How to Buy a Coffee Table for Your Home

Ballard Designs Coffee Table
Ballard Designs

Every sofa needs a little something in front of it. People need somewhere to put up their feet, put down their drink, and even display a few treasured items. Coffee tables are also important because they can anchor a space, making them a necessary part of any seating area.

Before you buy a coffee table there are a few things you should think about.


Before you buy a coffee table think long and hard about how you will use it (and be honest!). Is it a casual space where people will want to put their feet up? If so you probably don’t want a glass top table. Do you have a lot of items to display on it? If so you want a sturdy piece with a surface that won’t easily scratch or get marked. Do you need extra storage? Then a table that opens up or has a bottom shelf might be the right choice. The way you plan on using your table will help inform your decision when you go out shopping.

Determine Your Style

Coffee tables are available in every style imaginable — make sure to find a coffee table that compliments the style of your room. That doesn’t mean it has to “match”. Stylistically you may choose one that either blends in or stands out — either fitting in with the style and shape of other items in the room or juxtaposing them. You’ll want to consider the materials, shape, and how it will look with the rest of your furniture. Consider taking some snapshots of your furniture when you’re out shopping so you can visualize how everything will work together.

Determine the Best Shape

Rectangular coffee tables have traditionally been the most popular but they are far from the only option. Coffee tables can be round, oval, square, octagonal — you name it. The right shape for your space will depend on many factors including the space available, the rest of your furniture and your lifestyle. (For example, a home with small children may want to avoid a low table with sharp corners.) When thinking about shape, consider the other shapes in the room.

Measure Your Space

Always measure your space before you buy a coffee table. Ideally, the height should be slightly lower than the seat height of the sofa and chairs surrounding it. The length should be about two thirds the length of the sofa. There should also be approximately 14” — 18” between the sofa and the table (don’t buy a table that’s too deep if your space is limited).

Think About Budget

Like any piece of furniture, coffee tables can be dirt cheap or expensive beyond belief. Consider your budget and how important the table will be in the space. If you expect it to get a lot of wear and tear it may be a good idea to err on the side of less expensive so you can replace it when necessary. If not, you might want to purchase something classic that will stand the test of time as an investment piece.

Coffee Table Substitutes

There’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. Upholstered ottomans with trays placed on top are popular coffee table substitutes. They can add an element of softness and comfort. Storage trunks also work well and allow for a placed to store blankets and other items. There’s also no rule saying you must have only one coffee table. Some people prefer to purchase two smaller tables that can be moved around the room. Garden stools, upholstered stools, and small benches can also do the trick. For more examples check out coffee table alternatives for small rooms.