Everyone seems to have a coffee table, but how many people really get it right?
In this blog, we demystify the process of choosing coffee tables so that you can furnish your living room perfectly every time. Just follow these four easy steps:
STEP 1: CONSIDER SERIOUSLY WHETHER YOU ACTUALLY NEED A COFFEE TABLE.
Just because some or even most people find a coffee table useful doesn’t mean that it’ll be useful for you in your circumstances. This is especially the case in smaller homes or hybridised, adaptable rooms. Could you use a smaller side table instead? Or maybe an ottoman would be better?
If you already have a coffee table, ask yourself this: is there anything, really, that is wrong with the coffee table? Or are you just bored of it? If the table is still in good or fixable condition but you can’t stand the sight of it in your home anymore, do your best to divert it from landfill—try donating it to friends, family, or a local community shelter in need. Alternatively, you could try selling it on marketplaces like Gumtree and Facebook to try to recover some money for it, even if it isn’t much. But if your table is irreparably damaged, don’t offload your problem to someone else. Dispose of your table responsibly!
STEP 2: KNOW YOUR MEASUREMENTS.
Many of us have visited some place which has a coffee table so big that that it’s just plain awkward to try to get around the sofa. Even if it is the cosiest-looking room in the world, this basic oversight can really kill the vibe.
Not having a comfortable amount of space cleared between sofas and a coffee table is even worse when you’re trying to manoeuvre a pram or walking frame in someone’s house, or if you’re just having a worse-than-usual day with sciatica or arthritis.
Hence, the ‘clearance rule’ exists: 45cm is the ideal amount of space to allow for people to walk around your coffee table and sofas/chairs. (You’ll need to allow more for prams or people with disabilities. And on this point, make sure you think into the future about people in your home who may, at some point, have a pram or disability or otherwise have difficulty getting around.)
You also need to consider the width of the coffee table. The rule of thumb is that a coffee table two-thirds the width of the sofa adjacent to it is most pleasing to the eye, but of course if you’re fitting a table against a two-seater and a three-seater then you might find yourself struggling to find something exactly right (unless you buy something custom-made). So don’t take this rule of thumb too strictly; just make sure you know your measurements so you’ll have a rough idea of what might work and what probably won’t.
More important than the width of the coffee table is its height. There’s no leeway here: it needs to be as level as possible with the seat cushion(s) on your chair or sofa. Higher or lower will be surprisingly awkward; though, a coffee table which is a few centimetres lower than your sofa won’t be hugely disturbing.
For example, we used to make our Byron cross leg coffee table quite high—too high for many customers, in fact. While reducing the height of a timber coffee table isn’t the most difficult DIY project in the world, we realised that most people would benefit from a shorter coffee. Now, the table is level with the seat cushions of most sofas. Everybody’s happy!
STEP 3: GO THROUGH THE AESTHETIC CONSIDERATIONS.
Once you’ve sorted the practicalities, you should think carefully about the style of the coffee table. (Though, of course, it’s often the case that we’re drawn to the look of a coffee table first and then see if it’s compatible with our measurements!)
Now before you even think about whether the coffee table before you will go with your furniture style, pay attention to its weight. This isn’t just about its physical weight as a matter of science (which you’ll need to know depending on how manoeuvrable you want the table to be), but how “heavy” it looks aesthetically. A good rule of thumb is to match heavy coffee tables (often resembling big blocks) with lighter-looking sofas (e.g. those with high and thin legs, thin arms, etc) and match heavier-looking sofas (those with short or no legs, thicker arms, etc) with light coffee tables (usually with smaller proportions, thinner legs, plenty of open space underneath the table top, etc). Generally, we find people have more difficulty matching the chunkier coffee tables with their sofas, so it’s usually safer going for a lighter coffee table and a heavier sofa. There are usually more options for this combination, too.
The effect of having plenty of space underneath this coffee table is not just to balance the heavier looking sofa; it really helps to open up the whole room, too.
Now think about how your coffee table will go with the other furniture in your living room or the furniture in your home more generally. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but here are some tips:
- Remember to look at the floors. If you’re buying a timber table and you have floorboards, be careful not to try to match the tones too closely. Complementary colours work well. Or, even better, lay a thickly textured rug between the table and the floor (see the example above above) to create a nice contrast and a soft surface underfoot for you and your guests.
- If you can, it’s always a good idea to furnish your home using the same one or two furniture collections. Look out for ‘families’ of collections which share certain finishes or hardware, like our Newport and Tuscan ranges.
- Alternatively—and as this is a good idea if your existing furniture collection isn’t produced anymore—consider going for a statement coffee table. Statements are tricky, mostly because many of us are afraid to be too radical about it. But it really is important to be open-minded: consider something which a completely different material, texture, colour, and style, but still follow the guidelines above as to proportions and weightiness. Doing so will mean your coffee table is truly a ‘statement’ without looking awkward or ‘wrong’.
- Finally, don’t underestimate the power of texture in a room. Texture can not only make or break a furniture style; it can change someone’s impression of you, especially if they’re visiting your home for the first time. One texture we love is reclaimed timber: not only is it great for your wallet and the environment, it’s one of those materials that will always help a home feel more relaxed, no matter how much you polish it. And there’s nothing Australians love to do more than relax!
STEP 4: LOOK BEYOND WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU.
There’s always more to a product than meets the eye. Although most of us have practically no idea how the products we use are made, many of us are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that some supply chains are rife with abuse of workers and nature.
If this is something which concerns you, then when you’re shopping for your coffee table, make sure the manufacturer is transparent about how the table was made.
Certifications can make this task very easy, though it’s always worth a quick Google search to see what the certificate actually represents and whether there are any controversies about the certification program (some are less rigorous than others). For example, our Vietnam factory—where we design and make most of the coffee tables we sell—has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) since 2018. This certificate comprises both forestry itself, as well as the chain of supply that leads to the lovely timber furniture in our stores and your homes.