How to Choose a Coffee Table
Your coffee table is the centrepiece of your living room – it’s where you’ll congregate with friends over a glass of wine, play board games with the kids, prop your feet up after a long day and rest your coffee mug on a crisp Sunday morning. So much life is lived at this piece of furniture, so it’s undoubtedly important to get right.
There are a whole host of things to really consider when making a crucial coffee table purchase, including the functionality of the piece, its style, colour and size. There’s also the feeling it gives you – does it slot into your life with ease? Does it match your existing decor? Do you want to spend all of that time around it?
With these factors and more to keep in mind, finding that perfect coffee table that unites your entire living room isn’t an easy task. But, with a few key pieces of advice in mind, it’ll be a whole lot easier… Keep reading to discover our must-knows before committing to a new coffee table.
Where to start
With literally thousands of choices on the market, working out where to begin can be overwhelming, to say the very least. So, our above-all, non-negotiable tip is this: work out the primary function of your coffee table, and go from there. What is it that you use your coffee table for the most?
Maybe it’s the focal piece of furniture when you entertain guests, or perhaps the kids use it as a surface for their after-school and weekend activities. Some of us just love to sit back, pop on a movie and use the coffee table as a functional piece for our food and drinks. Others prefer to stack it high with gorgeous trinkets and heavy design books. Whatever its use, pinpoint it and prioritise it to ensure you’re able to select your new piece accordingly.
With that in mind, let’s kick things off with the size of your coffee table. This will be dependent on the space you have available, the number of chairs or sofa pieces around it, and finally, the size of your family. For those with a lot of space to burn, opt for something larger and more ornate to fill the space and create necessary surface area. On the other hand, if you’re working with a small room or home, there’s nothing saying your coffee table has to be a behemoth! It’s ten times more functional to find something smaller that complements your existing furniture and doesn’t crowd what precious space you have at your disposal.
Your sofa arrangements will also reflect on the size of your coffee table – after all, it’s top priority to ensure that the surface is accessible wherever you’re sitting. So, if you’ve got two large sofas for a family of seven crowded around a tiny coffee table, chances are you’ll be uncomfortable and find it difficult to really utilise this piece. Instead, opt for something larger that everyone can reach with ease. Conversely, a giant coffee table with two armchairs will feel imbalanced and, stylistically, will look haphazard. In this case, go for a smaller table, using accent tables if you need additional surface space.
Finally, be sure that you’ve got enough space for everyone in your family. This comes hand-in-hand with your seating arrangements, and so, shouldn’t be difficult to satisfy. As long as everyone has equal access to the table, you’re doing something right!
Tip: Do you find yourself needing more surface space, but the coffee table just isn't cutting it? Consider dotting a side table or two around the living room to create more places to rest your drink, stack books and keep the remotes, without having to opt for a huge, overwhelming coffee table. These are great multifunctional pieces and will certainly come in handy, especially if you entertain.
Something that ties right into the size of your coffee table is – you guessed it – its shape. Gone are the days where a rectangle was your only option. Now, it’s just as common to see coffee tables in oval, square and even circular formats. Once again, this will depend on your household needs, but it will also help reflect the style that you’re trying to portray. For instance, circular coffee tables can really complement a mid century modern home, whereas something stark and rectangular with lots of sharp lines may be better suited to contemporary stylings.
Also consider the table’s practicality when selecting your shape. Depending on the configuration of your sofa or chairs, a circular or oval-shaped coffee table might not reach far enough for everyone to access comfortably. Meanwhile, rectangular coffee tables will fit to each edge, allowing your household to reach it with ease no matter where they’re seated.
Once you’ve figured out the size and shape of your future coffee table, you’ve probably got a rough sketch in mind. Now, let’s fill out the details. The material your coffee table is made out of can make or break the way you use it – not all materials are created equal, after all, and some suit certain lifestyles and families over others.
One of the most common materials is wood, with wooden coffee tables making up a huge portion of what’s on offer. Depending on the type of wood used, this is a super sturdy option that looks beautiful and suits a range of styles, including mid-century modern, Scandi, coastal and classic. Some woods, like oak and mahogany, will endure everyday use for many years, and so, are a great choice for those with kids and pets. Even if you’ve got a small family and don’t plan on being too rough around the coffee table, you still might enjoy wood from an aesthetic and practical standpoint – it looks beautiful, is relatively easy to clean and will stand the test of time.
