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Design Rules

Rules For Picking a Coffee Table (+ 105 of Our Favorites for Every Space)

Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD | From: How to Add Style to a Neutral Living Room

The coffee table. So functional, so often an afterthought. Sofas get all the living room glory, and sure they keep us comfortable. But the coffee table is the workhorse of the living room. It holds our drinks, remote controls, beloved tech devices, treasured trinkets, and, for better or worse, our take-out dinners at the end of a long day. It occasionally doubles as a stool (which we’re not endorsing, for legal reasons, but we won’t deny having done on occasion), a desk, or a craft table. With such a big, diverse job, you’d surmise that it would be one of the first furniture pieces you thought about when moving into a new place and/or re-decorating… except it’s usually not. 

How many hours do we put into choosing the perfect sofa, the perfect rug, the perfect chairs for our living room…only to throw in a hand-me-down coffee table that used to belong to Aunt Susan? (bless her heart). Okay, we don’t all go down the who-cares-about-a-coffee-table route. Plenty of you have definitely belabored the choice of a table, we’re sure, but regardless of what side of those scenarios you find yourself, you might need some guidance or inspiration in the coffee table shopping department. What size and shape go with what sofa size and shape? It might feel like a shot in the dark, but fear not, we’re here to help. We’ve put together a shopping guide with all the best coffee tables we could find—round, square, rectangular, oval!—and a few rules to keep in mind (with a diagram!) when choosing a coffee table.

First up: rules. While you can, of course, go with whatever shape and size you like, to have an ideal relationship between your coffee table and sofa, here are some general things to keep in mind: Your coffee table should be at least half the length of your sofa (but no more than roughly ⅔ the length) and should sit at about the same height as the seat, give or take 4 inches (i.e., if your sofa is 90-inches long and 20-inches tall, you should look for something, no matter the shape, that’s around 45 to 54 inches wide and 16 to 24 inches tall). However, if you have a sectional with a chaise, and your table is going within the open L-shape that sofa shape creates, that 1/2 to 2/3 guideline applies better to just the length of the horizontal seat, rather than the full length of the sofa. Here’s a quick graphic to show you what we mean, as well as a breakdown of ideal shapes by sofa configuration:

Coffee Table Size And Shape Guide

For more living room-specific tips, see this post where we broke down tons of super helpful tips like how much space you need around a table, rug size rules, lighting guidelines and more. 

Once you figure out the right size and shape, after that, it’s more about making the right design choice for your space. Rectangular and oval-shaped coffee tables can almost be interchanged, depending on what kind of flow you’re looking for—same goes with round and square. Let’s break it down a bit further (with the bonus of our favorite shopping picks):

Rectangular

Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD | From: Mel’s Living Room Reveal

Consider rectangle (or oval but more on this shape next) if you have a standard sofa (or an extra-long sofa with chaise) so everyone can have easy access to their coffee, cocktail or late-night snack of choice. This is also a great choice if you have a narrow space with minimal walk-around clearance. If you’re a household with more remotes or tech cords than you can count, think about getting a table with some functional but still sleek drawers like #1#21#23 and #30. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the table at #2 has a shadow box top  (that’s great for putting in your favorite curiosities and trinkets but still having plenty of surface area for you know…real life stuff. Oh, and if you regularly eat in front of your TV (whether by choice or because you don’t actually have a formal dining area), a lift-top coffee table is super useful for not having to hunch over your plate (#10 and #29). 

Coffee Tables Rectangle New

1. Shaw Walnut Coffee Table | 2. Shadow Box Coffee Table | 3. Shadow Box Coffee Table | 4. Tvilum Diana Coffee Table | 5. Logan Industrial Coffee Table | 6. Marisol Coffee Table | 7. Mabel Coffee Table | 8. Grey and White Marble Coffee Table | 9. Savi Striped Inlay Coffee Table | 10. Naya Pop-Up Coffee Table | 11. Blake Raffia Coffee Table | 12. Corbyn Coffee Table | 13. Elemental Layers Coffee Table | 14. Mill Iron Coffee Table | 15. Wiley Coffee Table | 16. Fairmont Metal Coffee Table | 17. Oblique Marble Coffee Table | 18. Beckett Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table | 19. Nordcasa Coffee Table | 20. Lakin Recycled Teak Coffee Table | 21. Padre Coffee Table | 22. Hafley Coffee Table | 23.Knox Storage Coffee Table | 24.  Janelle Coffee Table | 25. Bios | 26. Sayer Coffee Table White | 27. Oscuro Coffee Table | 28. Trivia Coffee Table | 29. Mid-Century Pop-Up Storage Coffee Table | 30. Zennie Coffee Table

Square

Traditional Living Room Blue Walls
Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD | From: Ginny’s Living Room Reveal

If you have a large comfy sectional or the traditional conversational set up with a sofa and a couple of chairs (kind of like Ginny’s living room above), a square table is a great choice. It fits perfectly in the L-shape nook of your sectional or the big space in the middle of your chat zone. The best part of a square table? You get the most styling space bang for your buck. Who doesn’t love a well-styled coffee table vignette? We really like the mix of the square top and round base of table #1 for a play on shapes. Similar to the shadow box table we talked about in the previous section, #2 from IKEA has a draw with four sections, and the glass top lets you see all the pretty things you decide to store (definitely not the best option if you know you’ll just end up junking up that drawer with remotes and catalogs, though). 

