Tommy Smythe's choice coffee table
Style at Home: How do you choose what style and size of coffee table to use in a room?
TS: Well, certainly the size of the room itself and the other furniture in the space will dictate how large a coffee table you can have, but my rule is to go as big as you can! For traffic flow around a coffee table, you only need between 18 to 20 inches – you don’t want the table too far away from your furniture because you’re going to have to put your drink down at some point. I also like a lot of surface area. I love my stuff, and I want it close at hand.
S@H: Your take on coffee tables versus ottomans?
TS: I’m not opposed to the ottoman, but I think it belongs in a very specific place, like in a family room or a recreation-type environment rather than in a formal living room. I also don’t believe that the ottoman should completely replace the coffee table. A portion of an ottoman should have space for a generously sized tray so there is a flat surface to place food and beverages on – food and drinks should never go directly on an ottoman, as it’s dangerous and unwise.
This is Tommy’s Parsons-style coffee table.
Tommy Smythe: My coffee table is a Mid-Century Modern example of a Parsons-style table. But it’s a Parsons-style table with a little bit of detail and embellishment. It has jewellery! I bought my coffee table from a vintage-furniture dealer. It has a spectacularly thick and heavy white marble top, which is very hard to come by now, and legs that are a little bit fine. So it’s this very heavy material supported by a lighter, less-dense frame.
Tommy's top three coffee tables: The low (CB2, $349).
S@H: There are so many options, people don't know what to choose. Is there an ideal coffee table shape?
TS: I think it definitely depends on the space and the furniture arrangement. If your furniture placement is done in the round, a round coffee table makes sense. But a round coffee table isn’t practical when you have a rectangular grouping of furniture. If you pair a long sofa with a round coffee table, for instance, the people at either end of the sofa have to lean way forward or maybe even stand up to be able to put their drinks down on the table. In that case, make sure there are very roomy side tables at either end of the sofa. To me, it’s always about practicality: I always want to have a place to put something down, and if there’s nowhere to do this, I feel uncomfortable.
Tommy's top three coffee tables: The medium (Restoration Hardware, $1,095).
S@H: What about coffee table height?
TS: The coffee table definitely has to be the correct height, which is determined, interestingly, by your sofa, not by the scale of the room or the ceiling height. It should be equal to seat height because you don’t want to hunch over too far and you don’t want to reach up too high. Average seat height is 16 to 18 inches off the floor.
S@H: What's your rule about proportion in relation to the sofa?
TS: A coffee table shouldn’t be equal in length to or longer than the sofa – it should be at least eight to 12 inches less than the sofa’s length. It’s always seen layered in front of another piece, so the relationship to what’s behind that table is important.
Tommy's top three coffee tables: The high (South Hill Home, $2,640).
S@H: Any modern suggestions for the traditionalist?
TS: The coffee table is a very, very easy way to inject a hit of modern into an otherwise traditional environment. A basic block of wood veneer in a burled finish would be brilliant with a much more formal sofa, for example. Simple glass coffee tables float beautifully in traditional environments and sort of disappear. So if you have a very ornate sofa, you might default to a quite simple and transparent coffee table.