It’s no secret that when it comes to picking out living room furniture, sofas receive the lion’s share of the attention. Ask any designer, though, and they’re likely to vouch for giving your coffee table equal consideration. After all, a coffee table provides the opportunity to integrate a new texture and shape into your space—not to mention, a new mood. And unlike a sofa, you don’t have to pay a lick of mind to comfort! So, what are the things you should take into account when picking out a coffee table? We asked a troupe of coffee table connoisseurs (a.k.a: some of our favorite designers) to share their insider intel. Here, they answer some of the most common questions associated with picking a coffee table and share the buying tips that they swear by!
What is the Right Coffee Table Shape for My Space?
Has a bigger quandary ever existed? Between square, rectangular, circular, oval, and biomorphic-shaped coffee tables, the question of what shape to choose is a daunting one. “My first consideration is always the shape of the living room,” says Tod Donobedian of the San Francisco-based firm, Donobedian’s Refind Home. For a current project that he’s working on in which the homeowner’s living room is a perfect square, Tod is opting to break up the linearity with a circular coffee table placed atop a circular rug. “I like to do shapes within shapes,” he explains. “If it were a rectangular room, I’d be inclined to use an oval shape.” You may also want to consider the shape of your sofa. Serpentine sofas, for instance, provide a natural nook for a circular coffee table to nest in.
How Large Should My Coffee Table be in Comparison to My Sofa?
“Conventional wisdom suggests that a coffee table be two-thirds the width of the sofa,” notes Tod Donobedian. As for depth, he suggests limiting it between 12” to 18,” generally. “There needs to be ample room to comfortably walk through the area,” he explains. In fact, in the case of narrow rooms, it can be beneficial to forgo a traditional coffee table altogether. Instead, cluster a group of small tables or ottomans. In cases like these, your coffee table may run shorter than two-thirds of the width of your sofa, but don’t stress. As for how far you should place a coffee table from a sofa? “My general rule is to space the coffee table 20” from the sofa,” says designer Gary Gibson of Gary Gibson Interior Design. “This feels generous to me.”
4 Things to Consider When Choosing a Coffee Table
Contemporary coffee tables are a far cry from a slab supported by four legs. Pedestal coffee tables, block coffee tables, and drum coffee tables are all super-sculptural alternatives that are readily available these days. Embrace curvature to break up the traditionally hard angles that permeate most living rooms. More nuanced surface details can also generate interest. Designer and antique purveyor Gary Gibson reveals that his go-to table is a satin lacquered tray coffee table of his own design, known as the Chandler. “It has a rail around the edge to keep things in place and a storage shelf below for books,” he explains. Remember: a coffee table will be viewed from both afar and close up. Subtle detailing that might seem unnecessary on a peripheral item like a console or dresser, can speak volumes on a coffee table since it will be viewed at close-range on the regular.
Banish those outmoded connotations that wood coffee tables are your only option. Since the 1970s, makers have been crafting coffee tables in a wide range of alternative materials. Think—metal, acrylic, and upholstered ottoman coffee tables. However, if you’re looking to avoid a material that doesn’t easily scratch or ding, wood remains beyond compare. “Depending on the style of the project, distressed wood finishes work well,” says Refind Home’s Tod Donobedian. When Kress Jack of the Mill Valley, CA firm, Kress Jack at Home, needs something less precious, she defaults to a vintage coffee table. “I always look for vintage first,” she explains. “Especially if a table already has some wear and tear, the clients won’t worry as much if it continues to get banged up. Vintage just adds to the character.”
When you think about it, a coffee table is so much more than a perch for your morning brew. “I’m a lounger, so I like to make sure that any coffee table I select for myself will also be sturdy enough to put my feet on it while watching a movie,” says Tod Donobedian. Make a checklist that includes all the ways that your coffee table will be used. Will it function as a monthly game night battleground? An occasional dining room table? As extra party seating in a pinch? Kids throw another curveball into the function equation, of course. “When my son was little I assiduously avoided glass tops and hard-edged corners,” says Tod. “Everything was rounded. And I personally favored wood over any other material.” When it comes to kids, vintage trunks personally earn designer Kress Jack’s vote. “I also love the 60s style molded plastic coffee and side tables for kids,” she says, “These vintage coffee tables look modern in today’s homes as well, adding the perfect pop of color.”
You might have ambitions to move in a coffee table that will host everything from sprawling Superbowl snack spreads to 1,000-piece puzzles, but if your table’s scale is too large for your room, you’ll be left with more of a headache than harmony. “The biggest mistake is to buy furniture without a plan, or before even measuring,” says designer Gary Gibson. “Room planning is critical. Having detailed photos and measurements of the pieces you are considering is very important before pulling the trigger.” Designer Kress Jack has another tip for achieving balance with scale—“I love to encircle large coffee tables with ottomans as well as lounge chairs,” she says. “The more eclectic and unmatched your seating is, the more inviting your room feels without being fussy. The mix makes a room feel inviting and ready to entertain a large group at any time!”
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Lead photo design by Kress Jack at Home / Photo by Helynn Ospina