This is the ultimate guide to finding the perfect new table for your home.
If you’re shopping for your home and your eyes are glazing over at the sheer volume of tables available in both online and brick-and-mortar furniture stores, you’re not alone.
Shopping to decorate your home can be stressful, to begin with (you loved it in the store, but now it looks–different–in your living room or dining room), and struggling to understand the purpose and point of so many different table options can be the nail in the coffin.
So, let’s get the most important things out of the way first: first, it’s a mistake to assume that you need any table just because other people have one.
Likewise, it’s a mistake to assume that a table should be purely decorative. For example, your mother-in-law might have a lovely home filled with tchotchkes you keep bumping into, but just because she insists your couch won’t be right without an end table doesn’t mean that’s the gospel truth.
In fact, the best interior design doesn’t just look nice; it makes the time you spend in your home nicer, as well.
It’s easy to get confused about tables; however, apart from the kitchen’s table obvious purpose, tables names like “console table” and “side table” are often just sort of thrown around willy nilly without much thought to function or style. We buy something Ikea calls an “accent table” because we think we need one, and we dutifully move it from house to house.
Take heart! Your table confusion is at an end! There actually is a rhyme and reason to tables (even the strictly decorative ones), and we’re breaking it down for you in today’s comprehensive guide, helping you match form and function effortlessly.
While there are many types of tables, most tables have the same parts.
A. Types of Tables
We’ve already talked about how many different kinds of tables there are and what we want to stress here is that the name of the table doesn’t matter–what’s important is that the table suits you and your purposes. That said, you do have to shop, and understanding table nomenclature will be helpful. Let’s break things down:
Living Room Tables
“Occasional” tables are small utility tables that combine beauty and function. There are nine main types:
1. Coffee Table
A coffee table is generally used in a living room or seating area and placed in front of the couch. You can place food on it, drinks, or use it to display coffee table books, plants, or small knick-knacks.
2. Accent Table
An accent table is a loose term used to cover a variety of table types, including end tables, coffee tables, and console tables. Don’t be afraid to get creative! A trunk, an antique chair, or a shelf can all double as accent tables. Most are small accent tables.
Source: World Market
3. Console Table
Console tables are often used interchangeably with end tables (also known as sofa tables) because they are long, thin, and narrow and fit nicely behind a sofa or in an entryway. If you need some extra dimension or just a place to toss your keys, a console table near the front door makes it very useful.
Source: Pier 1
4. Side Table
As its name so aptly implies, a side table fits beside a sofa and provides a great place for a lamp or drink.
A c-table gets its name from its unique c-shape, which allows it to swivel around over a bed, chair, or couch. You can use it for a drink or hold your book or laptop.
Source: World Market
6. Drink Table
Drink tables are tiny and have just enough room for (you guessed it) a drink! They can be tall but are usually on the shorter side.
Source: World Market
7. End Table
As previously mentioned, an end table is practically the same thing as an accent table.
8. Bunching Table (a.k.a. stacking or nesting tables)
A bunching table can also be a type of coffee table or accent table; it merely refers to two or more tables that fit together or can be spread out. It’s a great option for a space-challenged home.
9. Drum Table
The drum table was created in the 1700s and is a heavy, circular table. Sometimes it’s tall enough to pull up a chair to, and sometimes it has bookshelves or drawers and a tooled leather top. Today, the term sometimes simply refers to a substantial round table, such as a stone coffee table.
10. Foyer Tables
Another occasional table is what we call a foyer table which is a table for the foyer. Not all foyers have such a table, but they are a nice convenience. Most butt up to a wall, but you can place round or square tables in the center of large foyers.
Here’s an example:
11. Ottoman Tables
A terrific multi-purpose table option is an ottoman that doubles as a table. You can buy some large ottomans with a flat top designed to also serve as a table. I guess this furniture concept developed as a result of people always putting their feet up on coffee tables.
Here’s an example.
ii. Tables for Meals
There are four main tables used for meals:
12. Dining Table
Dining tables typically sit upwards of six and are usually grand affairs. They can have extra leaves to add additional seating and are usually found strictly in dining rooms, and are used irregularly.
13. Kitchen Table
You’ll typically find kitchen tables in (ahem) kitchens! It’s because they are workhorses designed to be used daily by the family for meals, play, crafts, work, and more. Sometimes they are only large enough to seat two (though usually, in that case, they’re known as bistro tables), but more often, they sit four to six people.
