Your Complete Living Room Guide to Coffee Tables | Interior Design Dos and Don'ts

Your coffee table is often the centrepiece of your living room. These gorgeous pieces of furniture work to bring together style and functionality, so choosing the right coffee table can make or break your space. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular coffee table styles and explored the dos and don’ts of each to ensure you’re selecting the perfect coffee table for your living room. From classic oak coffee tables to modern black options and everything in between, let’s dive into the world of coffee tables.

Did you know we have well over 1000 coffee table options for you to explore in our product library?

Understanding Your Living Room Space

Before we get started, it’s crucial to assess your living room’s layout, size, and style. First, consider the space you have available, what furniture is currently in your living room, and your home’s overall style. This will help you narrow down what coffee tables you’ll have to choose from. Maybe you’re limited on space, so you’ll need to opt for something light and narrow, so you don’t overwhelm the area. There’s plenty of options, but it’s all about making the right choice for your living room. 

Image credit: The Palm Co 

Image credit: The Palm Co 

Your Complete Coffee Table Guide

Do: Prioritise Functionality
Your coffee table serves both an aesthetic and practical purpose within your living room. So, opting for a design that complements your decor while providing useful features, such as storage, is a must. A versatile coffee table can accommodate your lifestyle and contribute to an organised space.

Don't: Neglect Proportions
Striking the right balance is crucial. Avoid choosing a coffee table that is either too large or too small for your sofa and other furniture within your living room. Proportions matter, and this will ensure a harmonious look that enhances, rather than hinders, the flow of your living room.

Check out our complete guide on How To Style Your Living Room for more tips.

Image credit: @amastudiointeriors 

Black Coffee Tables

Black coffee tables are completely sleek and incredibly versatile. It’s no wonder why they’re a popular choice when it comes to living rooms:

Do: Embrace Timeless Sophistication
A black coffee table adds a touch of timeless sophistication to your living room. They can effortlessly complement a range of decor styles, from classic to contemporary. Consider a sleek, minimalist design for a modern touch or a retro-inspired piece for added character.

Don't: Overwhelm Small Spaces
While black is a versatile colour, it's still essential to be mindful of spatial limits. Our advice? In smaller living rooms, opt for a black coffee table with slender legs or a glass top to maintain a sense of openness.

If you need help visualising your black coffee table in your living room space, why not use our mood board tool before bringing it to life?

White Coffee Tables

And on the other hand, white coffee tables can bring a sense of freshness to your living room. Here's what to consider when opting for this classic choice:

Do: Create an Airy Ambiance
White coffee tables are perfect for creating an airy and spacious feel. Choose a design with clean lines and, if possible, additional storage to keep the space clutter-free.

Don't: Ignore Maintenance
While white is a stunning choice, it requires regular maintenance to keep it looking fresh. Be mindful of spills and stains and choose materials that are easy to clean.

Image credit: Kat Fola DesignJack Gibson 

Image credit: Kat Fola Design | Jack Gibson 

Small Coffee Tables 

In compact living spaces, choosing the right small coffee table is essential. Here are some do's and don'ts for making the most of limited space:

Do: Opt for Multi-Functional Designs
Small coffee tables with hidden storage or adjustable features can maximise functionality in limited spaces. Look for options that can serve multiple purposes to make the most of every square inch. Our advice is to optimise organisation as much as possible. If storage isn't an option, add items such as trays to help keep things in order.

Don't: Sacrifice Style for Size
Just because your space is limited doesn't mean you have to compromise on style. There are numerous chic and compact coffee table designs that can enhance your decor without overwhelming the room.

Image credit: @jessi.eveVilla Styling 

Image credit: @jessi.eve | Villa Styling 

Modern Coffee Tables

Modern coffee tables don’t just have to be black and rectangular, there’s so many sleek and stylish options for the ever so popular modern-style home. Here's what to consider:

Do: Experiment with Materials
Modern designs can involve a mix of materials. Consider glass tops, metal legs, or even unconventional materials for a truly unique and contemporary look.

Don't: Neglect Comfort
While modern designs prioritise aesthetics, don't forget about comfort. Ensure that the height and dimensions of the coffee table are conducive to a comfortable and functional living space.

Mood board created on Style Sourcebook. View mood board here.

Coastal Coffee Tables

For a beachy and relaxed vibe, a coastal coffee table can be a perfect addition. Here's how to capture that seaside charm:

Do: Play with Light Tones
Coastal decor often involves light and airy colours. