I’ll be honest – I thought I knew the difference between cocktail tables and coffee tables. But then, I researched a cocktail table vs coffee table and found out I was wrong!
There’s actually only one major distinction between the two tables, and it’s not what I thought. I’ll share it with you so you can refer to each of these tables correctly.
Cocktail Table vs Coffee Table
Coffee tables and cocktail tables are two common types of living room tables, so what’s the difference between the two? Spoiler alert: it’s not just defined by the type of drink you put on it!
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 or oval.
They can both hold food, drinks, and other items on them, and they both might have additional storage below the tabletop. But, if it’s a rectangular top, it’s a cocktail table, and a round top is classified as a coffee table.
What is a Coffee Table?
The coffee table was first used in Victorian times for serving coffee and tea on. Initially, it was lower to the ground but has become higher over time. It is designed to sit in front of the couch or sofa.
Coffee tables are used for a myriad of purposes and functions. Besides using a coffee table to place snacks and drinks on, people also decorate their coffee tables with:
In addition, coffee tables have evolved to be more than just a table. Oftentimes, you can find ones with storage compartments, allowing you to hide clutter in them.
What’s a Cocktail Table?
Cocktail tables came into vogue in the 1920s, according to WPL Interior Design. They were originally used for placing cocktail drinks on during cocktail parties.
Today, these are defined as having a rectangular or square top. Though, I still go into furniture stores and see coffee and cocktail tables labeled “incorrectly.” I see several circular “cocktail” tables and rectangular “coffee” tables. Each store seems to have their own preference for how they want to classify these two tables.
How to Choose Between Coffee and Cocktail Tables
Here’s how to choose between a coffee table or a cocktail table for your space, depending on table shape, size, features, and design:
Shapes and Sizes
Choosing the right coffee table or cocktail table requires considering your interior layout and aesthetic. The ideal table should:
- Relate proportionately to the height of your sofa and other furniture
- Leave enough space to move around the room
- Be a height that is lower than your end tables but aligns with your sofa height
- Have a width that is within an inch or two of your couch width
- Allow at least 12 inches between the table and other furniture so the room doesn’t feel crowded
Rectangular cocktail tables work well in small spaces, while rounded coffee tables are better for larger living rooms. That said, you can still find coffee tables that are small, and large cocktail tables.
Measure both your existing furniture and available floor space when selecting a table. With careful measurements and an eye for style, you can choose the perfect table to complement your space.
Originally, the primary function of coffee and cocktail tables was to serve coffee and cocktail drinks. However, more recently, these tables are beginning to come with some extra features that make them more versatile. Some coffee and cocktail tables may possess the following components:
- Lifting tops: Coffee or cocktail tables that come with an adjustable lift-top mechanism allow you to raise or lower your tabletop as you please. These tabletops can be raised high enough to serve as a work desk, leaving enough room underneath to store some living room items
- Built-in storage: Some coffee and cocktail tables have built-in storage sections, such as shelves, drawers, and cubby holes. These storage compartments are great for organizing small items, such as TV remotes, or even larger items, such as books
- Tiers: Coffee and cocktail tables also come with up to two or three different surfaces, offering you more table space without increasing the size of the table
The main difference in design for cocktail tables and coffee tables is their top design. Again, cocktail tables have rectangular or square tops, and coffee tables have oval or circular tops. Past that, they can overlap in design elements.
Here are various design elements and styles you can find in both:
- Construction: Wood, metal, glass, rattan, or acrylic
- Surface material: Glass, wood, metal, marble, rattan, or leather
- Traditional: The traditional style of these tables are generally made from carved wood
- Contemporary: Any stylistic touch that is “of the now”
- Modern: Iincorporates style within a specific date range from the 20th century. Some features of the modern style are a blend of both function and decoration
- Rustic: Reminiscent of the countryside in the days of yesterday, typically made of wood
- Coastal: Designed to make you feel that you are at the beach. Lighter-toned wood and more natural shapes to give a relaxed feel are used
- Industrial: Constructed to make you feel that the piece has a purpose and function-oriented feel. It is usually done in metal or wood with a strong construction
An average cocktail table is between $200–$500. Similarly, a coffee table also falls within that price range. Since the main difference is the shape of the top, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that their prices are similar.
Alternatives to Coffee and Cocktail Tables
Although coffee and cocktail tables are an excellent addition to home interior layouts, there are other table options that you could explore. They include:
- Ottomans and Poufs: Both poufs and ottomans can serve as comfortable seating and footstool options, while at the same time are great for holding drink trays, magazines, and other small living room essentials
- Console table: These tables are great for maximizing space in small rooms
- Chests and trunks: Antique chests or trunks not only provide storage but can also function as a unique and rustic coffee table
- Live-edge slabs: A live-edge wood slab can be transformed into a unique coffee table, offering functionality while showcasing their natural beauty of wood
Final Verdict: Coffee Tables or Cocktail Tables?
So, which should you pick? If you have a smaller room and are limited on space, get a cocktail table. A rectangular shape will work best in this type of room.
On the other hand, if you have a large space and plenty of room to move around, get a coffee table. A circular shape can help to break up the straight lines in big rooms and add a visually appealing piece to the space.
At the end of the day, the choice between getting a round coffee table or a square cocktail table largely depends on your personal preferences, as well as your indoor space and decor.
And remember, the store or website you buy your table at might use these terms interchangeably, so don’t get too fixated on them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Purpose of a Cocktail Table?
The primary purpose of a cocktail table is to serve as a functional as well as decorative centerpiece in living rooms or seating areas. It provides a convenient surface for placing drinks, snacks, books, magazines, and other items within easy reach.
Additionally, cocktail tables contribute to the overall aesthetics of the space by enhancing the room’s decor.
What Is Considered a Cocktail Table?
A cocktail table is a low, rectangular or square table typically placed in the center of a living room. Cocktail tables are designed to be lower in height than dining or side tables, making them ideal for holding small items such as drinks, food and magazines. They come in various styles, materials, and designs, making them highly versatile.
Do People Still Use Coffee Tables?
Yes, people still use coffee tables today and they are very popular. They don’t sit quite as low to the ground as when they were first invented; however, they’re still used to place food, drinks, books, and other items on.
Both cocktail and coffee tables are low, central tables typically placed in living rooms for the purpose of convenience for holding drinks, snacks, and decorative items.
These tables play a role in enhancing comfort and aesthetics in your living space. So, whichever one of the two you choose, make sure it fits right into your interior decor, personal style, and budget.