You can get a regular small dining table set or something with more of a space-saving feature, such as corner breakfast nooks.
14. Bedside Table (a.k.a. Nightstand)
Most bedrooms have at least one table, usually two in the form of a nightstand or bedside table flanking the bed. These almost necessary pieces of furniture make it helpful for placing items within arms-reach from the bed… items one may put down before sleeping or requiring upon waking such as glasses, a book, electronic devices, and of course the dreaded alarm clock.
These tables can be actual tables, chests, small shelves, or cabinets.
Most are small bedside tables, although larger bedrooms can accommodate large units.
Fortunately, these are not expensive, although, like all things for the home, there are always luxury options.
Here’s an example.
15. Pub Table
Pub tables are tall and come with stools. They usually seat two to four people.
16. Patio Table
Patio tables are designed to handle the elements on a deck, porch, or other outdoor space (though some must be wintered indoors if you live in a harsh climate). Today’s patio furniture isn’t limited to ugly white plastic, however, and often looks nice enough for indoor use!
See 15 Different Types of Picnic Tables for more patio tables
iii. Work Tables
There are three main types of tables that are used specifically for work.
17. Work Table
Work tables are highly utilitarian (though not necessarily unattractive) and are usually built with a specific job in mind: woodworking, art, gardening, or other. They come in a very wide variety of sizes and finishes, depending on whether you decide to use them standing up, sitting down, inside, or outside.
18. Conference Table
Similar to a dining table, a conference table is very large and often very grand. Unlike a dining table, a conference table often has plugs and ports for laptops and phones.
19. Computer Table
A computer table is designed specifically for use with a computer. Typically it has holes in the back for cords to travel and a keyboard drawer. Sometimes it also has a shelf designed to hold a printer.
20. Game Tables
There are four main types of game tables specifically used for fun and games.
a. Pool Table
b. Ping Pong Table
c. Foosball Table
d. Card Table
B. Table Shapes
Once you’ve thought through some rounded tables are great for small spaces, where you need to fit as many people as possible around for a meal or discussion, or you need to get a drink table into a tight space next to the couch.
They also make said discussions much more equitable and possible thanks to there being no clear head at the table. Legend has it that King Arthur created his famous round table when his knights argued about who was most important and deserved the “highest” seating.
Plus, since each member of the table can make direct eye contact with every other member without leaning out of his or her seat, it’s much easier to have dynamic, exciting conversations, even with a large group of people. See how we’ve talked you into a round table, whether you’re in a small space or a large space? We love round tables!
They’re also just pleasing to the eye, especially if your existing space has lots of hard lines (such as walls and high ceilings). An oval or circle table (or even just a roundish table) adds an organic fluidity to your space and is also something of a surprise, as round tables were very difficult to create until recently and are, therefore not common shapes for antique or traditional furniture.
Source: World Market
25. Square or Rectangle
Undeniably the most common shape for any kind of table, you can’t go wrong with four sides and four corners! Rectangular tables are often better fits for long, narrow places and, in fact, can make themselves smaller than round tables and yet still cover a lot of ground. Whether you’re hosting a holiday meal for a crowd or fitting a work table into an unused closet, rectangles can fit the bill perfectly.
Semi-circles, hexagons, octagons, diamonds, oh my! There’s nothing to say that you do not have to go with a traditional shape for a table; in fact, the more unique, the better. It probably won’t be a surprise to you, however, to know that an unconventional shape will be harder to track down.
You’ll have better luck here with smaller tables like end tables than you will track down, say, an octagon dining table, but don’t let us stop you.
C. Most Popular Styles Today
We don’t have time here for an exhaustive lecture on the history of furniture, but we can give you a brief overview, so when your friends compliment you on how “mid-century modern” your living room looks now, you can reply intelligently.
Industrial design makes use of materials common around the turn of the century, notably exposed brick, distressed wood with natural stains, and exposed steel or other metal. This can be a really eye-catching design style, and even if you live in an apartment and can’t reveal exposed beams or put up an exposed brick wall, an industrial table made from metal and wood can be a great way to add your own personal spin to your home.
Industrial tables, especially, can be real works of art, with some seemingly composed of extant factory machines (even if they’re just replicas).
You don’t have to stick to replicas, either: “antiquing” usually implies dainty things your grandmother would love, but today it includes finding beautiful industrial pieces that have weathered time and have the patina to prove it.
Source: World Market
HGTV stars Chip, and Joanna Gaines undoubtedly put farmhouse style on the map thanks to JoJo’s sophisticated take (and noticeable lack of cute roosters in the decor) and ubiquitous shiplap. Today, the style is characterized by heavy, weathered wood and a return to craftsman details, such as over-the-door transoms and intricate molding. You’ll usually find big, white farmhouse sinks and aesthetic nods to the French and Italian countryside in lavender, greenery, and sometimes even stucco.
Farmhouse tables are often centerpieces for this decor, as well as stunning pieces of work, and antique trunks and dressers often double as accent tables.
Source: Pier 1
29. Shabby Chic
Shabby chic is similar to the farmhouse but differs in the lightness of woods used and often in the inherent femininity or “flea market chic” sense of style. Brought to popularity by Rachel Ashwell in the 1980s, the style features pleasantly old and slightly mismatched furniture, usually in some variation of white or very soft colors. Faux patinas are usually given to wood furniture, making this an easy style to replicate for DIY’ers.
Shabby chic tables are often refinished in some shade of white, ecru, or pastel and are usually combined with flea market finds to give them some old-world charm, and it’s not uncommon to find shabby chic coffee tables made out of recycled pallets.
30. Mid-Century Modern
Mid-century modern refers to furniture created in the mid-1900s. It’s extremely popular today, and for a good reason: its natural, clean lines and use of organic and engineered ingredients are beautiful, comfortable, and very versatile. Mid-century modern pieces include iconic designs such as the tulip table, with its futuristic swoops and classic white color, the Eames Lounge Chair, knocked off constantly and even featured in sitcoms like Frasier, and the Womb Chair, also designed by Eero Saarinen because “more than ever before, we need to relax.”
Outside of the classic tulip table (also called the Saarinen table), mid-century modern tables are characterized by their low profiles and honey-stained natural wood, often engineered plywood. You can find pieces that are uber-modern and pieces that are more gently modern and casual.
This one is similar to mid-century modern in that it utilizes clean lines and veers toward minimalism. However, the true Scandinavian style makes use of white and light colors and rarely uses carpet or especially plush textiles, favoring clean, light-colored wood floors in shades of white or grey. White walls are ubiquitous, though some Scandinavian designers will utilize very modern, geometric color patterns in bedding, curtains, or wall art.
What sets Scandinavian furniture apart is how useable it is. Usually slim yet elegant, tables are often made from engineered wood or metal and stained or painted in very light colors. Ikea was at least partially responsible for bringing the style to the United States and selling its furniture in ready-to-assemble boxes.
D. Table Assembly Options
Now that you’ve got a great idea of your future table in mind, you need to find it. You have a few options:
We mentioned earlier that antiquing had come a long way in the last decade or two, and it bears repeating. You can find some really stunning one-of-a-kind pieces in antique furniture stores and warehouses if you know where to look!
You can start by shopping with a friend who is knowledgeable about antiques (you don’t want to accidentally pay way too much for something), or you can begin to frequent local establishments. Get to know the owners and what periods they tend to carry, and let them know what you’re looking for. You can also troll sites like ebay.com, though shipping can sometimes be cost-prohibitive.
Speaking of cost, antiques can, of course, be quite expensive. One way to save money is by looking for smaller pieces. You might choose to purchase a modern kitchen table, for example, and purchase several fairly inexpensive side tables to add age and dimension to your decor without breaking the bank.
This video has some great tips for finding antique furniture:
We love watching Joanna Gaines design custom furniture pieces with her local craftsman, but the Fixer Uppers star isn’t the only one who can do that–you can find a custom furniture maker, too! One of the best ways to do this is to start with family and friends. A simple Facebook post can often help you find a friend of a friend who specializes in creating exactly what you’re looking for.
The internet is also a great tool, especially if the potential craftsman has a website that shares reviews. Make sure who you’re working with can provide very clear plans before you move forward. You also want very clear expectations about when the project will be completed (and how much it will cost) in writing.
34. Big Box Self-Assembled
When our grandparents wanted new furniture, they visited the local furniture shop and haggled with a salesperson, or they hired somebody to make a piece. Furniture shopping looks dramatically different today!
Thanks to Ikea, huge retailers like Target, Walmart, Overstock, and Wayfair now offer self-assembled furniture. Cost-wise, it’s at the other end of the spectrum from custom furniture or antique and certainly less unique (how many people have that particular end table by their couch?) however, it’s extremely affordable and a much smaller commitment, which means you don’t have to wait to decorate your interior until you’ve moved into a “forever home.”
