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Coffee Table vs. End Table

Coffee table and end table might look similar but their purpose is different. In this article, we discussed coffee table and end table in detail and how they differ from each other.

Modern living room with a green sofa complemented with a round coffee table and a matching end table.

Coffee tables and end tables are great additions to any living area and are not only key elements in your home decor, but they’re functional as well. But what’s the difference between a coffee and an end table? Which one is more suitable for your home?

Coffee and end tables are pieces of furniture that are different from one another, despite looking similar and serving similar purposes. Coffee tables are larger and stand closer to the ground (roughly the height of the couch’s seat) than an end table (about the same height as the couch’s arms).

You can be forgiven for walking into someone’s living room and not being able to tell the difference between their coffee table and their end table because they look the same, and they’re both places to rest your drinks. But, if you want to take your home decor to the next level, understanding the nuances and unique functionalities they offer can be the difference between good living spaces and great ones!

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What is a Coffee Table?

A closer look at the round coffee table topped with a vase, a book, a phone, and a cup of coffee with cookie.

Coffee tables have been ever-present in living rooms since the Victorian Era – although they were intended as a place to rest your cup of tea, a far more popular beverage at the time.

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As couches became the centerpieces of our living rooms, coffee tables (or tea tables) were expressly designed to be placed in front of the couch as a place to rest your drink, place books, candles, flowers, and other small decorations.

As we entered the Industrial Revolution, when furniture manufacturing accelerated at an unprecedented rate, coffee table designs were evolving analogously with everything else.

There was an increase in demand for handmade furniture in the Arts & Crafts movement, which was proceeded by a greater variation in designs with the Art Nouveau period. Then further iterations of the coffee table were crafted through contrasting points of inspiration from the Art Deco movement.

Our coffee tables stand far closer to the ground today than they did 300 years ago, and it’s believed that Japanese furniture designs inspired this design feature. Coffee tables are ubiquitous, regardless of which part of the world you live in.

But some coffee tables don’t look the same. There are a lot of variations in shape, size, and materials. So what makes something a coffee table?

The first thing that makes a coffee table a coffee table is its function. Coffee tables are close to the ground because you want a clear line of sight between yourself and the person sitting across the table from you. It will usually be around the same height as the couch’s cushions.

Coffee tables may have one, two,  three, four legs, or even no legs at all, and a flat surface, typically made of wood. They come in various shapes, ranging from circles to ovals to squares, rectangles, wedges, triangles, and cubes. Sometimes, a coffee table may also have a wooden shelf at the bottom to store books and magazines.

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What is an End Table?

A stump end table topped with a flower vase complements the blue sofa.

People start to get confused when you throw end tables into the discussion over home decor change because coffee tables and end tables seem to serve the same purpose and look pretty much the same. However, there are some key differences, and combining the two can add some balance to your living spaces.

Unlike coffee tables, end tables aren’t designed to be put in front of a couch, but rather at its side (which is why they’re sometimes called sid tables) or behind it. They’re also not the same height as the couch’s seat but rather the same height as its arms.

This is because end tables won’t interrupt your line of sight if they aren’t standing between you and the person sat across from you. However, end tables can still be a convenient place to rest your drink, place a small lamp, some decorations, or whatever it is that you may need the space for.

How are Coffee Tables & End Tables Different?

Living room with a tufted sectional, a leather armchair, a wrought iron end table, and a wooden coffee table that sits on a multicolored area rug.

We’ve already covered what a coffee table and end table look like and their functions in terms of their features. Coffee tables are placed in front of the couch and have the same height as the couch seat, while end tables are placed next to or beside the couch and are roughly the same height as the couch’s arms.

They’re both used to create extra space for you to place items instead of putting things on the floor, allowing you to balance your living area’s visual elements while adding much-needed functionality. Sometimes coffee or end table is equipped with a set of drawers for extra storage space, which is a convenient place to leave things like TV remotes.

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The materials that your coffee or end table are made out of are important to consider when finding the right one that will match your home decor. A dark wood coffee table, for example, will capture one’s attention in a way that a simple glass-topped table may not. So, consider this carefully if your coffee table will be a focal point in the room.

Coffee tables and end tables can be made from any number of materials, including, but not limited to, concrete, marble, fabric, metal, faux leather, wood, plastic, glass, stone, laminate, mosaic, leather, and wicker.

Materials will largely determine the price and longevity of the coffee or end table that you’re buying. A plastic coffee table simply will not last as long as one made out of marble but will cost half the price. Materials matter not only in terms of looks and quality but in terms of where you’re putting your table.

For example, if you’re looking for a coffee table to match your outdoor furniture, wood is not a good choice because it’ll get ruined in the rain or by direct sunlight.

In terms of durability, coffee tables and end tables are not distinguished by their broader design features. Still, it’s more by the quality of the materials used and whether they’re suitable for your living space. A stone coffee table in your back garden could end up lasting for decades, while a plastic version could last you just a year or two. If you opt for an end table, you will still follow the same logic.

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So what about the cost? There are countless coffee tables on the market in all shapes and sizes. And end tables fall into similar price ranges. But, again, the price is not determined by whether it is a coffee or an end table, but primarily by the materials used and the craftsmanship. Some coffee tables are handcrafted, made of leather and mahogany, and designed by reputable furnishers with trustworthy brands.

VASAGLE Sofa Table, Coffee, Greige

Others are mass-manufactured plastic coffee tables made by a brand you’ve never heard of. But suppose you’re looking to distinguish between the prices of coffee tables and end tables. In that case, you’ll find that they end up being rather similar and that both price ranges are dependent on how the table was manufactured more than what form the manufacturers intended it to take.

So, we have to ask what benefits coffee tables and end tables have to offer and figure out which suits your living space the best. Coffee tables tend to be a good starting point for first-time home buyers, mostly because they have larger surfaces. They are more practical and fill up some space while the living room is still short on furniture.

Walker Edison Sedalia Modern Farmhouse Metal X Side Table, 18 Inch, Grey Wash

End tables are less central features of a room’s decor and more handy additions. They don’t take up very much space, compliment the couch nicely and make life a little easier in terms of practicality. They’re great for someone who has a room full of furniture and looking for a convenient spot to place a lamp or a flower arrangement that can accentuate the room’s facade.

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