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Coffee Table Buying Guide: Here's What You Need to Know

Written by Andrew | Last Updated 2019-11-19

About Andrew

Not only a home designer, Andrew is also the founder of BFA. He always have full enthusiasm for the industry and his job, and he enjoys to share some new ideas to others. His professional advice can help you choose furniture better and home style which fits you.
Coffee Table Buying Guide: Here's What You Need to Know

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From large mansions to one-bed studio apartments, and from townhomes to rustic cottages and country cabins, living rooms across the country very proudly and prominently showcase the central furniture piece of the home: the humble coffee table. Thanks to its wide popularity, not to mention the ease of online shopping and an influx of items from brands and manufacturers across the globe, there are almost too many coffee table types and designs from which to choose. These rich options are good for some but make life harder for others, and the search for the perfect table can be both easier as well as harder than ever before.

Coffee tables are traditionally set in the center of your living space, surrounded by the rest of your living room furniture. Coffee tables are versatile pieces of furniture that can be used for holding books and magazines, remote controls and consoles, vases and décor items, and even dinner plates, coasters, and yes, sometimes even coffee! To know when a certain coffee table is just right for you, your living room, and your lifestyle, learn the terms of the industry and know what to look for. Come up with basic criteria that you will use to short-list tables you like, and choose based on dimensions such as the size, shape, construction material, style, and ultimate uses you’d like for your coffee table. Here we outline how to do just that.

Coffee Table Sizes

Coffee tables should not be purchased with one-size-fits-all in mind. The size you choose should be based on the amount of space you have in your living room and the arrangement of the rest of your living room furniture. Keep in mind three main points here.

1.Choose a table that is about as high or slightly lower than your sofa cushions.

2.Your table should be about two-thirds of the length of your largest sofa.

3.Make sure to keep about two feet worth of clearance around each side of the table.

Once you have spent some time with a measuring tape taking note of the sizes and dimensions of everything in your living room, you should have a fair idea of the sizes and shapes that will work in that space. Also, pay attention to your own design ideas. If you are rather tall or if you think you will spend time standing around the table as much as you will spend time sitting around it, add a few inches as needed. Some coffee tables are low and you can even sit on the floor and use them, and this is something that gives your room an international feel.

Coffee Table Shapes

Standard coffee tables are rectangular in shape, just as dining tables are. However, furniture designers have created countless variations of this standard shape, and the surface of the table is one component of the overall table’s look and functionality (not to mention price). You can’t really go wrong if you buy a rectangular coffee table, but remember to think about how you plan to use it.

If you plan to have guests over a lot, consider buying a coffee table that is either circular or oval in shape. Round coffee tables tend to be better for bringing together groups of people. They are also somewhat easier to move around safely should you need to rearrange your living room to accommodate different numbers of people or have them seated in different ways.

Square coffee tables are great for bringing together seating areas together, even if those areas look to be somewhat far apart from one another. They are also great for introducing some contrast in living rooms that are otherwise full of rectangles. Just be careful with putting in a square coffee table in a room that is already somewhat small.

Coffee Table Construction Materials

Coffee tables come in a wide range of materials. Here are some of the most popular ones.


The first element you’ll want to consider is the construction material of your coffee table. The only options used to be wood or metal, but nowadays the choices expand far beyond that simple pair. Modern manufacturing allows for glass, metal, and even acrylic tables in a bewildering variety of shapes.


As is true for furniture and tables of any shape and design, wood is a common construction element. It is versatile and warm, as well as timeless and rich since it can be carved, designed, shaped, cut, and set up in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and styles.


Metal tables are probably in second place when it comes to construction material for coffee tables. Metal coffee tables are strong and sturdy, and they are often lighter than traditional wooden tables. Using metal allows you to use thinner legs and other concomitant support structures, and metal can be bent and welded into amazing designs and shapes.


Glass has slowly become more and more popular in the coffee table niche, and it now is used in a range of versatile designs that were never possible before. Glass coffee tables are usually connected together using metal joints, although you can find tables that are made entirely of glass. Such tables are very classy indeed!


Rattan, also known as wicker, is sometimes thought of as the material used in patio furniture, but modern uses of the material allow for luxe designs that are weather and waterproof but look great inside the home as well.


Acrylic looks like glass to the untrained eye, but it allows you to make tables and furniture that have the versatility and transparency of regular glass without any of the extra weight and cost of glass. Acrylic coffee tables come in a wide range of jaunty shapes that are great in modern settings.

