Ideas + Advice


How to Buy a Coffee Table

Coffee tables serve so many functions and come in so many styles, shapes and materials, that it's easy to get lost in choice. We're here to help with these simple guidelines for finding your perfect coffee table.

Before You Start Looking

It's best to buy a coffee table after you've purchased its essential companion, the sofa or easy chair. This is because the ideal height, depth and width of a coffee table depend on the number, height and width of the couch and chairs. Follow these guidelines when measuring for a coffee table:

Coffee Table Height

Before you think about factors like style and type, it’s important to consider the height of your coffee table. While the average coffee table height is approximately 17 inches, the right dimensions for your new table should depend mainly on the height of the sofa you choose to pair it with. In general, the height of your coffee table should be within one to two inches of the height of your sofa’s seat. This will help to maintain a comfortable level for your guests to reach the surface of the table from their seats. 

Coffee Table Width

The length should be two-thirds the length of the sofa. This helps to create a comfortable enough walkway from sofa to table and vice versa without feeling too open as to not have a table close enough for arm’s reach. Choosing the right width or length, though, isn’t just about feel; it’s also about aesthetics. When symmetry of space is accomplished, the sheer style of a coffee table and sofa placed together in a living room contributes to a clean and relaxed appearance.

Coffee Table Distance

Leave enough space between the table and other furnishings so that you can easily navigate around your room without bumping into the coffee table. As mentioned above, the space between the coffee table and sofa is important – but that’s not to say the space between the coffee table and other furniture pieces isn’t. Ensuring at least 30 inches of space between a coffee table and a TV console or other furniture pieces will create the best possible environment for walking and lounging.

Coffee Table Depth

The space between the table and sofa should be about 14-18 inches. In a typical showroom or home staging setting, 15” is the golden number; it’s just wide enough to navigate around without taking up too much of the overall room. If you are working with a smaller space, go for the lower end of this range at 14” and if you’re working with a larger space, 18”. Keep in mind that a bigger space between the sofa and table should amount to a bigger sofa and bigger table, and a smaller space a smaller amount.

The Size of Your Space and Your Other Furnishings

If your place is small, side tables for holding small items and ottomans for footrests may suffice. Good coffee table materials for small areas include acrylic, glass, metal and mirrored surfaces that reflect light and make the room look bigger. Rectangular or oval coffee tables have less impact on traffic flow than square or round ones.

If your space is large, make sure the coffee table is substantial enough that the couch and chairs don't dwarf it. The more seating around the coffee table, the larger it should be.

How You Use the Coffee Table

Different functions suggest different materials and designs.
In a room that sees heavy use and where people put everything, including their feet, on the coffee table, look for sturdy materials such as wood or a wood and metal combination.
If you need extra storage for remotes, headsets, books or eyeglasses, look for coffee tables with drawers or shelves.

If you do everything, including eat and work, from your sofa, consider a lift-top coffee table.


Decide whether you want your coffee table to blend in or stand out. To blend in, it should be in a style that matches the decor of your room and the other furniture. You can find sets of matching coffee and side tables in many styles. If you want your coffee table to stand out, pick a contrasting style, material, color or shape.

For a look that's a little different, consider non-traditional items that serve the function of a coffee table – without actually being a coffee table. Two smaller tables placed side by side, a fabric ottoman with a tray, a storage trunk or bench are just a few examples of what’s possible.

Shop with care, and you can anchor your space with the coffee table that meets your unique needs and style.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.