7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Coffee Table

Neutral living room interior with a decorated coffee table

Spacejoy / Unsplash

Coffee tables come to mind right after sofas when you think of living room furniture. This piece of furniture is the perfect spot to place your drinks, magazines, electronic devices such as tablets or remote controls, display knick-knacks, or doodads, plus offer a great place to rest your feet or eat a meal. Coffee tables are ubiquitous and come in many shapes, sizes, materials, heights, lengths, and features, providing you with a bewildering variety to choose from. Here are seven questions you should ask yourself that may help to narrow down your choices:

What Do You Need?

Living room and family room coffee tables are used differently, and family room coffee tables get more rough use. Keep that in mind when buying a coffee table.

  • You may want a more formal coffee table in your living room depending on how you have decorated. More fragile and delicate surfaces such as glass can be used in living rooms.
  • A family room needs a sturdier coffee table. You may also want to look for one that has storage options, like drawers. The surface should be able to take abuse because spilled snacks or feet on the table are more common in casual settings. Glass tops are generally not suitable for family rooms, not just because of fragility, but finger marks and scratches, too. For glass tops without frames, there is the danger of sharp corners, especially when you have small children.
  • Delicate surfaces can also end up getting scratched if it is a heavy-use area.

Will You Use It as a Centerpiece?

The coffee table is often called the centerpiece of the room. But you will notice that the same term is often used for a sofa, a rug, or any other piece of furniture.

If you do decide on the coffee table as a centerpiece, these attributes will make it stand out:

  • Style
  • Size
  • Material
  • Surface finish and color

A coffee table can be a focal point, with its uniqueness, functionality, and becomes a statement in a room. Combine two or more of the attributes above if you want it to truly stand out.

Which Material Do You Prefer?

When you shop for a coffee table, you'll become aware of how many choices you have when it comes to material. The most obvious material that comes to mind is wood, but you don't have to restrict yourself to wood if you don't want to.

  • Take a look at your room and other furniture to determine what material would look best. Clear acrylic and glass can make a small room look more open. The glint of metal can accomplish the same purpose. Glass, acrylic, metal, and stone also look good in a modern room.
  • Darker wood, such as mahogany or walnut, or materials such as marble and metal can look good in a traditional room.
  • Leather or faux leather can work well in a variety of settings, and they are also easy to maintain.
  • Consider the material's durability and safety especially when you have small children.

What Kind of Shape Is Best?

Coffee tables are available in many different shapes. While the shape of the room can play a role in choosing a coffee table, you must pay attention to your seating configuration more than anything else.

  • A rectangular or oval coffee table works well for smaller rooms.
  • Squares or round coffee tables are good for large seating configurations, such as large sectionals or a large sofa and love seat.
  • Round or oval tables are useful around children because of the absence of sharp corners.
  • Abstract shaped tables, which include triangular shapes, add another dimension to the look and feel of the room, and go well with regular size sofas or modular sectionals.
Nested circular coffee table

Spacejoy / Unsplash

What Kind of Size Is Best?

The size of your coffee table needs to fit in proportion to the other furniture in the room, especially the couch or sectional that it will reside in front of. The look and style of the table need to pair well with the style of furniture also, whether it be contemporary, modern, etc.

  • Consider scale as well as actual measurements when selecting a size. Select a coffee table that is no more than two-thirds of your sofa's total length. An important thing to remember is to leave enough space around the coffee table for leg space. Leave at least a foot and a half between the table and the sofa.
  • Your coffee table should be the same height as the seat of your sofa or lower. If it is lower, it should measure only one to two inches lower in height than the top of your sofa's seat cushion.

What Is Your Budget?

Coffee tables have a wide range in price depending on the material they're built with, the manufacturer's brand, and their functionality. It is good to know how much you can afford and have a budget set in place before you start searching for the right coffee table for you and your home. The average cost will run between $150 to $400.

There are less expensive coffee tables out there that are more budget-friendly if you're just starting out in a first apartment or new home. Be aware that they will not hold up as well, yet can be a good placeholder until you can afford a better one.

Do You Need Added Functionality?

The level of functionality your coffee table offers depends on how you want to use it. While most coffee tables have a flat surface supported on a base, there are plenty that offer additional features.

  • Look for coffee tables with additional shelves, drawers, or compartments if you need them to double up for storage.
  • Trunks and ottomans can offer lots of storage.
  • Some tables have surfaces that can be raised for working or eating.
  • Casters and wheels are useful if you need to roll away the coffee table.