Table that: See our top guidelines for choosing the perfect coffee table

Guidelines for picking a coffee table are simple and effective so you find the right shape, size and material to suit your space and purpose, as well as satisfying your inner interiors stylist, writes Carol O’Callaghan

The Tofteryd coffee table from Ikea offers storage with a combination of drawers and shelves (€199).
The Tofteryd coffee table from Ikea offers storage with a combination of drawers and shelves (€199).

WHY is it we take hours, even days and sometimes weeks choosing sofas, drapery, rugs and occasional furniture, but we’ll accept a cast-off coffee table which would otherwise be heaved in the direction of the tip?

What a mistreated piece of living room furniture the coffee table can be, acting as a dumping ground for remote controls, coffee cups, newspapers, and magazines. Even a take-away pizza box with the last slice left festering inside can end up loitering till the next day.

Detritus damage limitation

Bo Concept’s Chiva comes in a variety of colours and finishes with lift-up lids which make little tables for TV dinners (€739).
Bo Concept’s Chiva comes in a variety of colours and finishes with lift-up lids which make little tables for TV dinners (€739).

Yes, indeed, the poor coffee table carries the general detritus of the couch-potato lifestyle, something I’m happy to say I am partial to indulging in from time to time, especially in the winter months.

Yet, my coffee table is also a spot where I love to unleash the interiors stylist in me, though, admittedly, the effect doesn’t last too long before the reappearance of cups, books and electronic gadgetry.

But where it really comes into its own, dumping ground and styling focus aside, is in its ability to effectively pull the look of a room together.

Choosing one can be bewildering, though, with the vast choice available and the multiple sizes, shapes and materials to boot. But before any of us starts shopping there are a few practical considerations.

Where are you siting it? If it’s a more formal sitting room, something delicate in appearance with glass can add a real sense of style and be less prone to scratches and paw prints, whereas something in a family living room needs to be sturdier to withstand the onslaught of family life.

The Cleo’s walnut and glass combination with a floor-height shelf is a lovely option for a formal sitting room (€349).
The Cleo’s walnut and glass combination with a floor-height shelf is a lovely option for a formal sitting room (€349).

After that it’s a case of looking at the room and the other furniture in it to determine the material that would look best. Clear glass and modern acrylics can make a space look more open. Darker woods like walnut and mahogany, and marble topped models look well in more traditional settings. If you have a contemporary space, metal, especially combined with glass fits in very nicely. In the final decision it’s all about taste, and, as we know, contemporary and traditional can look terrific together.

When it comes to measurements, bear in mind the all-important visual, particularly the proportions of your coffee table in relation to the sofa. For a balanced look, it ought to be at least half the length of your sofa but no more than three quarters, so something that’s two thirds might be quite right.

And here’s a really important point: Make sure it’s the same height as the sofa seat, give or take a couple of inches. Something too low gives the impression it might be possible to trip over it; too high and it takes on the look of a tea table and may even obstruct the view of the fireplace or the television set if you like to spend an evening prone on the sofa.

Lay ground rules

Bo Concept’s Philadelphia table offers a streamlined look with storage, including a magazine rack which adds a novel design feature (€679).
Bo Concept’s Philadelphia table offers a streamlined look with storage, including a magazine rack which adds a novel design feature (€679).

Staying with the visual for just a moment, legs are another really important consideration. If your sofa has high skinny legs, then a table which is solid down to the floor, or one with shorter chunkier legs does the trick. But if the sofa sits directly on the floor, opt for a table on higher slim legs. If everything is on legs to start with, it’s like the furniture is floating and lacks a grounded feel to make the room relaxing.

When it comes to shape, rectangles work universally, especially in narrower spaces where there’s little room to walk around.

Circular versions take up more space than you might imagine, but in a space which might be dominated by rectangular sofas and more squarish armchairs and rugs, a round table might refresh the overall look by breaking up straight lines.

Squares coffee tables are hard to come by, but there’s something in the shape which works really successfully if in the centre of a grid of sofas and a fireplace.

I have to admit if I were in the market for a purchase any time soon, I’d opt for one with storage to help minimise the accumulation of debris and allow for a show-off surface. These include lift up lids which make little tables for TV dinners, with space underneath for toys scooped up after a long day of play so the living room reverts to an adult space for evening.

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