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The Coffee & Accent Tables That Will Save Your (Boring) Living Room + 6 Tips To Ensure Success

photo by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | from: reveal: a budget rental-friendly living and dining room (with 80% thrifted finds)

I am not traditionally a risk-taker. Same hairstyle for 10 years, same eyeshadow for three (I should probably throw that out) and my closet is progressively becoming a sea of white blouses and slightly ripped jeans. So when it came time for choosing a sofa for my living room, I decided on a simple cream, single cushion beauty. Yes, I toyed with the idea of getting a dark mustard velvet sofa instead but the practical side of my brain kept saying, “Jess, what if your style changes and that mustard sofa doesn’t work in the future? That is a big investment for something so bold.” But wait. Let me back up for a moment. I just painted myself as really boring. I mean I’ve made cross-country moves (and cross-ocean moves), I’ve skydived and one time I wore red lipstick on my top lip and orange on the bottom lip TO WORK. I can be crazy guys…but in moderation. Anyone else feel me?

So despite my drooling over Arlyn’s post about “non basic sofas,” I thought that we needed a post for those readers like myself that are slightly less risk-averse but not boring (I mean, the girl has a bright cobalt blue velvet sofa, so we know she’s not riddled with fear like so many of us might be). Or maybe even those that aren’t ready or able to drop money on a sofa but could get a new side table. You are my people and this post is for you. But also if you have a bold sofa and want to keep the bold times rollin’, you are also welcome to this post and we are happy to have you.

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-2
photo by erin francois | from: tour a stylist’s mid-century-meets-traditional “farmhouse” full of thrifted treasures

I feel as though the power of the accent table is underrated. The sofa may be the Beyoncé of the living room but would her concerts be as show-stopping if she didn’t have her fierce backup dancers?? Sorry for comparing Queen B and her dancers to living room furniture but that is how strongly I feel about the issue.

We thought it would be helpful to show you what I mean rather than just talking about it. I pulled four average-looking sofas and paired them with visually interesting coffee and side tables (and walk you through why we think they work because pairing apples with oranges isn’t always intuitive). But before we get into the combos, let’s go over the six rules you should think of when buying your next piece and then check out this post for all your other burning coffee table questions.

1. Vary shapes: Mix it up with round, oval, square, rectangle, triangle or live edge shapes. It is the quickest and probably easiest way to instantly create visual interest and breakthrough “samesies” syndrome.

2. Mix up materials: Stay away from using the same material for all your accent tables. When you vary, for example combining a metal coffee table and a fabric side table, it gives your room texture. Texture is GOOD. But if you are dying to use, say, all wood, then vary the stains and yes, also shapes.

3. Look for interesting details: I think the key to having your coffee and side table as the “unique” furniture in your living room is interesting details. It could be a pattern, color, material or fun accent. Anything really that makes it extra special to you.

4. Visual weight is important: I know we have said it before but balancing the visual weight of your pieces is crucial to make your room look put together and interesting. So for example, if you have a bulkier coffee table then consider a more delicate side. Or if one piece has legs, making it look more “airy,” then the other piece could be “legless” and look more rooted.

5. Make sure they speak to each other: Okay, so I’ve spent four other points talking about all the ways these tables should be different, but this is where I talk about where they still need to relate somehow. Something about the pieces should talk to each other. This could be the shape if the materials are different, the era they are from, a common detail, or color palette. Think cousins, not siblings.

6. Consider your sofa: While your sofa may be on the more neutral or basic side, you still want everything to look cohesive. Look at the style, shape and color of your sofa. You don’t want to go so far off the style rails that the pieces don’t make any sense together. Have at least one thing about at least one of the pieces speak to the sofa’s style.

Okay, now I will show you what I mean…

Round One: Four Basic Sofas, Four Interesting Combos

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-3

combo 1: sofa + coffee tableside table | combo 2: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 3: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 4: sofa + coffee table + side table

1. Here, we have a modern traditional boxy sofa. It’s visually heavy so it needs a coffee table that can stand up to it but also “lighten the mood.” Enter in that very cool vintage coffee table that is also boxy but footed so it gives the visual illusion that it’s airy. Then the side table has a contrasting shape, color and material but the style era and drawer accent of the two speak to each other.

2. This dark sofa needed a lighter, fun friend. Both the sofa and table have a MCM feel but the table’s wood tone and circle cut out detail relaxes the mood. Funks it up if you will. Then the side table’s circular shape talks to the circles of the coffee table but nicely contrasts it in terms of material and visual heft.

3. The gray sofa is just asking for some color to liven it up. Here, both of these work because they gel with the more contemporary vibe of the sofa. And while they themselves are pretty visually different in terms of material, they are both tonally rich and the wood ties it all together.

4. This sofa has a relaxed feel which is a great pairing for a more natural style of tables. The coffee table is both modern in shape with its chunky legs but natural in material. It’s black color contrasts and grounds the colors of the sofa and side table. Then the side table brings in more texture with its ceramic material and line detail. The two tables complement each other in both texture and the varying heights of their three-footed bases.

