Decorating & Design

August 31, 2009

How To Choose A Coffee Table

A coffee table helps anchor a living room seating area and functions as a place for setting down drinks or snacks. It also provides a display surface for favourite books or decorative pieces. Here are a few important points to consider when shopping for a coffee table.

Form and size


Select a table that works with your seating height. Most coffee tables measure from 16 to 20 inches high.


A rectangular shape works in most rooms. A rounded table will create a sense of flow; square offers a larger surface but requires lots of floor space.


Keep your sofa size in mind when deciding on a table length. A coffee table should be one-half to two-thirds as long as the sofa it’s placed in front of.



Hardwoods like oak, walnut, cherry or maple dent less easily than soft woods like pine and cedar. A “solid wood” table means it’s made of solid boards. “All wood” tables are produced from engineered plywood or particleboard. If a table is veneered, ask the salesperson whether it’s made of solid or engineered wood underneath.

A lacquered finish provides protection to a table’s surface and ensures longevity. An expensive wood table should have a super silky finish.

The legs on a wood table should be attached with mortise and tenon joints, or with brackets and lag bolts if the legs can be removed. Well-made drawers will have dovetail joints rather than stapled ones.


If you’re leaning towards a metal table or base, choose stainless steel for its strength and durability. It comes in matte finish or can be polished to achieve a sheen similar to chrome.

A “chrome” table means that a coating has been applied to the metal base, and can easily chip or wear off.


The airy look of a glass table makes it a good choice for a compact living room. While tempered glass is five or six times stronger than standard glass, it’s generally not necessary in a coffee table, as the thickness of the glass itself makes it strong.