35. Furniture Store
Somewhere between custom furniture and Ikea is your local or online furniture store. Characterized by nationwide giants like Rooms to Go, these stores vary in quality but tend to be a bit sturdier than what you might find at Target. Again, you’ll find these pieces are not as unique, but they’re much more affordable, and you often have the advantage of viewing reviews from other customers.
36. DIY or Restoration
Search Pinterest for DIY table instructions, and you’ll find everything ranging from “I need to be a primary craftsman to pull this off” to “this will literally take a few minutes.” Want to make a minimalist coffee table by screwing metal pin legs onto a slab of wood? There’s a plan for that.
Want to make a plant stand from poured concrete and painted dowel legs? Pinterest has you covered. Want to construct an industrial-style kitchen table from a metal pipe? Yep!
You don’t have to start from scratch: Pinterest is also full of tutorials helping people refinish old furniture. Occasional tables are great places to start practicing.
DIY has obvious limitations: tutorials often make things seem way simpler than they really are, and you inevitably spend more than you planned. However, the opportunity to make some truly unique with your own two hands is pretty appealing!
Another great option for finding tables for your home is to shop at Craigslist, Offer Up, or Facebook Marketplace. Often, you can get a great deal on furniture that people are unloading because of an upcoming move or other life change. Sometimes the furniture needs to be restored, but sometimes it’s great as is.
When you start shopping, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options and possibilities, which is why we recommend knowing exactly what you want first before you even start your shopping.
And, of course, always be safe. Keep an eye out for scams, and make sure you’re not meeting anybody with lots of cash on you in a dark, unlit parking lot.
E. Table Materials
Once you start shopping for your console, conference, or dining table, you’ll notice immediately how many different options there are for materials. We’re sharing the most common below to help you get a feel for what will work best for you.
38. Wood Veneer
Hands down the most popular choice for tables today, wood veneer is an extremely thin panel of wood (usually less than 3mm thick) that has been glued onto core panels (usually another, cheaper wood or particle board). When done well with high-quality veneer, you can’t even tell.
A veneer is nothing new. Ancient Egyptians even used rare and beautiful wood veneers over cheaper materials to create furniture and sarcophagi.
Wood veneer is sometimes confused with laminate, but it’s completely different; since it is actual wood, it can be sanded down and re-stained (though this should be done very carefully). It’s typically lighter than solid wood furniture and more affordable, making it a great choice for most people looking for a larger table (such as a kitchen, dining, or conference table).
Laminate is a man-made product that looks like wood but isn’t. It’s usually made of plastic that has been printed to look like wood. It’s typically a very affordable alternative to higher-end wood tables, but laminate that’s not high-end can look very cheap very quickly.
It also tends to have very poor resale value and not be as high quality. That said, there was a lot of laminate used during the 60s, and some of the better-made pieces have survived to this day.
Sitting water is the laminate’s nemesis. While sprays of water or liquid can be wiped down if the water sits, it can soak through and cause the MDF or particle board underneath to expand. It also can’t usually be repainted or refinished, so if you’re looking for a table that you will want to refinish at some point, don’t choose a laminate table!
Marble is stunning! Because it hearkens back to Greek statues and Roman emperors, it’s a great choice to add drama or classic beauty to a room. It is not, however, a great choice if you need something that’s heavy-duty. While marble tables come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and finished edges, it scratches and etches easily and is one of the most high-maintenance options for a tabletop.
You need to make sure to use coasters consistently (so, for example, if you’re using a marble drink table, you’ll have to be religious about placing out coasters for your guests!) and clean it using only approved cleaners. Some marble also needs to be sealed regularly. You can get marble refinished by a professional, something to keep in mind if you’re looking for an antique or pre-used marble table.
This video shows a brilliant tip for lifting wine glass stains off marble:
41. Solid Wood
Solid wood is a fantastic choice if you want a table that’s durable and will stand the test of time. Usually not light, solid wood furniture can be sanded and re-stained or repainted, which adds long-term value to the table you’re buying (especially if you’re someone who likes to mix things up a lot!).
Wood varies in softness, grain, and color, depending on the type of tree and the quality of the wood. Oak, for example, is often used for furniture because of its relative hardness and semi-affordability. Pine is often much more affordable but is also quite a bit softer than oak. Premium woods from South America and Asia can also be used and provide some impressive distinction in your home!