Round Two: Same Sofas, Different Tables

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-4

combo 1: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 2: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 3: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 4: sofa + coffee table + side table

1. A modern sofa doesn’t mean you can’t pair it with more natural pieces. But like I said before, make sure something about one of the pieces talks to the sofa. In this case, it’s the coffee table. The black marble and modern base (open and airy for varied visual weight) plays off the sofa’s traditional style. BUT the live edge shape of the marble talks to the natural style of the wood stump side table. There is also of course color and material contrast to keep the combo interesting.

2. All three of these pieces are a bit modern but cool. The color palette is varied but tonal, bringing in some much-needed warmth. Then the tables have the same round top-shaped but different and unique bases. You may also notice that they have very different visual weights which help make the whole combo balanced.

3. Boy, is that caning PRETTY and is kind of the showstopper of this trio. That being said, there wasn’t a need for a detailed said table, so this brass cutie is simple but interestingly shaped which makes it a perfect pick. Because it’s brass, the material and color really contrast and living up the whole color palette here.

4. Postmodern neutral heaven. While black-and-white, this combo is anything but boring. The bulkiness of the coffee table is toned down by its light color and the opening under the arch (and we love the tonal pairing which is unexpected). Then to make sure it’s not too neutral, the side table’s bold yet small stripes give the illusion that it’s more delicate than it really is (it’s a big block, ha). And while the sofa and tables are slightly different styles, the color palette keeps it all in the family.

Round Three: “One More For the Cheap Seats In The Back”

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-5

combo 1: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 2: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 3: sofa + coffee table + side table | combo 4: sofa + coffee table + side table

1. This sofa doesn’t know what hit it. That insanely cool coffee table speaks to the shape of the sofa but its materials and unique legs make it interesting. But to make sure we stay away from “rectangleville,” the side table has a contrasting fun shape and design. Why do they work together? Well, the brass and wood colors are in the same warm tone family and both pieces are very structural. Plus, all three of the pieces have a natural variance to them. The marble has some veining, the brass is aged/has some color variation and the wood has some tonal changes. Cousin best friends!

2. To brighten up this sofa, brass and blue were an easy choice (very EHD). The styles are all contemporary but from slightly different eras so they complement each other well. Then the coffee and side table once again have different visual weights, contrasting shapes and colors BUT both have a lined detail to connect them.

3. This combo is funky but muted, so it’s perfect for us (the risk-averse). The round shape of the coffee table contrasts the shape of the other two pieces. However, the curved rod detail on the side table speaks to the curve of the round coffee table. Then the small scale “pattern” of the side table contrasts nicely with the larger scale stripes of the coffee table. Also, notice that the black on the coffee table is picking up the black from the feet of the sofa. Lastly, adding that seafoam pop makes this combo anything but boring.

4. This combo is pretty darn pretty. The color palette is neutral but the movement in the burlwood and in the base of the coffee table make it anything but boring and keeps that pair cohesive. The contrasting shapes and weight keep the eye very interested.

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-5 Jessica Helgerson
photo by david tsay | designed by jessica helgerson | styled by emily henderson for STYLED the book

Do you feel confident enough that you could go out on your own? Well, I am confident in you and have provided a mere 66 different accent table options for you to mix and match with. But also, if you are just looking to switch out one of your pieces then that is equally as great and you are sure to find something. 🙂 Let’s first look at the coffee tables.

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-7

1. Inga | 2. Sterling Molecular | 3. Gilbert Marklund Attr Brutalist | 4. Coffee Table with Cane Webbing | 5. Horseshoe White Lacquered Linen | 6. Abel Ash Tree Pouffe | 7. Striped Inlay | 8. Elemental | 9. Darbuka Black | 10. Macbeth Hemlock | 11. Piva | 12. Colorblock | 13. Podia | 14. Vistas | 15. Cast Aluminum Coffee Table Base | 16. Gridiron Stainless Steel | 17. Jelly Belly | 18. Toluca Marble and Brass | 19. Maroc Blue | 20. Teak & Black Painted | 21. Keelin Grey/ Black | 22. Silicus Pink | 23. Seaford | 24. Olsen | 25. Clifton | 26. Andrea | 27. Around | 28. Powell | 29. Feather Collection Drum | 30. Tallen Dark Grey Modern Concrete | 31. Graff | 32. Ruby StRuby Storage | 33. Alcide Black Marble

I really love all of them. I originally had double the amount but realized I had to cut it down and choose the best and most varied. TORTURE. So aside from the ones I used in the examples, I am currently very partial to #8, #13, #14 and #24. #15 obviously needs a top, but you could either get a glass or stone cut to size.

Now that you have coffee tables down, let’s step to the side over to end tables.

