5 Common Coffee Table Mistakes You’re Probably Making, According to the Professionals

Does something about your living room furniture just feel off? Here’s what designers say you should watch out for

(Image credit: Scott Norsworthy. Design: Vives St-Laurent)

Coffee tables are one of those important pieces of furniture that serve both a practical and aesthetic purpose in our homes. They can make or break our living room spaces, but, according to designers, it's all too easy to commit some serious coffee table mistakes.

Coffee tables are the butlers of the sitting room,’ says Marhjerita Thumiger, senior interior designer and architect at Studio 29 Architects. ‘They must be functional, in the right place at the right time, and discreet.’ But too often they’re selected for their looks alone, and can leave your living room feeling cramped, incoherent or disjointed.

So before you choose your next coffee table, here are five commonly made mistakes to keep in mind, and how designers recommend avoiding them.

5 common coffee table mistakes to avoid

From its height and size to its functionality and how you style it, there are a lot of coffee table mistakes that are all too easy to make. If something about your current living room feels wrong, here are the common pitfalls designer’s say you could be making with your choice of coffee table.

1. Picking the wrong size coffee table for your space

living room with green curved sofa pink walls and stripy coffee table

(Image credit: Roberto Garcia)

We all know the awkward feeling of sitting on the sofa and holding a drink when the coffee table is just out of arm's reach. Failing to take into consideration the scale and proportions is perhaps one of the most common coffee table faux pas.

‘People often fall in love with a table's design without considering whether it fits the scale of their living room,’ says Tina Priestly, professional home organizer and founder of Ready, Set, Refresh. ‘A coffee table that's too large can overwhelm the space, making it feel cramped, while one that's too small can look lost and ineffective.’

As a general rule of thumb, Tina recommends making sure your coffee table size is about two-thirds the length of your sofa, and leaves enough room for you to freely move around it in the space. ‘The ideal distance is about 18 inches from the edge of the sofa to the coffee table, which provides enough space for legroom while keeping the table within easy reach,’ she adds.

2. Forgetting to consider the height of the coffee table

A light contemporary lounge with sheer curtains, a large sofa, coffee table and oversized pouffe

(Image credit: Ferm Living)

Similar to length, forgetting to consider the height is an all too commonly made coffee table mistake that can leave you – or worse, your guests – reaching at awkward angles instead of relaxing on your sofa.

‘A table that is too high or too low compared to the seating can disrupt the room’s functionality and visual flow,’ says Marhjerita Thumiger, senior interior designer and architect at Studio 29 Architects. ‘Align your coffee table closely with the seat height of your sofa or slightly lower, and ensure it corresponds with the height of any end tables to create a uniform look.’ This is generally between 16 and 18 inches off the ground.

3. Selecting the wrong shape of coffee table for your space

‘Choosing the wrong materials or shapes can disrupt both functionality and style,’ warns Ilaria Barion, a renowned New York City home staging expert and founder of Barion Design. ‘And remember, the shape should also coordinate well with any end tables you have.’

While organic shapes with free-flowing curves have been popular as of late, buyer beware. They may not be en vogue forever and they certainly may not be practical for your space. ‘As for shapes, oval or round coffee tables are great for tight spaces and flow better in high-traffic areas, while square or rectangle coffee tables might suit more spacious, formal living rooms,’ says home organizer, Tina Priestly.

4. Forgetting the functionality of your coffee table

a coffee table with books on

(Image credit: Lisa Staton)

It’s perhaps the biggest mistake made when buying anything for your home – choosing something because of what it looks like without considering the practicality. ‘Functionality should always come first, but aesthetics are also important,’ admits Tina. ‘People often choose beautiful coffee tables that don’t meet their practical needs, such as lacking storage or being difficult to clean.’

‘A coffee table with a bottom shelf can significantly enhance storage options, allowing you to keep the tabletop less cluttered while still keeping essentials handy,’ adds home staging expert, Ilaria Barion, who likes to use coffee table decor ideas such as trays to keep small items organized.

And then there is your choice of material. Marble may be beautiful, but it can also be hard to look after. ‘Consider durable materials like wood or metal that complement other elements in the room,’ says Ilaria. ‘Additionally, opt for materials that are resistant to stains, especially if you often place glasses or mugs on the surface without coasters.’

5. Not opting for multiple coffee tables over one

living room with tiles fireplace, white accent chair, colorful art, plants, white coffee table

(Image credit: Eymeric Wilding Photography. Design: Mera Studio)

Depending on the size of the space you have, sometimes it may actually be better to have multiple coffee tables rather than one big one – ‘one larger and lower in front of the seats, to place your tray of drinks, and a few smaller and taller ones placed by the armrests for guests to put their drinks on once served,’ explains senior interior designer, Marhjerita Thumiger.

‘This arrangement offers flexible layout options, can be easily moved for better functionality, and helps avoid overwhelming the space with a single large piece,’ adds Ilaria.

Emma Breislin
Interiors Editor

Emma is Livingetc's Interiors Editor. She formerly worked on Homes To Love, one of Australia's leading interiors websites, where she wrote for some of the country's top titles including Australian House & Garden and Belle magazine. Before that she was the Content Producer for luxury linen brand, CULTIVER, where she nurtured a true appreciation for filling your home with high-quality and beautiful things. Outside of work hours, Emma can often be found elbow-deep at an antique store, moving her sofa for the 70th time or mentally renovating every room she walks into. Having just moved to London, she's currently starting from scratch when it comes to styling her home, which, while to many may sound daunting, to her, is invigorating.