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How To Choose The Right Coffee Table

By Rachel Wallace

Whether oval or rectangular, crafted in timber or witty resin, the coffee table sets the tone for a beautifully functioning living room.

“The right coffee table provides the opportunity to add a layer of texture, colour, and shape to a room,” designer Martine Cooper says. “It’s also practical as a landing spot for coffee, wine, and a place to display some of your favourite things.”

A coffee table should be functional and in perfect scale with other furnishings. Like all important and enduring pieces, it can be a challenging and costly investment.

Your coffee table should compliment your other pieces in the home. Image from Bacic Group and styling by Anna Flanders Photo: Dion Robeson.

“After the kitchen, the living room is the most used room, and if your life revolves there, it deserves a large share of your furniture budget,” designer Elvira Nuic from Bacic Group building and design firm says.

“We sit around the coffee table to relax, lounge and share food with family and friends, and it’s the setting for many a puzzle and board-game night.

“Compared to its larger and more serious sibling, the dining table, it’s clear why the humble coffee table is as deserving of equal importance.”

To splurge or save? Nuic recommends seeking the best-quality coffee table for your budget, focusing on functionality, craftsmanship and classic styling.

“Look for versions in solid timber, glass and stone,” she says. “They’re timeless options that elevate and add texture to your space.”

Size and height are crucial considerations when selecting a style. As the anchor for your space, the coffee table relates to every piece of furniture surrounding it.

With our current love of low-lying lounges, “how low can you go” coffee tables are all the rage. However, team one with a too-high sofa and your wrong-height table can throw the room’s proportions right off-kilter.

“The trick is to use sofa’s seat cushion as a reference point for the table, and try and stay close to, or just below, this height,” Cooper says.

“When it comes to size, ensure its width is in proportion with the sofa, and work on the table being between one-third and two-thirds of the sofa size. Importantly, ensure there is adequate flow around the table to enable movement between it and other furnishings.”

A glass-topped table provides a feeling of spaciousness in a small room, and a larger space can handle a more solid piece, like a heavy design in rustic timber or a closed-volume table.

“It’s a style that offers a real sense of grounding,” Cooper says. “Alongside furniture with straight lines, an oval, round or organic shape provides softness and allows movement without the sharp edges.”

For a flexible room, an ottoman or cluster of smaller tables makes the ideal choice.

“As a whole, each piece complements each other and the room,” Cooper says.

Curves are great for a smaller space. Image from Bacic Group, styling by Anna Flanders Photo: Dion Robeson.

“It’s a popular combination that can be bought as a set or independently. Ensure all leg positions and heights are complimentary so they nest into each other.”

If working within a restricted space, look for a table without rigid lines, opting instead for styles featuring soft, organic curves.

“Allow between 40 and 55 centimetres between the sofa and the coffee table,” Cooper says. “An upholstered ottoman with an oversized tray acting as a stable surface is great, too, for younger children.”

If your vision is larger than your bank balance, get creative with your styling and sourcing.

“Try clustering together smaller, affordable tables, and curate over time with higher-quality ones,” Nuic says. “For elusive designer pieces at lower prices, seek out second-hand markets. If you have the patience and perseverance to pursue quality, it’s where real bargains can be found.”

Once you have selected your table, consider the other elements in the room, arranging them in a way that ensures the space feels balanced and pleasing to the eye.

Make your coffee table pop with thoughtful styling, displaying your favourite fashion tomes, shell collection, chessboard or flowers.

The perfect way to show off your favourite styling pieces in the home. Image from Bacic Group, Klopper & Davis. Styling Anna Flanders. Photo: Dion Robeson.

“For collectors, it’s an opportunity to show off favourite items,” Cooper says. “Group a few items together and use decorative boxes and trays to contain them in one or two areas of the table to ensure there’s negative space.”

Whether you like a concise and considered arrangement or prefer loose and spontaneous, a fail-proof styling formula is to include artistic, organic and reflective items.

“Play with symmetry,” says Nuic, who recommends dividing the surface into halves or thirds, then styling within those areas.

“Use trays to style smaller collections of treasures, and an organic element like foliage or fresh flowers for a sense of calm.”

Most importantly, take a relaxed approach when presenting your coffee table.

“Allow between 40 and 55 centimetres between the sofa and the coffee “Don’t take it too seriously,” Nuic says. “It’s nice to have a place to just put your feet up once in a while.”


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