The Ultimate Coffee Table Buying Guide featuring and explaining the 26 different types of coffee tables you can buy.
Coffee tables have been a staple of Western living rooms for decades upon decades now. They have evolved from simple tables into some of the most elaborate constructions appearing in homes today. Yet, most coffee tables have the same set of parts.
The breadth and scope of choice when it comes to purchasing a coffee table for your house can be intimidating, so we are here to present some of the best, most popular, and enduring options available.
Table of Contents
- Surface Material
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Are coffee tables out of style?
- How tall are coffee tables?
- What are coffee tables used for?
- Can a coffee table be too big?
- Can a coffee table be too low?
- Can coffee tables be painted?
- Can coffee tables be refinished?
- Can coffee tables be refurbished?
- Can coffee tables be recycled? If so, how?
- What materials are coffee tables made from?
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The first element you’ll want to consider is the construction material of your coffee table. The only options used to be wood or metal, but nowadays the choices expand far beyond that simple pair. Modern manufacturing allows for glass, metal, and even acrylic tables in a bewildering variety of shapes.
Wood construction is, as always with tables of any variety, the most common construction element. Versatile, warm, timeless, and rich, wood can be used in the vast majority of shapes, styles, and sizes.
Metal tables are the second most common type you’ll see while shopping. These are sturdy, and can be lighter weight than traditional wood construction. Metal allows for thinner legs and support structure, and can be crafted into surprising shapes.
Glass has gradually risen in popularity with modern manufacturing allowing for versatile, striking designs never before possible. While often connected via metal joints or support structures, some tables are 100% glass constructions.
Rattan, or wicker, is often thought of as patio furniture material. However, modern application of the material allows for more luxurious, carefully designed furniture that not only withstands the elements, but looks perfectly at-place inside the home.
Acrylic appears like glass to the naked eye, but allows for the versatility and transparency of glass without the heavy weight and cost. These tables are some of the most modern examples you’ll find, with novel shapes that would compliment any modern setting.
The surface material of a coffee table is the part you’ll interact with most on a day to day basis. This is often the same material of which the table is largely constructed, but can also act in contrast or compliment a distinctly different frame.
Glass top tables are incredibly popular for a reason: they add visual space, a luxurious sheen, and are stain and water damage proof. Whether metal, wood, or other construction, a glass top adds a sparkle to any table.
Wood top tables feature the most rich, sensuous feel of any table. Whether treated, natural, painted, or even aged, a wood surface imparts a timeless, warm feeling in any space.
Metal table tops often accompany industrial styled designs, but can also appear alongside an array of build materials and shapes. Resistant to stains or water damage, and always cool to the touch, a metal top can be fashioned for timeless or distinctly modern looks.
Leather topped coffee tables often arrive in the guise of a sort of ottoman hybrid. The material covers a plush cushioning, making for a soft surface where an owner can prop his or her feet up when not using the piece as a table. Often accompanied by wood drink trays for stability, these are a particularly unique strain of coffee table.
12. Pallet Coffee Table
For a more casual, inexpensive coffee table, consider a pallet coffee table. These work well in family rooms, rec rooms and patios. You can make it yourself or buy one on sites like Etsy. Pallets are idea for coffee tables because the entire frame is already built for you or you can take the pallet apart and start from scratch.
The full power of creative design has been unleashed in the world of coffee tables. This is where we get into the truly unique, specialized tables that can add a striking focal point to any living room. We begin with more familiar designs before moving into unknown territory.
Traditional coffee tables are perhaps the most common seen to this day. With a style reaching back through the last century, their appeal is demonstrably timeless. Traditional tables will almost always be crafted from carved wood, and shaped into a rectangle or oval surface.
Contemporary is a very broad term encompassing a range of stylistic touchstones. In essence, it means any furniture that is styled “of the now,” evoking an up to date look, with novel features. The particular example here flaunts a transformative design, with a set of wedge shaped ottomans detaching from the main coffee table body.
Modern is a term usually referring to a specific range of 20th century design philosophy, from the Art Deco and Bauhaus movements to mid-century style. It often emphasizes simplicity, clean shapes, and the blending of functional and aesthetic aims.
Rustic style evokes the countryside in old fashioned times. The material is almost always wood, carved into simpler patterns than with a traditional or modern coffee table. Some examples have brass fittings, evoking a particularly bygone feel.
Coastal style is meant to evoke an airy, natural beach house feel. These pieces often employ light toned wood, natural shapes, and an overall more casual feel than rustic or traditional tables.
Industrial style evokes the purposeful look and feel of factory tools, utilizing metal and wood in more rough-hewn, sturdy construction. These can pair well with loft-style living rooms, or stand in perfect contrast to softer surroundings.
This is a style purposely evoking specific, often quirky design philosophies from days past. Sometimes employing repurposed materials, from license plates to reclaimed wood, vintage coffee tables will have a kitschy, classic, unique touch that fits well surrounded by other vintage items.
Novelty is another wildly broad term within the realm of style. These tables can take the form of anything from a glass pyramid to football themed pieces. The defining characteristic is that the table has a notable element defining it, outside of the actual material and shape itself. For our example, we chose this wheeled-cart style table.
