Everything Designers Want You To Know About Buying a Modern Outdoor Coffee Table — From Shape to Style to Material

The coffee table is the unsung hero of any room — but when it comes to your patio, it's especially important. Below, experts tell us how to pick the perfect modern outdoor coffee table no matter your taste.

beamed beach house
(Image credit: Getty Images / Andreas von Einsiedel)

Most Invested is a monthly series in which one of our style editors or a friend of Livingetc explains the do’s and don’ts of making the most important product decisions, and showcases the items they’d be adding to their cart. 

For anyone building a modern patio or backyard space, there is no furniture item so underrated yet so important as the modern outdoor coffee table. You might think the loveseat or sectional is the most integral ... and we get it! Where else would your guests sit?

But today, we'll be making the case for the humble coffee table as the glue that holds your outdoor design scheme together (before then diving into some shopping from the best home decor brands).

'As the weather warms up and outdoor living becomes a priority, it's time to turn our attention to the often-overlooked yet essential piece of outdoor furniture: the coffee table,' says Nina Lichtenstein, founder and principal designer at Custom Home Design by Nina Lichtenstein. 'Whether you're sipping your morning brew or entertaining guests al fresco, a well-chosen outdoor coffee table can elevate your outdoor space and enhance your overall enjoyment.'

Of course, this raises another question: How do you choose the right outdoor coffee table for your space, particularly if you, like many Livingetc readers, value design and aesthetics above all? Then there's the problem of money; some of the best coffee tables cost a pretty penny — but when it comes to outdoor furniture, that might be for the best.

'High-quality outdoor furniture is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, including sun, rain, and temperature fluctuations,' says Emma Putrimas, vice president of product and design at Teak Warehouse. 'Investing in durable pieces means you'll have furniture that lasts longer and requires less replacement, ultimately saving money in the long run.'

Luckily, Most Invested is here to help you find those durable pieces — after first guiding you through the product selection process step by step. All the expert tips and tricks you could possibly need, coming right up.

Three dimensional render of two retro styled chairs, coffee table and potted plant standing on balcony

(Image credit: Getty Images / Westend61)

What qualities should I look for in an outdoor coffee table?

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First and foremost, Traci Reeves, senior director of merchandising at Grandin Road, recommends finding a coffee table that matches your ideal overall usage. You'll want to ensure the table is 'crafted from materials that are intended to withstand the elements,' she says. 'Make sure it’s durable and sturdy but also light enough that you can move it where you want, particularly if you’re working with modular seating or an evolving outdoor living space.'

Finally, balance all of that with 'design, style and size, she continues. 'For a space that you’ll get the most out of, choose a size that best fits your seating configuration and outdoor living usage.'

And as an added tip, experts at contemporary patio brand Jardina suggest finding a piece made of materials that are 'easy to clean and require minimal upkeep.' Now that's a good one.

What materials should I look for in a modern outdoor coffee table?

Speaking of materials, you might be wondering which is the best kind to use to ensure your coffee table is not only design-forward but durable and long-lasting. Nina of Custom Home Design by Nina Lichtenstein has you covered: 'For those seeking a modern outdoor coffee table, sleek materials like powder-coated aluminum, tempered glass, and concrete are excellent choices,' she tells Livingetc. 'These materials offer a contemporary aesthetic while also providing durability and weather resistance.'

And when considering the shape, look, and vibe of the table itself — regardless of material — 'opt for clean lines, geometric shapes, and minimalist designs to achieve a modern look that complements your outdoor space seamlessly.'

Modern round wooden side table with sunlight from window and tropical leaf shadow on white wall background

(Image credit: Getty Images / Suchada Tansirimas)

How should I decide what shape of outdoor coffee table to buy?

Next up: how to decide which shape of coffee table to buy. According to Aino Heinäsuo, head of design at Redecor, the 'furniture surrounding the coffee table' should influence the shape of coffee table you buy.

'If your furniture has angular or geometric shapes, opting for a round-cornered coffee table can soften the overall look and make it more visually appealing,' she says.

As we heard previously, you'll also want to 'consider the dimensions' of your room. Do not skip this step. ' Ideally, the size of the table should be about two-thirds of the width of the sofa,' Aino says, and you'll want to 'leave enough space around the coffee table to prevent overcrowding and maintain an elegant appearance.'

How should I style my outdoor coffee table?

The same considerations do not apply when decorating an outdoor coffee table vs. an indoor coffee table; the elements are at play!

'Given the limitations of weather, styling an outdoor coffee table requires a blend of functionality and aesthetics,' Nina tells Livingetc. 'Start by layering weather-resistant accessories such as outdoor rugs, throw pillows, and blankets to add color, texture, and comfort to the space. Incorporate potted plants, lanterns, and candles for added ambiance, and consider using trays or baskets to corral smaller items and keep them organized.'

Aino had similar tips to share: 'Plants and flowers are always a great choice for decorating your coffee table,' she advises. 'Just make sure the plant pot is heavy enough to stay in place and has an underplate to catch excess water and protect the table surface.'

Your definitive modern outdoor coffee table edit

Now that we have all the rules, tips, and tricks squared away, it's time to find your new outdoor coffee table (and all the new accessories you can use to style it). Let's get shopping!

Modern Outdoor Coffee Table Accessories

Every table needs some friends — accessories like pots, lamps, and rugs to keep it company. 'To maintain balance in your decor,' Aino says, 'consider following the rule of three. For example, you can add a rechargeable table lamp, like the &Tradition Flowerpot or Fatboy Edison the Petit, and perhaps a small statue to complete the look.'

Brigid Kennedy
Style Editor

Brigid Kennedy is a style editor at Livingetc.com, where she is responsible for obsessively combing the internet for the best and most stylish deals on home decor and more. She was previously a story editor at TheWeek.com, where she covered both U.S. politics and culture. She describes her design style as colorful and clean, and in her free time enjoys reading, watching movies, and curating impossibly niche playlists on Spotify. She lives in New York.