Arena design coffee table Cattelan Italia

How To Choose a Coffee Table

When you first think of it, choosing a coffee table for your living room sounds like a simple task. You might enter a store you like, choose your favourite item, and leave with it (or have it delivered). But the truth is that this can be a pretty complicated process with many factors involved.

We’ve been selling some of the world’s best coffee tables for more than four decades now and our senior Interior designers, Benjamin Ibanez and Crisina Chirila have worked on hundreds of projects where they designed the space around a coffee table or helped their clients pick the right coffee table – here’s what they had to share:

1 – Choose the Sofa First

According to Benjamin, a common mistake clients make is to choose the coffee table first and then think about the sofa:

“While it may occasionally work out, in most cases, this creates problems because you then have to look for a sofa that complements the coffee table and this restricts your choices. Also, sofas generally cost much more than a coffee table so it makes sense to choose the sofa first and then look for a coffee table that goes well with it.”

“Sofas also obviously take the greater share of space in the room,” says Cristina, “so they tend to set the style for the room and you don’t want to make the mistake of being stuck with a coffee table that doesn’t blend with that style.”

2 – Consider the Functionality

How do you use the coffee table? Do you want a coffee table with storage? Do you need the coffee table to be kid-friendly? Do you have a habit of putting your feet up on the coffee table?

All these questions will help you understand the functionality of your coffee table and what you need from it – helping us shortlist the right choices for you.

3 – Be Mindful of the Sizes and Proportions

Cristina always asks her clients to bring measurements and pictures of the room so she can visualise the space and recommend a coffee table that will easily fit in. “You want a coffee table that’s the right height and the right length and for this, I need to know the size of the room and the type of sofas you have.”

Moreover, once you’re clear about the height and length that you want, you can figure out the best shape for your coffee table. These days, you can easily find coffee tables in every shape and size be it square, rectangle, round or even triangular ones – and to decide which one to go for, we need to know how much distance you have between the table and the sofa for them both to feel comfortable.

4 – Choose your Materials

Glass, wood, marble, brass – you can find coffee tables in all sorts of materials and even in combinations of two or more materials. According to Ben, “you need to decide the materials by considering the look and feel of the rest of the room. For example, if the sofa or the armchairs have skinny metallic legs, I would go for a grounded coffee table to balance it out.” You can see this rule being practiced by Ben in this recent living room project that he worked on:

how to choose a coffee table

Here’s another example from a living room project that Cristina just completed. The sofa is very squarish with sleek metal legs, so she went with a simple, round ottoman table that also matches the wall paneling in the room.

how to choose a coffee table

If you have floor-length, upholstered sofas – you should go for glass or metallic coffee and side tables as we did in this living room from our Knightsbridge project:

how to choose a coffee table

5 – Create a Visual Impact

This definitely is our designer’s favourite part since there are so many ways to create a visual impact with your coffee tables. Here are some tips with examples from projects that our team has worked on:

  • Play around with dimensions:

Take a look at this vibrant and bold living room that Benjamin worked on. Since the other half of this room was a game room with a snooker table and foosball table, the client wanted a mature but playful look for the sitting area. So we went for mismatched, upholstered, modular sofas that can be easily moved around when gaming on the television.

When it came to the coffee tables, we again wanted something lightweight that would not take up a lot of room – so we decided to go for a mix of small coffee tables (that can also be used as side tables) and ottomans to match the sofa (that can be used to relax the legs or even for extra seating), hence creating a very multifunctional and versatile living room.

how to choose a coffee table
  • Use a rug under the table and sofas:

It might sound old-school but a rug is acts like a canvas that binds together your sofa and coffee table. Building on our above example, Benjamin went for a bespoke FCI rug that was customised to keep with the geometric and playful theme of this living room.

how to choose a coffee table
  • Accessorise like a pro:

Accessories really bring your coffee table to life and give it a personalised, homely feel. Cristina sums this up beautifully “Don’t go crazy with accessorising your coffee table as modern interior design is all about understated elegance – I like to keep it simple with either some books, a vase with fresh flowers or a decorative tray with objects of varying sizes for visual interest. If the rest of the room is neutral, I would go for sophisticated but colourful accessories on the coffee table.”

how to choose a coffee table

Our Favourite Coffee Tables

We asked our team to tell us about their favourite coffee table from the showroom and why they love them:

“It’s an incredibly versatile piece – I love how the long legs balance out the rounded top and the fact that it’s customisable – with a choice of different marble tops, glass tops or wooden ones. You can also get it in varying sizes and materials to create different compositions and configurations. The smaller sizes are great to be used as side tables with the sofa or just to be placed between the armchairs” – Cristina Chirila

how to choose a coffee table

“I really love the Abra Coffee Table. Naos has some of the most advanced engineering techniques in modern furniture. This coffee table combines the best of their innovative moving mechanisms with a sleek design that will suit just about any space. Classic, elegant and smart – it’s a connoisseur’s choice.” – Lauren Austin

how to choose a coffee table

“As an architect, I guess I have a thing for geometrical elements, which is probably why I love the Hive coffee table – its unique base immediately catches your eye and pulls you towards it. Of course, there are several additional plus points, like the customisable tops, the added functionality it offers because of the extending mechanisms and the fact that you can get matching end tables to furnish the whole room. – Ricardo Jarjoura

how to choose a coffee table

“I think my favourite coffee table should be something that I would buy for myself and my living room can get pretty messy so I would look for a coffee table that’s contemporary in style but also offers hidden storage so I can quickly tidy up the room in case of unexpected guests. I get all that (and more) with the Sila table – it features this beautiful Scandinavian design, four very conveniently segmented storage spaces and that stunning oak finish. So this is surely the table I would choose for my own living room” – Benjamin Ibanez

“Most of my recent clients have been opting for all-white, modern interiors and I feel like the Diamond table makes a good fit for these. Faux marble has a very luxurious look that makes this a statement-making coffee table.” – Jessica Codejon Alvarez

how to choose a coffee table

Frequently Asked Questions

For some expert coffee table advice, we decided to go for a quick Q&A session with Cristina; here’s how it went:

Q. Should a coffee table be lower than the couch?

Ideally, yes, the coffee table should be lower than the couch or at least the same height, but if you need a higher coffee table for any reason, like to study or to play games on the table, it’s okay to be bold and play around with the dimensions. I would go for a high coffee table and pair it with a lower one to make it look natural.

Q. What colour should my coffee table be?

It can be any colour or neutral colour if you’re going for a wooden or glass coffee table. You should definitely keep the overall theme, style and colour scheme of the room in mind when choosing the coffee table. The colours will also vary based on the materials you choose and every material has different characteristics – wood brings warmth while glass brings an airy feel so both materials and colours need to be considered together.

Q. What shape should my coffee table be?

The coffee table can literally be any shape you want it to be so it’s best to consider accessibility and functionality. I would go for a coffee table that’s in easy reach for everyone sitting on the sofa.

Q. Does my coffee table have to match my TV stand?

It would look nice but this is not the rule. You can buy a coffee table that doesn’t match the TV stand, as long as it works well with other elements in the room.

Q. Does my coffee table have to match my couch?

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No it does not have to match but it’s good for it to match at least any one other element in the room.
For example, I recently worked on this project with another designer where we went for a coffee table with matching sofa cushions and side table – I really loved how it turned out.

Q. How do you decorate a coffee table?

Putting small items out in trays or baskets is my favourite way to decorate the coffee table but keep things minimalistic and go for odd number of items instead of even. Heavier accessories should go in bookcases or shelves, not on the coffee table.

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