Coffee Tables Square New 1

1. Square Flash Table | 2. Liatorp | 3. Profile Square Coffee Table | 4. Woven Wrapped Rattan Coffee Table | 5. Strut Coffee Table | 6. Vena | 7. Whitebird Small Coffee Table | 8. Matter Cement Coffee Table Ivory | 9. Streamline Square Coffee Table | 10. Bowley Coffee Table Brown | 11. Gridiron Stainless Steel Coffee Table | 12. Brezza Coffee Table | 13. Blake Rafia Square Coffee Table Indigo | 14. Reclaimed English Beam Square Coffee Table | 15. Square Metal/Glass Open Shelf Cocktail Table | 16. Aphra Square Coffee Table | 17. Cabot Square Coffee Table | 18. Thaddeus Forged Iron and Glass Coffee Table | 19. Solano Square Coffee Table | 20. Marble Plinth Coffee Table | 21. Rebar Coffee Table | 22. Aiken Square Coffee Table | 23. Lenia Square Coffee Table | 24. Lisabo | 25. Reclaimed Russian Oak Parquet Coffee Table | 26. Plywood Grid Cocktail Table | 27. Lallerod

Round

Arlyn Hernandez Makeover Takeover Living Room Ehd2
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: reveal: arlyn’s bright & happy rental living room makeover

For anyone living in a small space where every piece of furniture counts, think about cutting corners (literally) and going with something round. It’s also a good choice to pair with a sectional or sofa with chaise since it’s a good “nook” shape, i.e. it fits into a little nook of space nicely like in the family room of Jaime Derringer from Design Milk above. Another hot tip if space is at a premium or if your room is already busy is to consider a glass top like #9 and #24. This helps things appear more visually open—if you don’t see it, is it really even there? Speaking of smaller spaces, storage is NEVER unwelcome in a tight room, which is why we really love #10#22 and #25 for their deep, hidden-away storage (great for stashing hobby items, toys and more). Round coffee tables also seem to have a bit more fun (the blondes of the table world??), so why not cash in on the availability of options for something more sculptural like #4#6#16#20 and #27

Coffee Tables Round New

1. Noir Tiered Coffee Table | 2. Jewel Round Coffee & Side Table Set | 3. Zorina Cocktail Table | 4. Turn Coffee Table | 5. Silicus Coffee Table | 6. Spoke Marble Coffee Table | 7. Emmond Two-Tone Coffee Table | 8. Cap Ivory Cement Coffee Table | 9. Round Glass And Metal Ilene Coffee Table | 10. Drum Storage Coffee Table | 11. Brass Tray Coffee Table | 12. Marte Ottoman | 13. Modern Round Coffee Table | 14. Milking Table LAX Series | 15. Marble Coffee Table | 16. Betania Petite Coffee Table | 17. Brass Tray Coffee Table | 18.Victory Round Coffee Table | 19. Round Glass Coffee Table | 20. Arteriors Bates Large Coffee Table | 21. Edmund Silver Glass Cocktail Coffee Table | 22. Turning Table | 23. Anya Travertine Coffee Table | 24. Charlottenborg Table | 25. Cala Hammered Coffee Table | 26. Shaker Coffee Table | 27. Darbuka Black Coffee Table

Oval

Emily Henderson Waverly Living Room 2018 Fall Update 7 1670x2088
photo by tessa neustadt | from: experimenting in my living room: trying to find “the” rug

Oval is a good call if you have some small humans running around and want to attempt to avoid any face-to-table sharp edge encounters (round is also good for this). If your living room is a high-traffic area (like, do you have to walk through it to get to another space like the kitchen or dining room?), a more sinuous shape helps with visual flow, as well. It accomplishes the same look as a rectangle but softens a really angular or modern sofa. The classic mixed marble and wood design (#1) is a favorite around here (check it out in Emily’s living room here). The thin legs keep it light and floaty (which balances the heavier wood at the bottom). Of course, the Platner table (#5) is a modern design classic, and while the brass table above from Brady’s living room is no longer available, we found a similar one in a brass tone (#7) if you love the silhouette but are flexible on the metal finish. If you’re into making a bit more of a statement, check out the petrol blue table from West Elm at #19; it has a retro, ’80s inspired vibe that could add a serious cool factor to a simple, stripped back living space. 

Coffee Tables Oval New

1. Thomas Bina Olivia Coffee Table | 2. No No Table | 3. Bordeaux Coffee Table | 4. Palais Ovale Coffee Table | 5. Platner Coffee Table | 6. Wood Coffee Table | 7. Massenburg Coffee Table with Tray Top | 8. Leigh Coffee Table | 9. Brown Oval Coffee Table | 10. Nova Oval Coffee Table Black | 11. Oval Tribal Carved Wood Coffee Table | 12. The Floyd Coffee Table  13. Stockholm Oval Coffee Table | 14. Nero White Marble Oval Coffee Table | 15. Brodick Coffee Table With Tray Top | 16. Gallego Marbled Coffee Table | 17. Whisler Coffee Table | 18.Vintage Brass Oval Platter Table | 19.  Ruby Storage Coffee Table Blue | 20. Reeve Mid-Century Oval Coffee Table | 21. Marlow Oval Coffee Table

So…what else do you wish you had guidelines for? We’ve done a handful of posts with tons of rules by room, but how would you want us to drill down deeper? What do you struggle with regularly while decorating that you want some signature EHD how-to post action on? As always, let us know in the comments.

Since you’re already riding high on design guidelines, here are some more posts that might be helpful:

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