Choosing a coffee table for your living room seems like an easy enough task when you first think about it. You walk into a store you like, pick your favorite piece, and go home with it (or have it delivered), but upon further reflection, there are many more decisions in picking the right coffee table than meets the eye.
First, it needs to be the right size—both heightwise and in terms of length and width. It needs to be the right scale and proportion to the space and needs to work with all your existing furniture. The material needs to fit with your lifestyle and work well in the room. It even needs to suit the needs of your family, whether this means that it has to be kid-friendly or have enough storage for TV remotes and other miscellaneous items.
Only after you've answered all these questions can you really begin finding the perfect coffee table for you and your space. So how do you choose a coffee table from start to finish? We outlined five rules to follow before committing to a coffee table you'll love.
Be Mindful of the Height
There's nothing more awkward than a coffee table that's too high or too low. To ensure you feel comfortable in your living space, opt for a coffee table that's the same height as the cushions on your sofa or one to two inches lower. Any more and you risk the space looking and feeling just a little off.
Pay Attention to the Proportions
Similarly to finding a coffee table that has the right height, you should look for one that has the right length in relation to the width of your sofa. Specifically, your coffee table should be approximately two-thirds the length of your sofa. So for a 96-inch sofa, for instance, you should look for a coffee table that's 64 inches long.
Know Your Clearance Rules
After you've figured out the height and length you're looking for, it's time to choose the ideal shape of your coffee table. Often, choosing between a square, rectangle, round, or oval coffee table boils down to the length and clearance required around it. Traditionally, your coffee table should be 12 to 18 inches away from your sofa—any more or less than that it will feel uncomfortably close or far. Between your coffee table and your TV stand or fireplace, you should calculate at least 24 inches to 30 inches to leave enough room for circulating around the space. To find your ideal coffee table width, measure the length between your sofa and TV stand and subtract 42 inches.
Strike the Right Balance
Another handy rule to follow when choosing a coffee table is its "weightiness." In other words, it should complement the other furniture in the room to make the space feel proportional and balanced. What does this all mean? If your sofa has high skinny legs, consider a table that's solid all the way to the ground or has shorter chunkier legs. On the other hand, if your sofa has no visible legs, choose a coffee table that has higher skinnier legs. An interior designer once told me that when a room feels too "leggy," it doesn't feel as grounded—and it's something that's never left me.
Consider Your Own Needs
Of course, when choosing the right coffee table for you or your family, you should consider your lifestyle. Do you need a piece with a lot of storage? Consider a storage piece. Are you one to play board games in the living room constantly? Make sure it's a comfortable piece to gather around. Do you have a tendency to put your feet up on the coffee table when watching TV? Maybe an ottoman is a better option for you. As for coffee tables that are kid-friendly, opt for a piece that has no sharp edges and isn't made of glass. I've heard enough horror stories of kids breaking glass tops to know it's not a good idea.
Choose Your Materials Carefully
Lastly, before shopping for your perfect coffee table, pick a few materials that would work well with your lifestyle and your space. Don't just default to wood—there are so many options out there. Now that glass is out of the question for families with small children, think of other options that could work well for your lifestyle. If you have a small space, a lucite coffee table could be a good option to not visually clutter the room. If you have hardwood floors in a mid-tone color, try staying away from wood—and pick something complementary like marble or travertine. Think of whether you'd rather be able to move the piece easily or if you'd rather have it anchor the space permanently. These are all questions that can help you choose the perfect coffee table.