Legs and Support

The shape of your coffee table is more than just the shape of the surface of the table. Take a minute to think about what lies beneath, particularly in terms of comfort as well as convenience. If you intend to spend long hours sitting at or your coffee table, you should invest in a support system that allows you to place your feet just the way you like. If your home has either kids or pets (or both!), you will probably have more foot traffic in your living room, not to mention higher chances of stubbing your toes. In such cases, purchasing a coffee table with recessed legs would be a good idea. Also be sure to buy a table that can support a decent amount of weight; food items, dishes, cutlery, and the occasional elbow all add weight to your table, so be sure it is strong enough to support whatever you may place on it.

Coffee Table Styles

There is more to buying a coffee table than simply choosing a design, a shape, selecting a budget, and choosing the material you like. Coffee tables come in a full range of styles as well. Consider the following condensed list of styles from which you can choose to get an idea of the kinds of coffee tables you can buy and to have a better idea of the style it will bring to your living area.


Perhaps the most widely known and recognized of all styles, traditional coffee tables are more common today than ever. They come with timeless appeal and are usually made of wood. Rectangle and oval surfaces are popular in this style.


To be contemporarily styled simply means to be relevant and fashionable today. That said, contemporary designs are very broad in their inclusivity and they often feature new designs and experimental looks. As long as something looks like it fits in your home based on the time and age in which you are in, that item can technically be classified as contemporary.


Modern design themes are generally those that find their roots in design philosophies of the 20th century. Modern designs tend to emphasize simplicity, minimalism, clean and clear shapes, and a blend of both functional as well as aesthetic goals to give users the best of both worlds.


Rustic items bring to mind the countryside or old-fashioned homes. Furniture items made with a rustic design in mind are usually made out of wood and have simple patterns on them.

Coffee Table Types

Now that we have discussed size, shape, construction, and styles, we now turn to a discussion on some of the more popular coffee table types.

Ottoman Coffee Table

A new trend involves the use of your living room ottoman as a coffee table. Doing so has become so popular that some ottomans are marketed as coffee tables. It makes sense to do this if you have an ottoman in your living room that can double as a coffee table. Why take up more space and spend on an additional furniture item if you already have an ottoman available that can do the same job as a coffee table? Conversely, why buy a coffee table that can only be a coffee table when you can buy an ottoman coffee table that can double as an ottoman? Ottoman coffee tables are win-win items for all!

Stacking Coffee Table

Stacking or nested coffee tables have been around for some time now. They are popular because they look nice, are functional, and provide versatility to your living room’s furniture.

Folding Coffee Table

Folding coffee tables are perfect for saving space and for maximizing utility. They are convenient and easy to use, are flexible and lightweight, and are portable and usually budget-friendly. Whenever it is not in use, you can hide it away in your storage room and maximize the rest of your living space.

Platform Coffee Table

Platform coffee tables are perfect for the minimalist in you who wants to avoid splurging on high-end items but still wants a place to put down drinks and have a cup of coffee or read a book (or play on your iPad or tablet!)

Other Considerations

Here are a few final considerations to keep in mind when buying a coffee table.

In terms of height, the ideal coffee table should be about the same height or slightly lower than the seat of your sofa. This comes to about a foot and a half.

In terms of use, coffee tables were first made for serving coffee. However, over time, they have come to be used to serve other drinks, as well as serving meals, placing books and décor items, and setting a visually striking floral arrangement before the in-laws pop in for a visit.

Some people ask if coffee tables can be refinished or repainted. The short answer is yes, they can, as long as they are made of a material that will take on a new coat of paint. Metal coffee tables are sometimes painted with enamel or latex. Others, such as those made of wood, are sometimes be painted with high-gloss enamel or latex. Acrylic tables are usually painted using epoxy. You can use water-based or oil-based paints for painting or redoing your glass coffee table.

Some people want to buy items that are recyclable. To do so, all you have to do is ask your local recycling center if they can accept your table for recycling. If you are planning ahead of time, you can buy a table that is marked as recycle-safe. That way you know you will be purchasing an item that is good (or at least isn’t as bad as other alternatives) for the environment.

Final Comments

If you are still unsure about your needs, think of a coffee table that can be modified, such as modular coffee tables, or even nested tables. Alternatively, you can buy smaller coffee tables that are identical instead of a single, large table. Doing so will allow you to use individual tables where you need them, and you can also line them up to use together for a larger, combined serving area. Once you start to think creatively like this, the sky (or the ultimate coffee table) is the limit.

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