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round marble coffee table with black metal legs and book stack

How to Choose a Coffee Table in 7 Easy Steps

I’m so glad you’re here to figure out how to choose a coffee table for your living room. Because, honestly, I know it can seem daunting. Actually, to be fair, you often don’t realise it’s daunting until you panic-buy the wrong table and then get it home and hate its guts.

Let’s avoid that entire buyers-remorse situation and think through a few important factors before we hit the stores. These are the questions I ask myself about my interior design clients when I’m specifying coffee tables for them. So in the interest of doing God’s work (he so owes me), I want to share my process with you.

By the end of this post you’ll be so clued up on how to choose a coffee table that no retail staff member will be able to talk you into buying the wrong one. Drop me a comment at the end of the post if you have any questions for me or want to clarify anything that doesn’t make sense for you.

boconcet black rectangle coffee table in living room with tan leather sofa

1. Function First

When going through the process of how to choose a coffee table, function always comes first.

How are you going to use this coffee table? Actually, are you going to use it at all? That sounds like a strange question, I know. But what I mean is whether or not the table is going to be used in a real way (sitting drinks on, holding remotes), or whether it’s more decorative (sitting further away from the sofa with a stylish vignette on top).

PS if you need tips on this front, here’s our guide to styling coffee tables.

If it’s more decorative, you can go for a heavier table because it’s never going to move positions. If it’s more functional, you want to go for a lightweight option you can pull close to the sofa when you’re sitting on it, and push back when not needed. Nobody wants to drag a large marble coffee table toward them every time they’re knocking back a wine.

Storage is worth thinking about as well. Do you need to store things like books, magazines or toys underneath? If so a shelf or drawers becomes crucial.

Also take some time to think about who lives in the home (you and your partner, or kids, or pets etc), because this will impact some of the other considerations below.

Image above features the super-chic Los Angeles Coffee Table from BoConcept.

rectangle oak coffee table with curved edges

2. Colour & Style

The coffee table should make sense in the room. Even if you want it to be a focal point, wow-moment kind of show-stopper, it still has to reflect the style of the space. You can’t put a marble coffee table with shiny brass legs in a dark industrial living room and expect it to look good. You want it to stand out for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

So many ‘experts’ advise you to just buy what you love. If you love it, it’ll always work. That, my dear friends, is the worst advice ever. That’s like me loving a men’s romper. Cute on the model, but never going to work on this dad bod (PS I have a dad bod and I’m not even a dad. That’s what Covid19 self-isolation has done to me).

That said, don’t get too stuck on a theme. If you have a Hamptons vibe at home, you don’t have to Google “Hamptons coffee tables” and shop for something expected. It’s more about the colour working with the rest of the tones in the space.

The image above via The Spruce showcases this perfectly. The table is soft and soothing, which is how I would describe the vibe of the room overall.

sitchu square marble block coffee table in luxe living room

3. Material is Everything

When figuring out how to choose a coffee table, material is everything. It’s going to make or break the room for you day to day. And the material you choose comes down to a few key factors.

Firstly, think about who uses the room. Kids and pets… not so good with glass. Kids who want to draw at the table (or on it!)… not boding well for a marble top. Glass can also show up paw prints and dust quite easily. So maintenance comes into play too.

Timber tables are a great option but just be careful with the colour you go for. Black-top coffee tables are very unforgiving when it comes to dust and dirt. You’ll see literally everything, like people’s pores on a HDTV.

It’s also wise to vary up the material between coffee tables and side tables. Not everything has to be matchy-matchy. Don’t feel you have to buy coffee and side tables from the same collection. A variety of materials/finishes in a room is important.

Image above is of the divine Marble Floating Coffee Table from Coco Republic.

plush grey recliner sofa marble coffee table from fantastic furniture and diamond rug from the rug collection

4. Choosing a Shape

Shape comes into play as well when it comes to how to choose a coffee table. And to find the right one for you, it again comes down to thinking about how you use the space, and also how large the space is.

If you’re moving in and out of the space a lot, and it’s not a big area, a round or oval table without sharp corners is a wise idea. Bonus points for these shapes if you have kids. Your little one will be far safer with smooth edges.

If your living room is larger and/or you want a more formal, structured look, then a square or rectangle table is going to work well. Although you do need to think about furniture placement around it. An armchair across from your sofa that’s facing the sharp corner of the table is never an ideal option.

If you have a living room setup where there’s a sectional sofa (L-shape) that has an armchair sitting diagonally across from it, then a square table can look odd. A round or oval shape will work better.

coastal living room with white sofa and round oak coffee table freedom

5. The Right Width

There’s nothing worse than a coffee table that takes up way too much space in the room. You don’t want to feel you have to turn sideways to shuffle past it. But at the same time, you never want to feel the coffee table is miles away from the edge of the sofa.

Small coffee tables that float in the middle of the room are one of my top 10 Biggest Living Room Style Mistakes. Hopefully it’s one you can avoid, because you really want the scale of the sofa, coffee table and rug underneath to work in perfect harmony.

As a general rule, I like to give 50cm of space from the front of the sofa to the edge of the coffee table. If the room is quite small, you’d also want 50cm of space from the coffee table edge to the TV unit or adjacent armchair.

The image above via Freedom illustrates the 50cm rule perfectly.

andre coffee table from castlery

6. Coffee Tables for Big Rooms

I’ve show you how to style a small living room before, but you might have the rather lucky conundrum of having a really large living room you need to fill. Sometimes, even a large coffee table still feels dwarfed in the space with a tonne of rug still showing on one side of it. So what do you do to correct this?

Consider placing two rectangle coffee tables side-by-side to form one large square. If the tables in question are fairly thin in the leg and don’t feel too dominant, this will create a really chic solution. Glass works well here and it isn’t visually heavy.

Alternatively, two round ottomans sitting neatly beside a rectangle coffee table can help fill the space a bit. This can also feel rather high-end and formal if they’re interesting pouffes that deliver a point of difference.

Last but not least, nest coffee tables are your friend. Two large tables, one tucked slightly under the other, are a godsend for large living rooms.

Or you could always opt for an interesting option like the Andre Coffee Table from Castlery above.

winter living room decorating with faux fur rug and round black coffee table

7. Avoiding Height Blunders

Last but not least, coffee table height is crucial to get right. The biggest blunder you can ever make with your coffee table is having it sit higher than the seat cushion of your sofa. You always want the coffee table to be at the same height or lower.

In fact, some low coffee tables can look amazing in a room, so don’t be afraid to embrace this as an option. A low, wide coffee table (I’m talking 25cm or less) can look really successful in a large room, especially if there’s a number of books stacked on it, or other decor taking up some visual height on top.

If you’re looking around and struggling to find a low coffee table, consider creating something of your own. Thinking outside the box when it comes to a piece of furniture like this can result in a real talking point for the room.

Here’s our list of unique and alternative coffee table ideas.

Has this made how to choose a coffee table any easier? I’m crossing my fingers you feel like a coffee table pro now. But do let me know if anything above didn’t make sense. Drop me a comment below if you need any help.


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Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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10 Responses

  1. Chris hi very helpful tips as always. I love the coffee table in the last photo and was wondering if you would be happy to share where you purchased it. Thanks Cathy

  2. Hi i was wondering if you are to please advise where the marble coffee table in the very 1st post was purchased from.

  3. Hi Chris! I’m struggling in choosing a new coffee table. Can I send a photo of my space for a couple ideas?

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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