Coffee Table Buying Guide

Whether decorative, functional, or a combination of both, a coffee table is a focal point of your living room. This coffee table buying guide outlines various styles and features to consider.

Coffee Tables 101

The coffee table usually takes centre stage in your living room. Although it’s a relatively basic piece of furniture, a modern coffee table can offer tons of functionality. It can be a place to rest your drink, book or remote control; an extra storage area, or even a footrest. It’s also a primary decorative accent for the room. When you’re buying a coffee table, it’s good to keep a few things in mind: the size, style, durability and extra features you want will all play a part in your decision. 

Types of Coffee Tables


Simple Coffee Tables

A coffee table can be a square, circular, oval, or almost any other shape as long as it's proportionate to the seats and sofas that surround it. That said, the most common type of coffee table features a rectangular surface that measures about 30 inches across and 40-48 inches long. The main consideration in choosing a size to ensure it matches the size of your sofa i.e. long enough to be reached from all seats. 

Kid and Pet-Friendly Coffee Tables

A coffee table offers toddlers a great balance aid when learning learning to walk, but the sharp corners can cause bruises and injuries. Consider a round or oval table, or add foam bumpers to all corners. Kids and pets alike have a habit of gnawing on things they shouldn’t. If either is present in your home, avoid painted wood tables which can flake or peel when chewed on. Bigger kids and bigger pets pose a different kind of hazard. If rambunctious play is common, remember that glass or stone tables can chip or even shatter.

Upholstered Coffee Tables

Large upholstered coffee tables can impart a more relaxed look to a room, enticing guests to put their feet up. It can also serve to match your chair and sofa upholstery. The surface may be fabric or leather, taut or tufted, whichever best suits the room and your personal taste. Some upholstered coffee tables can be quite elegant, with carved legs, high-end fabric, and trimmings such as nail head or fringe. Serving food and drinks can still be done easily via trays or other hard surfaces. 

Specialty Coffee Tables

Specialty coffee tables are unique because they have additional built-in concepts or abilities. A chess board painted on the surface may suit a den or games room. A rising top can turn your coffee table into an eating or work surface. Some outdoor models even contain a small propane fire pit. 

Coffee Table Buying Tips:

  • The ideal coffee table height should generally be level with the seat cushions of your sofa and other furniture
  • Try to keep two to three feet between your coffee table and surrounding furniture
  • A coffee table should generally not be more than two-thirds the length of your sofa
  • If you’re going to use it often, a glass or heavy lacquer tabletop will be the easiest to clean
  • In a home with small children, choose a soft-top table or one that is round, i.e. without sharp edges
  • Corner guards are available for coffee tables with square edges

Coffee Table Features

Shape +

If you want to go beyond the standard rectangular table, look at your current furniture for inspiration. The patterns on your drapes, art or vases in your living room can inspire a creative decision. You can also opt to match or contrast the existing shapes in your room. For example, a curved sofa and an oval coffee table have lines that complement each other. A round coffee table is a sensible choice for young families, since active toddlers can run into the pointed edges of a square table.

Materials +

Most coffee tables are made of stained wood, polished stone, or glass, but more exotic materials are also available to act as an accent in the room. These include chrome, enameled metal, hammered bronze, leather and plastic. Glass can also be smoked, coloured or textured, and is a great choice for smaller spaces because it doesn’t weigh a room down. Wood or burnished metal offer a more rustic or even industrial look. An easy-to-clean tabletop can be paired with heavier, more ornate legs for the best of both form and function. Lightweight materials are easy to lift when you’re vacuuming or moving furniture, while a heavier piece might provide some solid, long-lasting functionality to your space.

Tabletop +

The surface of the coffee table will be the main focus for the eye, so this is where looks are most important. A glass tabletop is easy to clean, while older wood tabletops will require special wood cleaners and oils to maintain the look. Tabletops made with heavy veneers, marble or metals will add a luxurious feel to your home. If you have a vintage or upcycled coffee table, consider buying stencils or a paint finish to personalize your coffee table decor.

Finishes +

The right finish will help your coffee table match your other furniture, or create a bold contrasting accent. A natural wood finish, varnish or stain can add levels of colour and gloss to the exterior of a wood coffee table. If you’re buying to match your furniture, figure out what type of woods and finishes are used on your furniture before shopping. A lacquer finish or shellac offers a bolder, more protective coating on a wood or metal surface.

Lift Top +

A lift top coffee table is a great choice for a smaller living room, basement, or family room. It provides you with a convenient space to store your blanket, photo albums, a cache of magazines, or children’s toys. Depending on the design, many lift top coffee tables have an extending work surface so you can convert them into a comfortable work station as well.

Removable Tray +

Smaller coffee tables might have a removable tray feature, which can be used for serving, dining and additional serving space for any occasion. Similar to TV trays, these coffee tables can usually be folded for space-saving storage. Consider buying a set of three or four for the whole family to enjoy their own.

Drawers +

In cramped quarters, a coffee table with storage is a huge asset. If you have a lot of knickknacks and small items, a drawer or two can hide clutter and create a more open feel to your living room. Built-in shelving gives you quick and easy storage areas for your living room essentials, such as magazines, pens, notepads, reading glasses and coasters. While extremely functional, most people prefer coffee tables with an open base for a more “airy” feeling in the room.

Shelves +

Many coffee tables have one shelf underneath the tabletop, just a couple inches from the ground. This provides an easy storage space for books, magazines, blankets and more. If you want more shelves to organize your stuff, then modern designs with multiple shelves or even drawers can be an option. Just remember that you might want to stretch your feet under the coffee table as well.

Legs and Support +

If you spend a lot of time sitting around your coffee table, then the placement of its legs (and your feet) will be important. If you’re placing the coffee table in an area where there’s a lot of throughway traffic, picking a table with recessed legs will help prevent stubbed toes. Alternatively, an ottoman coffee table offers hidden storage and a place to rest your feet, along with a sturdy base.

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Coffee Table Maintenance Tips:

  • A wood protector may help resist stains, chips, scratches and those stain rings from cups and mugs
  • Use oil-based wood cleaners for your wood coffee table
  • Wipe a glass coffee table with window cleaner and crumpled newspaper to avoid streaks
  • Clean lacquer finishes with a solvent-based furniture cleaner and a soft cloth
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s care and maintenance instructions
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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