How to choose the right coffee table size – designers reveal their golden rules for choosing furniture dimensions
Ensure you pick the perfect coffee table size for your living room with these expert tips and recommended dimensions
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The sheer amount of choice of coffee table sizes can feel pretty overwhelming. With every living room having its own set of unique requirements, it can be difficult to work out exactly what your space needs.
In addition to the practical considerations, you’ll also need to think about how your coffee table dimensions relate to the other living room furniture in your space. ‘Your coffee table not only serves as a practical surface in a room, but it also works to help anchor the entire furniture arrangement in a space,’ says Sheena Murphy, Founder of London and New York-based interior design studio Nune.
Fortunately, there are a few interior-designer-approved rules that can help guide you towards the perfect height, width - and of course, that all-important reaching distance from the sofa.
How to decide on the right coffee table size
Before looking at coffee table dimensions, it’s a good idea to narrow down your search for the perfect coffee table by first establishing what style you want to go for. It’s a key piece of furniture in any modern living room and needs to feel cohesive with the rest of your scheme.
For this gorgeous room by Lisa Staton Design (opens in new tab), the key was in the history of the house. ‘We wanted to honor the bones of the original house, but also infused it with a layer of clean and simple furnishings,’ explains Lisa Staton, Founder and Principal Designer. ‘The chairs are vintage, and there’s a mix of handmade textiles, so it made sense to then balance these rustic textures with a more modern coffee table. The bleached wood base and soft oval marble top are both contemporary, yet still feel suitably relaxed.’
Once you've found a style you like, then you can start to look into how the dimensions will play out in your space.
1. Think practically
The size of your coffee table should be guided by thoughts on how you’ll use it, and who will use it. ‘So much goes into choosing the perfect coffee table,’ says Kate Hayes, co-founder of Atlanta-based Hayes Little Studio (opens in new tab). ‘Start by considering the environment; do you have children and need a more practical finish for your table? Is it a loungey, relaxed living room or is it something more formal and even traditional?' What kind of coffee table decor are you considering? 'These aspects all play into the height and shape of the coffee table selection,' Kate says.
If you have a big family or like to host, it might be wise to think about going for a wider diameter for more surface area to hold drinks. ‘Recently we’ve been into larger, lower coffee tables, over 40 inches diameter for example and sometimes down to 14 inch high to feel modern and sleek - that way it can meet all of the seating in the room without feeling too dominant,’ says Katie.
2. Get the proportions right
Perhaps one of the most important things to nail in any room scheme is the sense of scale. A larger room works better visually if it has furniture of a similarly grand proportion, just as a small living room will feel calmer and less cluttered with pieces that are more petite. The same logic can be applied to a coffee table; large sofas will overwhelm a tiny coffee table, while an enormous coffee table will be too distracting if your seating is on the small side.
‘Proportions are one of the most important considerations when you're picking out any furniture pieces for your home,’ explains Sheena Murphy, founder of London and New York-based interior design studio Nune (opens in new tab). ‘It’s all about how the items sitting next to one another relate to each other in terms of both size and scale.’
Shape too will have an impact on how proportionate a coffee table feels within a room. ‘If you're working with more of a square shaped room, you may want to explore a round or square coffee table, but if you have more length in the room, a rectangular piece might be better suited,’ says Sheena.
3. Make it easily accessible across the width of your sofa
Coffee tables act as home to many important items - a steaming cup of coffee, your favorite book and of course, the all important TV remote. As a result, their accessibility is crucial to the usability and comfort of a living room.
‘Unfortunately, I often see a coffee table placed so far away or so low down that it renders its purpose useless,’ says Keren Richter, co-founder and principal designer at White Arrow (opens in new tab). ‘You ideally want your coffee table to be a similar height to your seating, and we like them to be roughly two thirds the length of the sofa dimensions. If you’re using two smaller tables side-by-side, aim for the total length of these to hit the two thirds mark too.’
4. Consider the distance from all seating
Another crucial element to consider is how far the coffee table sits from your sofa - too close and you’ll be forever knocking your knees, but too far away means it’s no use at all. Luckily our experts unanimously revealed there’s a magic measurement to abide by, whether you're planning a large or small living room layout.
‘Coffee tables should be located 18 inches from the front edge of a sofa or chair,’ says Victoria Sass, principal and design director at Prospect Refuge Studio (opens in new tab). ‘It really is a very narrow window between what feels natural and comfortable and what doesn’t, so I would always try to stay within an inch or two of 18 inches.’
As well as helping you to place a coffee table, this magic measurement can also help you earlier on in the selection process. ‘One way to work out what sort of coffee table you need is to start by mapping out that distance from each piece of seating, and see what size and shape you end up with,’ says Victoria. ‘Then stand back and take a look at the room to determine if it feels proportional.’
5. Choose the perfect height
We’ve touched on this a little already, but getting the height of your coffee table right is a determining factor in its success within your living room. Thankfully, there’s another school of thought to follow that means you’ll get it right every time. ‘In terms of height, we'd always suggest getting something as close to the height of the seat height of the couch’, says Sheena Murphy at Nune.
Interior designer Stefani Stein agrees; ‘There’s no specific rule when it comes to the overall size of a coffee table, but the height should always relate to the scale of the seating,’ she says. ‘Taller, more traditional seat heights feel better balanced when paired with an 18 inch or 19 inch high coffee table, while lower profile pieces tend to pair better with a 14 inch - 16 inch tall coffee table’.
6. Use two small tables for maximum flexibility
As helpful as rules are, this gorgeous project by Stefani Stein Inc (opens in new tab). is a lesson in always being sensitive to the needs of a space. A singular coffee table might not be right for every room, so it pays to be a little flexible and open to alternatives.
‘This neutral living room was very linear, with the space presenting as a long and narrow rectangle,’ explains Stefani Stein, principal designer and founder. ‘Curved pieces that we tried didn’t quite work, but I knew that another large rectangle wouldn’t be ideal for the flow. We decided a pair of vintage Pace Collection tables were the perfect option.’
Another aspect you can experiment with is the material of your coffee table, as it’s a good place to introduce some contrast within your scheme or an element of surprise. ‘Materiality is also a consideration,’ says Stefani. ‘For me, it’s all about the mix of different textures and surfaces. In this room, the glass tops add a lightness and openness which provide a lovely sense of balance within the space.’
How big should a coffee table be in a living room?
When thinking about the size of a coffee table, scale and proportionality to the surrounding furniture in the room is key. You don’t want it to be too small that it feels lost, but too big and it can feel dominating.
There are a few guiding principles that can help you get started. The width should be roughly two-thirds the width of your sofa, and the height should roughly equal the same seat height as your sofa. For easy and comfortable reaching distance, the advice is roughly 18 inches from your seating to the edge of the table.
Interiors stylist and journalist Amy Neason was the Deputy Style and Interiors editor at House Beautiful for years. She is now a freelance props and set stylist, creating work for a range of national publications and brands such as Imogen Heath. She has previously worked at Established & Sons, and her skills include styling still life and interiors shots for editorial features and sourcing unique products to create inspirational imagery.
She is particularly respected for interpreting seasonal trends into feature ideas and style stories.
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