, while sleek finishes add a contemporary, elegant touch.

  • Wood-legged tables are generally quite sturdy.
  • In smaller spaces, a high-quality wood table can also serve as seating. 


Choosing the right coffee table to pair with your sofa and as one of the main elements of your living room means finding one with the right shape to match the decor style. Whether you've chosen Hollywood, Chicago, Mediterranean, or any other design from around the world, there will be dozens and dozens of choices for you to consider. As we saw in the guide above, the variety of coffee table shapes and styles to consider is extensive. But as always, it comes down to personal preference and choosing a piece that makes you happy. And to keep eco-conscious and stay within the ideals of a circular economy, choosing gently used secondhand or upcycled items is always ideal. Happy decorating!


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