Coffee tables are a living room staple. But finding the right coffee table is no small task.
The perfect coffee table won’t just look beautiful and complement the style of your room, it also needs to work with other pieces of furniture and leave enough room to easily navigate your space.
Here’s everything you need to know to the the right size coffee table for your living room, according to three expert interior designers.
Meet the experts
At Living Cozy, we work closely with expert designers and top brands to provide the best information about the products you share your home with. In this article, you’ll hear from:
- Leslie S. Saul, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc
- Tennille Wood, CEO + Principal Designer, Beautiful Habitat: Interior Design & Decoration
- Diana Lombard, Founder and Interior Designer, Diana Lombard Interiors
- Jil Sonia McDonald, Founder and Interior Designer, Jil Sonia Interiors
How Tall Should a Coffee Table Be?
The general consensus is that your coffee table height should be within 1-2 inches of your sofa cushions. “It should be equal to the seat height of the sofa, or within 1-2 inches. Nothing is worse than a dinky low coffee table that causes you to stretch 6 extra inches to reach your drink,” says interior design expert Tennille Wood.
There can be a bit of a continental divide between Europeans and the U.S. according to designer Leslie S. Saul. “Europeans prefer two inches below the seat height. Some Americans prefer 2" above the seat height, while others want to match the seat height exactly. The lower height is more elegant, and better for conversation, but perhaps less practical.”
If you’re looking for specific measurements: “Most sofas average a seat height of 16"-18", meaning a standard coffee table height is around 14"-16" H,” advises interior designer Diana Lombard.
When it comes to end tables next to your sofa, Jil Sonia McDonald notes: "End table heights do not have to match coffee table heights, in fact, as your arm must move up over the sofa arm, generally, they can be 4-6” higher than the coffee table, depending on the height of the chair arm."
What’s the Ideal Width of a Coffee Table?
The width (or length) of your coffee table plays an important role in how well your table fits into your space. “A good rule of thumb is that the coffee table length is around two-thirds the length of your sofa,” advises Diana Lombard.
But if you’re debating whether to go bigger or smaller, Lombard urges you to opt for a larger coffee table width.
“I like to err on the side of larger versus smaller when it comes to coffee tables. Many times people choose coffee tables that are too small and it ruins the balance of the room and ends up looking out of place or insignificant,” explains Lombard. “A larger coffee table is a great way to make an impact in a room while also providing greater functionality. Most coffee tables start at around 36" wide and go up from there.”
If you’d like to opt for a round coffee table, Leslie S. Saul shares the following advice: “Remember that even though round tables look great and provide good access to the sofa, they are harder for people to reach the table to grab snacks. That said, the round shape is great for the pull up lounge chairs, and make a great conversation pit. Rounded corners for a rectangular coffee table makes it a little safer as you walk around it [as there are no sharp corners].”
Coffee Table Placement: How Far Should a Coffee Table be from Your Sofa and Other Living Room Furniture?
To create a space you enjoy being in, you need to create a living room layout that works. One where lenght of the sofa and your coffee table are in equilibrium and your funriture is easy to navigate.
When it comes to how far away from your sofa or other furniture pieces you should place your coffee table, there should be around 15 inches of space according to Tennille Wood.
“The ideal distance from seating to table is 15". This is close enough to reach, but far enough to comfortably walk between the seating and table,” explains the Ideal Habitat founder. “To determine the ideal size, we plan the location of the seating and then measure in 15" in. This calculates the ideal coffee table size. But we'll settle for a coffee table that will fit within this space allowing 12-18".”
Leslie S. Saul agrees with those measurements. “Although the rule of thumb when sizing a table is 18" from the furniture, I've seen many clients prefer 12" so that it's easier to reach things on the coffee table,” says the Cambridge, MA-based designer.
"16”-18” is the ideal distance between the edge of the seating and your coffee table, allowing for comfortable access to books, remotes drinks etc.," adds Jill Sonia Macdonald. "Distances smaller than this make it challenging to get in and out of your seating, while larger distances make it more inconvenient to reach the coffee table."
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Other Things to Consider When Buying a New Coffee Table
Most coffee tables are rectangular, but it’s also worth considering how a square coffee table or a round coffee table would compliment your space.
If you have a long sofa or sectional, rectangular is probably your best bet — or maybe an oval coffee table would work if you want something a little quirkier that still fills the space in front of your couch. A sectional sofa can make a round table see too small.
How You’ll Use the Coffee Table
Before hitting purchase on a new coffee table you should also think about how it’ll be used in your living room as this can have a big impact on the type of table you need.
For example, if you like playing boardgames you might prioritize a table with more tabletop space or want something a big taller than the standard height so you don’t have to hunch over to much.
If you have a small living room, you might also want to consider a coffee table with storage space so you can remove clutter like remotes, blankets, books and magazines hidden from sight if you need to.
Ash is the founder of Living Cozy. He's been featured by publishers like MyDomaine, Realtor, Real Homes, Architectural Digest, The Spruce, Homes and Gardens, and more. As a writer his work has appeared in publications like FastCompany, TNW, and Entrepreneur.