Your coffee table should look good, serve well and display a few accessories that reveal your personality – and do it all with style. No wonder the right one can be so hard to find. Well, look no further – here are six classic tables plus advice on how to choose the best one for your setting, the latest looks and how to accessorize this living room essential.
A glass-topped table visually enlarges a small space because it appears to take up less room than a solid table of the same size. The popular French Country look, with its swirly wrought-iron base, works well in a traditional yet slightly informal setting and is ideal in a garden room. If you have children, choose a table where the glass sits in a frame rather than floats on top.
Whether rendered in wood, metal or laminate, the simple shape of the Parsons table, with its clean lines and long, lean profile, makes it a classic that's especially at home in modern and contemporary interiors. Its beauty lies in rigorously balanced proportions, with a length at least twice the width.
The tray-topped table suits a living area that's truly lived in. Handles make entertaining easy – just pick up the tray and pass the hors d'oeuvres – or for a cosy fireside dinner, carry the tray to a floor cushion near the hearth. A variety of styles – from traditional tole tray to contemporary clean-cut editions – proves this table's versatility. The tray table is most often smaller than standard coffee tables, so it works best in intimate seating areas.
The standard height for coffee tables is from 16 to 18 inches, but may go as high as 21 inches. A higher table is a smart choice if you entertain frequently so that guests don't have to bend too much to set down their drinks. But, ultimately, the height of the adjacent upholstered pieces should determine the height of the table. One guideline is that a coffee table should be about the same height or one or two inches lower than the seat height of the sofa. The length of a coffee table should be about two-thirds the length of the sofa (not including arms). The width should be determined by how much room you have between the soft upholstered pieces and the table in your seating arrangement – leave at least 16 inches around each side of the table.
Image courtesy of Pottery Barn
No matter how formal the room setting, the coffee table should still be functional – consider slate or thick glass tops that look elegant and are durable. If your style is laid-back, almost anything goes. Whether you lean toward a formal or casual style, don't forget that opposites attract – a clear Lucite table takes a little stuffiness out of a traditional setting, while a rustic dark wood trunk beautifully sets off a contemporary white sofa. Two small square-shape tables side by side are an alternative to one long coffee table and offer the option of separating them to use as extra side tables if the need arises.
Accessorizing your coffee table
While a good coffee table is a conversation piece in itself, what goes on, under and beside it will finish the look.
• A coffee table is the perfect spot to display a grouping of attractive conversation pieces. Keep it simple though – one stunning piece for impact or a few smaller curios of varying heights and textures for visual and tactile interest are all that's needed
• Glass-topped tables that have a plain base can be accessorized by placing items under the table to be viewed from above
• Leave room on the surface for setting down drinks or small plates
• Store newspapers and magazines in a basket underneath the table or nearby to keep the surface uncluttered, or consider a trunk-style table that can store any number of things – from extra cushions and throws to books, magazines and board games
• Keep the space between the sofa and table to a minimum, otherwise the table will appear to float in the middle of the room. Also, drinks and books should be within easy reach from the sofa
Image courtesy of Pottery Barn