3 Factors to Consider When Buying a Coffee Table

Buying a new coffee table is a fun way to give your living room or family room a little refresh! Unlike the large upholstered pieces in your sitting rooms, coffee tables do not need to be a big investment, so it’s a great piece to look at updating when your room just needs a little pick-me-up. But, oh, how do you choose? Take a look at these 3 factors to consider when buying a coffee table, and browse some lovely (and affordable!) choices.

What Size & Shape Is Right for Your Space?

Coffee tables come in so many shapes and sizes. When trying to choose what’s best for your room, consider both your space AND your intended use. As, you might remember from 5 Simple Measurements to Help Set Up Your Living Room, a coffee table should fall between ½ and ⅔ the length of your sofa, depending on its shape, visual weight, and your needs.

Shari’s coffee table shows the ideal 2/3 table to sofa ratio.

So beyond those important ratios, how do you decide? Think first about the layout of your sitting area and room aesthetics. A rectangular table may be ideally within reach of anyone perched on two facing sofas, but if you have an arc of chairs as part of your conversation area, you might prefer something round or oval. Also, if your room and furniture is dominated by straight lines, a soft circle in the middle can bring some needed balance, or vice versa.

Round coffee tables, like this marble-topped pedestal from West Elm, work well with angular sectionals.

Once you have the ideal “look” in mind, consider how you will use the table. If your table is just used for company to perch their drinks on, then by all means let your rooms’ aesthetics rule your choice. But, if in your real home you use your coffee tables for board games, puzzles, or kids’ project space, be sure to choose a surface large enough to accommodate these activities. (Seriously, get out your tape measure to see just how big that Monopoly board really is!) And speaking of kids, if you have wee ones, choosing a piece with rounded edges will save you from putting those unsightly corner bumpers on your centerpiece!

Besides being kid-friendly, the Peekaboo Acrylic Coffee Table from CB2 lets you have a large surface area without taking up visual space in your room.

Another consideration for children (or for anyone needing multi-purpose spaces), is bunching tables. Pushed together you can achieve the proper table to sofa proportions, but spread out you can provide tables for seats near and far when it’s snack time, and allow room for romping somersaults (or peaceful yoga) in the middle.

Pottery Barn’s Brooklyn Bunching Tables allow for flexible room arrangements.

What are your storage needs?

After you’ve settled on a good size and shape of table for your room, it’s time to consider the the rest of the piece. If you already have ample storage, then lucky you, make your choice based purely on your aesthetics (& budget.). IF your real house overfloweth with books, magazines, toys and remote controls … well, then you need to consider storage.

A closed storage piece, like a trunk or table filled with drawers, will do the most to hide your clutter, but, it also carries a lot of visual weight. So, if you go that route, you might err toward the smaller end of the ½ to ⅔ table to sofa ratio, particularly if you have a smaller room. These pieces also tend to cost more, since more material and craftsmanship go into making them, so be aware of that when shopping on a budget.

Need a beautiful place to stash lots of stuff? Try Anthropolgie’s Tanja Trunk.

Open storage (i.e., shelves) can be the best of both worlds: these pieces take up less visual space, but also provide a place to stash your stuff! They do require a little curating to keep things looking tidy. Neat stacks of books and a game or two can be displayed … along with pretty baskets to corral any remaining chaos!

Pottery Barns Tanner Tables provide shelves for storage, yet take up little visual space due to the glass surfaces.

Finally, a table that is completely open underneath can span both worlds. Pretty vignettes can be set atop on a tray to style the coffee table, but then stashed under the table when it’s game time! Large baskets or ottomans can be slid underneath for the maximum storage needs of real life, but can then can be crammed into your closet should you feel the need to “dress up” (and pare down) when company comes.

West Elm’s Emmerson Coffee Table has room books, baskets, or ottomans underneath.

What Material Makes Sense?

Last but not least, consider what material you want your coffee table to be made from. Wood is the most popular choice, but sometimes mixing in glass, metal, stone, or leather can be just what a space calls for. Again, both aesthetics and function should be considered.

Aesthetically, you want your room to look coordinated, but not matchy. To achieve this, aim for some repetition in your space, but then add variety. For example, you might have a few pieces in the same wood tone, but then throw in some different finishes to mix things up – maybe playing off the metal in a favorite chandelier or the paint color in an adjoining space. Visual weight is another important aesthetic consideration. If functionally you need a large table in smaller space, then consider a glass top or even a light-toned paint or wood instead of dark wood grains.

If your space calls from some sheen, try this marble coffee table with brass base from CB2.

Functionally, think about how durable your table needs to be. Can you enforce coaster use in your household? If not, you should probably avoid real wood, leather, or porous stone tops. Do you have snacking, crafting kids at your table? If so, a glass or metal top makes for easier clean up. Being realistic about your family habits up front can help avoid costly mishaps down the road.

No need to fuss about messes with a glass top like the one on this Crate & Barrel’s Square Parsons Coffee Table.

Buying a coffee table should be lots of fun. You have so many choices to dress up a room, and don’t need to break the bank doing so. Check back later this week for Kate’s shopping list of favorite coffee tables.

One Reply to “3 Factors to Consider When Buying a Coffee Table”

  1. I’m in the middle of buying new living room furniture and looking for coffee table ideas. Thanks to your article you gave me the idea of using two end tables I already have. Thank you!

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