Does a living room need a coffee table? Turns out your room may work better without one...

A coffee table might be considered a staple piece of living room decor but, as these designers suggest, they're not always necessary

a modern living room
(Image credit: Michael Clifford. Design: Lisa Statonton Des)

It’s always good to challenge the status quo, and the same is especially true when it comes to the design of our homes. We all have different lifestyles and unique requirements that mean creating a home that works for you is certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario. With this in mind, we pose the question, does your living room really need a coffee table?

Perhaps one of those elements of an interior you simply take as a given, a coffee table is often a mainstay of every living room design. But could it actually be impeding the success of your scheme? Depending on the size, shape and configuration of your room, you might find a coffee table to be a pain to navigate around, or it may just be adding unnecessary clutter. We enlisted the help of esteemed interior designers to get their take on the question; ‘to coffee table, or not to coffee table?’ 

What are coffee tables useful for?

a living room with a velvet sofa

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki. Design: A New Day)

Without a doubt, coffee tables are a useful piece of furniture. Living rooms are the place where we retreat to when we want to relax, and often a drink or snack of some kind will be involved. Whether you’re alone with a hot tea, or hosting a drinks evening with friends, you’ll need somewhere to perch your beverage. ‘In order for folks to feel comfortable, a spot to easily set a drink or plate down is important,’ says Lisa Staton, founder and principal designer at Lisa Staton Interior Design

Founder of A New Day interior design studio Andrew Griffiths agrees, and also offers an argument for their aesthetic importance too. ‘As well as their practical function, a coffee table can act as a useful anchor to a room, visually breaking up the floor space and providing a natural focal point to orientate seating around,’ he says. ‘It also offers another surface to introduce decorative detailing to elevate your room,' Andrew suggests. That coffee table decor might include 'greenery, a beautiful object or two, candles and books that are too pretty to sit on a shelf.’

Could it be better to have several side tables instead?

a living room without a coffee table

(Image credit: Chris Snook. Design: Imperfect Interiors)

We’ve established it’s important to have a place to put drinks and snacks, so if your room isn’t quite working with this piece of furniture, what are your coffee table alternatives? Beth Dadswell, founder of Imperfect Interiors, suggests opting for more side tables. ‘If you have a really large living room, you will either need to have a couple of large coffee tables placed next to each other, or a cluster of smaller ones to fill the space,’ says Beth. 

This can also be a great way to make a smaller living room more flexible and adaptable to different scenarios. ‘If space is tight, you could also go for small footstools - these can double up as extra seating as well as a place to set down a tray,’ explains Beth. ‘Dotting side tables and footstools around a room can work much better than one central coffee table, depending on your room.’

Should the way you use the room impact the decision?

a living room with no coffee table

(Image credit: Cave Interiors)

In a word; absolutely. The way your room functions should be at the front of your mind when designing and sourcing furniture. In the case of this room designed by Cave Interiors, the way it was lived in negated the use for a coffee table altogether. ‘This living space doubled up as a games room for four teenagers, so rather than cramp the space with a coffee table, we chose to use side tables instead and keep the central space clear so that furniture could be moved around more easily as and when needed,’ says founder and creative director Georgina Cave. 

You should also consider the journey through a room; is your living room a thoroughfare to a frequently used space beyond? A coffee table could interrupt a small living room layout and the potential for an easy flow from room to room. ‘This living room was between a cinema room and the backyard, so removing the coffee table allowed for an easy walk between these three often used areas,’ says Georgina.

Ultimately, you need to look at your space and whether a coffee table is enhancing how you experience the space, or impeding it. Georgina offers these final words of advice; ‘As long as you factor in available surfaces to rest a drink or book, then a coffee table may prove unnecessary.’ 

3 of the best coffee tables under $700

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.