Care for solid wood furniture is generally very simple: clean up spills immediately and use an approved cleaner. You may choose to wax or seal your wood furniture periodically.
Often used in industrial pieces (and sometimes modern pieces), metal can add great lines and depth of vision to your furniture, making your table a centerpiece. Unless you’re using something like copper, metal is usually very sturdy and largely impervious to damage. It is very heavy, however, so if you think you’ll be doing a lot of moving, you might want to stick to small metal accent tables.
Also, metal should be sealed or painted to prevent rust, especially if you live in a very humid client.
Glass is fairly low-maintenance though it will have to be cleaned frequently to avoid smears, smudges, and other marks.
It also needs to be handled carefully as it can break, and since it has sharp edges, it’s not a great choice for a space that needs to accommodate children. However, it can be both traditional and modern and add a very light touch to a room. If you don’t necessarily want the table itself to be the focal point of your decor, glass is a great option!
You’re certainly not limited to wood veneer, laminate, solid wood, metal, marble, or glass; you can find tables made from acrylic, polymer, ceramic, granite, engineered wood, and so many others. This is what makes tables so fun and unique! The form is simple, so the materials used can be creative and dazzling.
F. Table Height
After the shape of the table, height is probably the most important decision you’ll make, and we really can’t understate how much of a difference it will make in how functional your table will be. Too short, you’ll be frustrated and find yourself stooping. Too high, and you’ll also find your table unusable.
Table heights vary from tall to very, very low (think coffee tables). Tall or countertop tables can be used with stools or are designed to be used while standing, while shorter occasional tables should match the furniture they’re paired with.
For example, if you’re choosing an end table to sit next to your sofa, it should be at the height of your sofa’s arms or slightly shorter. A coffee table should be the height of your sofa’s seat, but other decorative tables not near your sofa can be taller.
As a general rule of thumb, let the size of the room be your guide: taller, larger furniture should fill a taller, larger room, while smaller furniture should fill a smaller room.
You should also let your own height be your guide. Just like a tall person needs a couch or easy chair he or she is comfortable on, a tall person might prefer taller furniture, while a shorter person might not like having to climb up onto a stool to sit at a countertop kitchen table. Let your own needs and your own house be your guide.
G. Brief History of Tables
A table is essentially a flat surface that stands on some kind of support. It’s an incredibly useful piece of furniture, which explains why there are so many of them: there’s a table for everyone and everything.
Tables are also inherently tied to culture. If you visited Japan, for example, and your Japanese host offered you a meal, you probably wouldn’t plop down on a chair and pull up to a dining table the way you might in the United States. Instead, you’d sit on a mat or pillow at a table roughly the height of a coffee table, called a chabudai.
Tables also have historical context. Before the 1700s, most European homes didn’t have much furniture; even the homes of the wealthiest families were limited to one large table (and no couches!). By the end of the century, however, the use and creation of small “occasional” tables ballooned. The sofa table, for example, was designed to host tea or be a great place to write a letter.
We do neither today, but we liked the shape of this tall, skinny table and have kept it in modern-day living rooms, though now it usually holds lamps, plants, or decor.
H. Table Functions
Yes, they’re decorative, but they’re decorative in a purposeful way: tables might help balance out a room or fill an empty corner, or they might help to elevate a piece of artwork, statue, or plant to add vertical dimension to a room. Tables can also be a work of art unto themselves.
They’re also eminently useful: tables with drawers or shelves beneath hold things like napkins, unused silverware, writing or craft tools, and so much more. Even if they don’t have built-in storage space, the flat part of the table is ideal for most kinds of work (artwork, for example), and (our favorite) tables hold our food and drink like a champ.
3. Questions to Ask Yourself About Form
Ultimately, when you’re considering buying any piece of furniture (and especially a table), don’t go to a store and look for something that catches your eye. First, take note of your home space. What’s missing? What do you need from a decorative standpoint?
Think about your aesthetic: do you prefer modern decor with stark materials and minimalist lines? Do you love traditional furniture that’s plush and paired with traditionally stained wood? Are you more boho chic and want to mix a variety of design periods for a look that’s warm and homey?
4. Questions to Ask Yourself About Function
Now, think through how you use your room and existing furniture. Are your friends always awkwardly holding drinks when they stop by because there isn’t a place to put them in your living room? Would your hallway stand to use a place to toss your keys so you stop losing them? Does your living room get dark in one corner, and could it use a lamp at sofa height?