Coffee Table Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

From suburban mansions to studio apartments, townhouses to country homes, living rooms everywhere prominently feature the furniture must-have of the century: the coffee table. Its popularity, along with the expansion of online shopping, has flooded the coffee table market. This embarrassment of riches has been a blessing for some and a curse for others, making the hunt for the perfect fit simultaneously easier and harder than ever. The traditional setting for a coffee table is center stage, surrounded by an orchestra pit of living room furniture. Coffee tables are catchalls for items as far afield as books, magazines, remote controls, a vase of fresh peonies, dinner plates, newspapers, coasters and yes, even coffee. How do you know when a coffee table is tailored to you, your living room and your lifestyle? Learn the lingo. Create some living room furniture criteria. Include considerations of size, shape, material, style and utility. With standards informed by this coffee table primer, you'll be better able to envision the perfect piece in your home.

Buying Coffee Tables:

Coffee Table Buying Guide

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  • Coffee table sizing:

    Coffee tables are not one-size-fits-all, and sizing them depends on the size of your living room and the setup of your living room furniture. Consider the three basic rules of thumb: One, choose a table that's approximately the same height as your sofa cushions or slightly shorter; two, it should measure no more than two-thirds the sofa's total length; and three, keep two feet of clearance around each side. After spending a little quality time with the tape measure, you will have a range of sizes that will work; but beyond the formula approach, don't ignore your own designing impulses. If you are tall or if you plan to spend more time standing than sitting around your coffee table, you might want to tack on a few inches. On the other hand, if you are interested in creating a down-to-earth feel, think about lower settings. Some lower coffee tables allow you to sit on the floor in front of them, which offers an international vibe to your living room. Begin with the rules of thumb in mind but remember that form and function are fast friends when you want to create an ideal living area.

  • Coffee table shape:

    The textbook coffee table shape is rectangular, with such familiar proportions that it probably deserves its own trademark. In practice, furniture designers create endless variations on this shape, in which the table surface is just one component. It's hard to go wrong with a rectangular coffee table, but again, consider how you'll be using it. If you frequently entertain guests, you may want to consider a circular or oval coffee table. Round furniture pieces tend to be better at gathering groups of people, and they are easier to maneuver around safely. Square coffee tables excel at unifying facing seating areas that otherwise might look too far apart. They also present an excellent focal contrast in living rooms dominated by rectangles. Beware of placing a square table in a room that's already too small, but if you're trying to bring balance to a larger or galley-shaped room, this might be the table for you. Multiple surface heights mean multiplied utility, which makes tiered coffee tables popular.

  • Legs and support:

    Shape is about more than just the coffee table's surface. Think about what's underfoot, especially in terms of concentration, comfort and convenience. If you plan to spend stretches of time seated near your coffee table, you may want a support system that will get along with the preferred placement of your feet. If you have kids, pets, foot traffic or a tendency to stub your toes, you may want a table with leg support that's slightly recessed. Finally, if your coffee table might hold a Thanksgiving turkey buffet with all the trimmings or a 50-pound geode and petrified tree stump centerpiece, you may want something with leg support on the burly side. On the other hand, a lightweight coffee table makes it that much easier to clear the floor when you want to demonstrate your lindy hop or throw down on a game of Twister.

Tip from Overstock.com

Consider the modifiable wonder of three identical, small coffee tables instead of a single large one. Not only can they be dispersed as individual tables, but they look great arranged alongside one another. Taking the idea a step further, you could save yourself the hassle of matching the coffee table to your end table and then to the sofa table. Coffee table sets create an instantly unified look for your whole living room. Nesting coffee tables create a great look, but save space when needed. These coffee tables are fun and modern.