Emily Henderson Unique Coffee Tables and Side Tables-8

1. Taylor Bone Inlay | 2. Round Teak And Rattan Olivia | 3. Shuffle | 4. Lato | 5. Hera | 6. Belsize | 7. Componibili Storage Unit | 8. Cami | 9. Venetian Round Glass | 10. Joyeux | 11. Carved Stool | 12. Female Form | 13. Misewell Sixagon | 14. Nikkeby | 15. Iconic | 16. Black Round With Gold Finish | 17. Josef | 18. Essence | 19. Curve Gold | 20. Keaton Black/White | 21. Everly Ceramic | 22. Cliff | 23. Petit Palais | 24. Darien | 25. Sebastian | 26. Maggie Rattan-Wrapped | 27. Otto | 28. Wood Anton | 29. Pavo | 30. Sculptural #3 | 31. Floating Disks | 32. Capri 2 Piece | 33. Cosmo

Again with the Sophie’s Choice but I really love #3 (very expensive but a piece of art), #11, #13, #27 and #30.

That’s all she (me) wrote on this topic. I hope you learned something and/or found a piece you love. Don’t forget that there are always interesting and affordable finds on sites like Etsy, Chairish and Craigslist. You just have to spend the time searching (and maybe refinishing). Plus for in-person shopping, remember to hit up thrift stores and garage sales. Wherever you get them, I just hope you all find the backup dancers of your dreams. You and your living room deserve it.

Love you, meant it.

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4 years ago

Loved the idea of pairing the same sofas with several different tables – it was really fun how the different tables changed the whole style! Very educational 🙂 My favourite was probably the caning and brass combo and I loved the burlwood coffee table – not sure I personally would have chosen that side table to go with it (a bit to whimsical for my tastes) – but that burlwood is beauuutiful!

Loveley of
4 years ago

Jess Bunge, what are you doing to me!?!?!?!?!?! I am literally dead (and by literally, i mean, not literally) over here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! your picks for tables are
i’m in love with this post because i am a furniture fanatic, and these are all so good. i was giddy looking at all of them. also, one of my favorite things about this is that i find new shops that i’ve never heard of and get to look around at! yippee!

Meg Reece
4 years ago

I got the new CB2 catalogue in the mail the other day and I’m obsessed with the cream colored, u-shaped, linen-textured coffee table(#5). I love your pairing, but doubt I can drop $1k on side tables. Any other obvious choice to pair with this one that is cheaper? I love the ceramic urban outfitters ones, but they seem to be unavailable. I’m leaning towards wood, or natural colored, would like storage if possible, and I have 3 little kids. I have had a really hard time pulling the trigger on side tables. I literally own none.

German jen
4 years ago
Reply to  Meg Reece

How about “c” shaped tables that can be end tables but can also be pulled around to be computer/coloring/eating-at-the-couch-is-a-special-privilege tables? Pier one has several (or they did—not sure about this instant)

Paige Cassandra Flamm
4 years ago

I love the round one with the hexagon bottom! So fun!


4 years ago

Please don’t use the phrase Sophie’s Choice when talking about furniture. It feels disrespectful.

4 years ago

What a fabulous resource post for coffee tables and side tables – AND sodas, AND links to other awesome resources and further inspiration!
Thank you so much!

4 years ago

I know you guys are in California where spread out style is the name of the game and you have square cottage for days, but are you actively hostile to multi-fictional furniture, such as coffee tables with storage? Some of those big, visually heavy pieces could be fantastic for storing board games, throw blankets, ab wheels or guest bedding (because yes, some of us work out in our living rooms and/or have guests spend the night there). For all I know, some of them might work that way, but you made no mention of it, either way.

4 years ago

Just a fantastic post! Your selections are stunning Jess.

4 years ago

Great round-up!

Suggestion for another round-up: storage options for toys / children’s books, like in a living room / playroom so they’re easily accessible (not too hidden).

Julie S
4 years ago

These are all so, so good!!! and mostly very reasonable price points. I’m probably never going to get a unique or colorful sofa and these unexpected, interesting, funky tables are totally my line of action for how to add some zing and personality to my home.

4 years ago

Excellent ideas! I’m going to have some fun staring at this post for a while and doing some mixing and matching in my head. Definitely my idea of fun 🙂 Thanks, Jess!

4 years ago

Great post. Appreciated all the style and price options. Well done.

4 years ago

Jess, Your sofa & table parings are fantastic and has really got me thinking about mixing it up going forward! I’m moving to another state & recently gave/sold my living room furniture & will be able to start “fresh” What I once liked is no longer working for me.
I have a big issue that I’m struggling with; I want to be able to put my feet up! Do I do that with a “soft” coffee table/ottoman or a couch that has a retractable foot rest (read none obtrusive, can’t tell it’s there) Do NOT want any thing “stuffy” or traditional looking, more contemporary with clean lines! HELP!

4 years ago

Have a very large, bold (made from jade) coffee table that is an antique piece. Would love to find a resource for help styling around it. Any ideas?