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Four tips for choosing the right coffee table

It’s important to get the right size and shape table for your room, so get out your tape measure before searching. (Austin Lord)

The recent months at home have led many people to reevaluate the comfort and configuration of their furniture.

Whether you want to purchase all new furniture or upgrade the look of your family room, your coffee table may be a good place to start. If you’re like most people, your coffee table functions as a serving table, a footrest, a repository for books and magazines, a workstation and your jigsaw-puzzle spot. Choosing the right size, shape and material for your coffee table can make a big difference in how it works and how long it lasts.

We asked two interior designers for tips on how to make this important choice: Robin Rains, owner of Robin Rains Interior Design in Nashville, and Heather Hilliard, owner of Heather Hilliard Design in San Francisco. Here are their four tips via email:

1. Size and placement are key. It’s important to get the right size and shape table for your room, so get out your tape measure before searching, Rains wrote.

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“The height of the table should be generally between 14 to 20 inches tall,” she wrote. “I prefer the table to be approximately two inches lower than the seat height on your sofa. Keep approximately 16 inches from the edge of the table to the sofa and at least 28 to 30 inches to the TV cabinet or furniture opposite the sofa. A table should be two-thirds the length of your sofa for correct proportion.”

Hilliard prefers a maximum of 18 inches between the coffee table and the edge of the furniture it serves.

“Less than 18 inches spacing narrows circulation and greater than 18 inches of space makes it a stretch to set down a drink or rest your feet,” she says. “If the chairs perpendicular to your sofa seem to be crossing into the space in front of your sofa, your coffee table needs to be longer.”

2. Check the proportions and visual impact. A storage ottoman or closed-volume table will feel weighty in a room, Hilliard wrote, so consider an oval to make the piece appear a little sleeker and a neutral color to keep it understated.

“A glass coffee table will add lightness and airiness to the space, but it isn’t suitable for bearing a lot of weight, resting feet or being bumped into by little ones,” she wrote. “A rich material choice with treasured objects atop it will draw the eye, so keeping other design choices clean-lined and more monochromatic will stave off visual overload.”

Rains suggests a larger square or round coffee table for a big room with an L-shaped sectional sofa, so each person has a surface in reach when seated.

“This also balances the scale and makes the area look better proportioned,” Rains wrote. “If your space is small, choose a lower height table with a smaller dimension. An acrylic or glass table will also make a space appear larger.”

3. Consider the function. Think about how you plan to use the table before buying one, Hilliard wrote. Your choice of size and material will be affected if you plan to use the table to display objects, for extra storage, for food and drinks when entertaining or if you have children who need soft edges to avoid getting hurt, Hilliard wrote.

“If there are small children in the home, consider opting for a fabric covered ottoman with legs for comfort and soft edges — just make sure it is large enough that it does not look like a chair ottoman,” Rains wrote. “A primitive wood table that won’t show wear and tear is also a great choice with children in the home.”

A focal-point display table could feature a more delicate surface, such as a richly finished wood, mica, parchment or colored lacquer, Hilliard suggested.

“Coffee tables that will receive a lot of drink or food use are best topped with a wipeable surface resistant to staining or scratching, such as glass, antique mirror or some types of stone,” she wrote.

4. Don’t forget style. A coffee table is a work horse but is also an important design element in any room, Rains wrote.

“Consider a unique material that elevates and complements your style, i.e. marble, glass and acrylic,” Rains wrote. “Always select a table that will endure the test of time. A trendy piece will be out of style before you know it. Vintage pieces add the unexpected flair and personality to any space and are typically considered timeless.” Although wood can be beautiful, Rains recommends being open to other materials for a distinctive style.

“When we don’t have a lot of restrictions for use, we like to specify a statement piece or limited-edition table that will be seen as the art or jewelry in the room,” Hilliard wrote.

Read more:

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