For a final category, we wanted to share a particularly striking table that was basically defied categorization. This brilliant piece was hand carved into an organic bean shape, and stands at 101″ long. Pieces like this stand far outside the realm of normal coffee tables, and stand as examples of the distance that imagination can carry a simple piece of furniture across.
22. Ottoman Coffee Table
A recent trend is to use ottomans as a coffee table. In fact, it’s so popular now that ottomans are sold as coffee tables or called “ottoman coffee tables”. See our 36 brown leather ottoman coffee tables for more examples.
23. Stacking Coffee Table
Stacking coffee tables have been around for years. They’re popular because they not only look cool, but are highly functional offering 3-in-1 coffee tables.
24. Folding Coffee Table
Folding coffee tables are utilitarian and great for saving spaces. They’re convenient, flexible, lightweight and portable. When not in use, you can hide them in the storage room and maximize space. Also, these folding style coffee tables are well-known for their durability.
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25. Low platform-style coffee table
If you’re a minimalist but still want a place to put your drinks down (or whatever else you put on coffee tables), you could go with a low platform-style coffee table as show above. That spectacular living room and home was designed by ARRCC.
26. Geo-Coffee Table
Instead of a traditional shaped coffee table, go custom like the above geo-shaped coffee table by ARRCC.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about coffee tables.
Are coffee tables out of style?
This is an involved question. We did a full write up setting out our opinion on whether coffee tables are in style here.
How tall are coffee tables?
The height of the coffee table should be about the same height or just a bit lower than the seat of the sofa. This is about 18 inches, though some coffee tables are also used for eating and can be as high as 2 feet 4 inches. The owner will need to know what their coffee table is for and if its height makes it comfortable for someone sitting on the sofa or chair to put down and pick up items such as a coffee mug.
What are coffee tables used for?
As its name suggests, coffee tables were originally used for serving coffee, a practice that began in earnest back in the 17th century in Europe. It can now be used for serving other beverages, meals, for stacking books and magazines and for displaying bric-a-brac and floral arrangements.
Can a coffee table be too big?
A coffee table can be too big for the size of the room. It should not take up so much space that it forces people to squeeze around it. Some interior decorators recommend using nesting tables instead of a coffee table if the livingroom is exceptionally small.
Can a coffee table be too low?
A coffee table is considered too low if a person seated on the sofa or chair has to strain to reach something that has been placed on it.
Can coffee tables be painted?
Coffee tables can certainly be painted if they’re made of a material that takes paint well, and most materials take paint well. It’s important that the owner use the right paint when painting a coffee table. Metal coffee tables can be painted with epoxy enamel or latex while coffee tables made of wood can be painted with flat, semigloss or high-gloss enamel and latex. An acrylic table can be painted with epoxy. A coffee table that is made of concrete can be given bold new colors from masonry paint. Even glass tables can be painted with water or oil-based glass paint.
Can coffee tables be refinished?
A wood coffee table can be refinished. First, it will need to be worked on in a place that has good ventilation. Ideally, that should be outside. Put a drop cloth over the area first.
Sand the finish either with an electric sander. If the person has time and patience, they can hand-sand it with coarse sandpaper. They should use a sanding sponge or even a bit of sandpaper wrapped around a finger to get to smaller areas.
After the table is sanded, use the hose attachment of the vacuum cleaner to suck up as much dust as they can from the table. To make sure the dust is gone, put a few drops of mineral spirits on a cloth, and wipe the table down with it.
After this, the owner should fill in any dings or gouges in the wood that the sander didn’t remove. Then, apply a coat of wood stain according to instructions. This can be done with a cheap foam brush. Remove all excess stain for an even appearance.
Finally, use another foam brush to add a coat of clear, protective sealer.
Can coffee tables be refurbished?
A coffee table, like most other pieces of furniture, can be refurbished. This is very much like refinishing the table, except it is done to a vintage piece. The steps are the same except that the owner needs to first clean the table with rubbing alcohol then apply a stripping gel. After the stripping gel has sat for about a half an hour, remove it with a paint scraper. After that, the steps are the same as refinishing.
Can coffee tables be recycled? If so, how?
Coffee tables can be recycled. The owner can simply take it to their neighborhood recycling place and drop it off, or they can repurpose it. The top of a wooden coffee table, for example, can be repurposed as the top of a bathroom vanity. Holes can be drilled and sawn into it to accommodate a sink, fixtures and plumbing pipes.
What materials are coffee tables made from?
Coffee tables are traditionally made of wood, especially hardwood. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees such as oak, walnut, maple and mahogany. Some antique coffee tables were beautifully carved and embellished with veneers, marquetry, boullework and pietra dura, which is semiprecious stones and marble inlaid in the center of the table. The table can also be made of softwoods such as pine or cedar. Wooden coffee tables often have clear or smoked glass tops. Modern tables can be made of molded plastic, acrylic, stone or concrete. Others have free form glass tops with bases made of wood or polished metal.
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