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Cocktail Table vs Coffee Table – Yup, They Are Quite Different

You will get a bonus, a biscuit, and a berry if you know the difference between a coffee table and a cocktail table. If you venture to guess, dimes to donuts you would be wrong.

However, after you read this article you will know the only essential difference between the two. Don’t be nosy, you have to wait until you get to the end.

In the meantime, we will describe each in detail. After you read this piece, not only will you be able to answer the questions: what is a cocktail table?, and what is a coffee table? – you will be able to note the difference and be a connoisseur of each.

Let us get acquainted shall we? Let’s have a quaint discussion about the center of our living room.

If left to our own devices we would define a coffee table as a table that you serve coffee on while a cocktail table is a table that you put cocktails on. Duh! Well, there’s a little more to it – read on…

Related: Types of Pub-Style Tables | Coffee Tables with Lift-Up Top | Coffee Tables under $200 | Man Cave Coffee Tables | Wooden Oval Coffee Tables | Brown Leather Ottoman Coffee Tables

What is a Coffee Table?

A beautiful wood-top coffee table with black painted legs on a dark gray area rug.

Good ole Merriam-Webster defines a coffee table as a low table, customarily placed in front of a sofa – called also cocktail table. Conversely, the lexicon defines cocktail table as – you guessed it – a coffee table. 

Can you believe it? Even Merriam-Webster got this one wrong. Know you are itching to know the difference, but you will not find until the end of this article. Stop scrolling down – no cheating!

The coffee table began its use in Victorian times. Initially, it was lower but has become higher as we’ve moved through the 20th century and beyond. It is designed to sit in front of the couch or sofa.

People typically adorn their coffee table with various items. The first one being coffee along with the cups needed to consume the beverage. People also adorn their coffee tables with:

  • flowers
  • magazines
  • books
  • vases
  • other decorative touches

However, some slouches like to adorn the table in front of their couches, (note the rhyme) – with the following:

  • clutter
  • dog-chewed homework
  • a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from last week
  • the unread library book you’ve had out for three years because it’s big and impressive
  • pillows that should be on the couch
  • the remote control
  • a football
  • your feet – stockinged or bare

OK, we’re just having fun here but coffee tables are used for a myriad of purposes and functions. One thing that is for sure – a living room without a coffee table is not fully done. Where are you going to put all the stuff??? If you keep putting the stuff on the loveseat, couch, or sofa it’s going to get lost in the cushions! More stress!

The Cost Of A Coffee Table

As furniture taste goes there is no way to put a definitive price tag on a coffee table. They could range from the thrift store dandy of five dollars all the way to the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a designer piece. However, here on earth an average coffee table can be had by any for about $200-$500.

What’s a Cocktail Table?

A handsome round cocktail table with wrought iron legs on a white background.

Cocktail tables came in to vogue in the 1920s according to WPL Interior Design. I guess that was because there were a lot of cocktails served. The first cocktail recipe book came out in 1862.

That doesn’t mean that cocktails weren’t in vogue before that time. Quite possibly, the inventor of cocktails could not remember to write it down because they were – a little under the weather due to the extensive research involved.

Any-who, we know that the cocktail table is not as old as the coffee table. Once the beverages came into existence they needed something to put it on, right! That makes sense because coffee came about in the 15th century. Back then, they just put the coffee on a camel.

The Cost Of A Cocktail Table

These tables which are also called coffee tables by Merriam-Webster, anyone who has had one too many cocktails, and/or anyone who didn’t finish this article. You guessed it – the pricing is the same as the coffee table. An average cocktail table is between $200 – $500. For the eclectic, the range is only limited by the sky.

The Design Elements Of Coffee Tables & Cocktail Tables

A simple and cozy wooden elliptical coffee table with a white ornamental vase on top.

Furniture tastes are so different they are just about as different as opinions. Everyone has one. However, they can be classified into different styles. Essentially these tables could be made from any material, as long as they are able to hold their stuffs.

Home Stratosphere touts an ultimate buying guide for coffee tables. They actually list 26 different types of coffee tables into three major elements. They are coffee table: design, construction, and surface material.

  • Construction –  wood, metal, glass, rattan, and acrylic coffee tables
  • Surface material – glass, wood, metal, marble, rattan, leather, and pallet coffee tables

The surface material elements are pretty self-explanatory as are the construction elements. Let’s break down the top style elements:

  • Traditional – The traditional style of coffee tables are generally made from carved wood. It is what is most seen today. They have been around since the last century and are timeless according to enthusiasts.
  • Contemporary – is a style umbrella which includes any stylistic touch that is “of the now”. The features are novel and can be anything that is currently, en vogue.
  • Modern – This style of table incorporates style within a specific date range from the 20th century. The range encompasses the art deco through the Bauhaus ending with mid-century style. Some features of the modern style are a blend of both function and the decorative.
  • Rustic – The rustic style of coffee or cocktail table is reminiscent of the countryside in the days of yesterday. It is typically made of wood.
  • Coastal – styling is designed to make one feel that they are at the beach. Typically, they use lighter toned wood and more natural shapes to give a relaxed feel.
  • industrial – styles are constructed to make you feel that there is a purpose and function-oriented feel to the piece. It is usually done in metal or wood with a strong construction.
  • Vintage – This design style wants you to think of days gone by. Some innovative touchstones from the 70’s or 80’s may be used. It could be from any vintage time. This design style often incorporates re-purposed components.

Other style categories include: novel, novelty, ottoman coffee table, stacking coffee table, folding coffee table, low platform-style coffee table and the geo-coffee table.

The Difference Between The Cocktail Table And The Coffee Table

A view of a cafe with a long built-in black leather sofa facing a row of round cocktail tables.

Haven’t you learned a lot along the way? The coffee table and cocktail table is a staple of furniture that can be both functional and attractive. You’ve received an education today and you get a gold star.

Look on any furniture site and you will note the indiscriminate use of coffee table and cocktail table images. Did you see the hint in the pictures above? A careful study will tell you the difference on sight.

OK, here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for…The only defining difference between a cocktail table and a coffee table is the shape of the tabletop! A cocktail tabletop is square or rectangular while a coffee tabletop is round.

Suddenly, you are a furniture expert! You can go to any website and add a comment that they are WRONG when they post a picture of a round cocktail table or a square coffee table.

If you want to have even more fun go to a ritzy furniture store and tell the sales person about your newfound knowledge. They’ll stand agape as you explain the nuanced difference.

There you have it. You know more than Merrriam-Webster now!