The coffee table is the last piece of the living room puzzle, chosen after all the seating. You have to pick just the right one to fill the gap. Even designers have a tough time, because the options seem endless. Brass base with a glass top? Round wood with tapered legs? Drawers or no drawers? For my own living room, I pushed two glass coffee tables with stainless steel bases together because I couldn't find just one table in the right size!
The ideal distance from the edge of the sofa to the edge of the table is 18 inches—close enough to reach for your drink or put a magazine down, but far enough to stretch out your legs. People often leave too much or not enough room. If you have other seats in the room that you want to reach the coffee table, follow the same 18-inch rule.
Leave Some Room
Think about your room’s main passageway, and leave at least 30 inches from the outer edge of the coffee table to the TV stand or media cabinet. If you have a narrow room, you can get away with 24 inches.
A coffee table's height is key. The surface should be about one or two inches lower than your sofa seat. Standard tables are 16 to 18 inches high, but if you have a higher couch or entertain a lot, consider a taller table—20 or 21 inches—so it's easy for guests to set down their dessert plate or cut a piece of cheese.
Strike a balance between your sofa and coffee table styles. If you have a plush, solid-color couch, try a glass table on a leggy chrome frame. If your couch is slim and more streamlined, you're fine with a chunkier table, maybe one with a thick wood top and solid base.
If you have kids, an oval or round table is a smart choice, since sharp corners and little ones aren't a good match. And if you need extra storage (like most families do), a table with one shelf or more underneath is a great idea.
Glass tables are less bulky than wood or metal and easier to wipe down. Plus, if you can’t find a coaster, it’s OK to put your drink on glass. I have a glass table in my family room to avoid covering up our beautiful rug. Lucite and acrylic are other good options.
Wood brings warmth to a space, but since it's heavy, I prefer wood coffee tables in large rooms with high ceilings and lots of windows. If your room doesn’t fit that description but you still want wood, choose a long, narrow table so it doesn’t look bulky.
Try glass or metal (but don't mix metals!) If your room has a lot of wood in it already, a metal table or a glass table with a metal base can be a nice complement. But avoid tables that mix metals, such as brass with chrome. They can look dated fast.
Lacquered coffee tables come in every color imaginable. If you choose a bold hue, like tangerine, keep the sofa and side chairs more neutral to let the table sing. Then add a few room accents in similar tones, such as orange or red.
Detailing can make a coffee table special, but a piece with, say, hammered metal or wood cutouts needs room to breathe. It's best with a solid-color sofa and a rug that's not heavily patterned. You don't want everything in the room screaming for attention.