Another go-to for coffee tables is glass, often framed with a metal base and legs. Glass coffee tables are stunning in modern contemporary, mid-century modern and new Art Deco homes in particular. They have their pros and cons – on the upside, glass is really easy to clean, makes the space look larger, and gives a clean, open feel. However, this wouldn’t be our material of choice if you’ve got, say, a no-holds-barred toddler or a rambunctious Golden Retriever on your hands… Let’s just say, no one wants those seven years of bad luck.
Finally, consider other cool, envelope-pushing materials for your coffee table, like cement, steel or acrylic. These each have their own unique positives, and are emerging as popular materials for those who like unique pieces.
Aside from serving a purpose functionally, the next most important goal for your coffee table is complementing your existing interiors and tieing the room together (whoever said that was the rug’s job didn’t know the power of a good coffee table). Consequently, it’s important that your coffee table has a unique point of view and creates depth and visual interest in your space, helping to reinforce your aesthetic. Here are some of the most popular furniture styles, and the key elements that you might find on a coffee table that fits that design.
- Modern contemporary: Modern style is all about clean lines, dark tones, metals and glass. You might opt for a coffee table with a glass top, or perhaps in a unique material like concrete or another stone. Typically, you’ll be playing with very neutral colours like black, grey, silver and gold, and although modern contemporary coffee tables come in an array of shapes, you may notice circular is very popular.
- French provincial: French provincial style is perhaps the polar opposite of modern – it’s ornate, detailed and heavy, giving an old world feel a la Henry VIII. You’ll notice this style mixes tones, predominantly using warm browns, creams and cool greys together. There might be flourishes or intricate details on the legs and corners that give the piece life and character.
- Scandinavian: Scandi style is light, bright, minimalist and simple. As a result, you’ll find that coffee tables that fall within this theme are quite stark, using straight lines, light wood and no heavy details or emphasis.
- Classic traditional: When it comes to classic style, think clean, strong and timeless. Medium-toned woods are popular, with simple elements and chic accents that will stand the test of time. Cream, white and brown shades are all central to classic traditional style, and you’ll see this reflected in your coffee table options.
- Hamptons: Pretend you’re kicking back by the beach with a Hamptons coffee table. White and whitewashed tones are key here, as they’re very important to establishing this style. You’ll find that Hamptons pieces are on the heavier side, and often very structured, in rectangular or square configurations with drawers and classic accents.
Of course, there are a number of other styles – and that's not to say you can't mix it up, either! Be conscious of the key design elements you've already established in the space and try to reflect them in your new coffee table, within reason. There's no harm in going a little off-centre, as long as everything still loosely ties together.
Finally, now that you’ve got a more detailed idea of all that you could want in a coffee table (and likely, much more!) let’s chat about functionality. After all, there’s no point in sourcing the perfect piece to fail on our number one goal, which is fitting your coffee table to your needs and lifestyle. There are a few things to consider that will impact how usable and practical your new furniture item is, and that should definitely be taken into consideration before you make your final decision.
For most people, drawers or storage space within a coffee table are totally unmissable. Think about all of the junk we accumulate in our day to day – where on earth do you put it, if not for the drawers of your coffee table? Carefully consider your priorities here, and select accordingly. If you have lots of stuff lying around that desperately needs a home – we’re talking kids toys, takeaway menus, keys, the list goes on – then drawers will definitely be your go-to. However, if you live in a very clean or minimalist home, or if design is your foremost priority, then you might prefer open shelving at the bottom of your coffee table. This can be used to display items like coffee table books, baskets and trinkets, but is also great for storage, as long as it’s organised accordingly.
Another key consideration that might have slipped your mind until now is the coffee table’s rim. The rim will affect how easily you can use the coffee table from a variety of angles and heights, and could be the difference between a surface that’s accessible for the whole family and one that feels off-limits for kids. A higher rim will, naturally, mean that the surface is harder to access flat, for activities like doing puzzles, drawing or eating from floor level.
Don’t forget to keep other functional benefits and limitations in mind, such as the placement of the coffee table’s legs, the surface area available and its height.
Feeling like a coffee table pro yet? We hope you’re empowered with the knowledge you’ll need to pick out the perfect piece for your home, whether that’s a sleek and simple space-saver, the kids’ new favourite hangout spot or just a pretty place to perch your cup of tea and a good book.
Shop Brosa’s huge range of furniture, including coffee tables for all styles and needs, and access flexible payment options, Australia-wide delivery and virtual styling services. Not ready to commit to a new coffee table just yet? See how your favourite piece might look in your home with View at Home, our cutting-edge tool powered by AR. Happy styling!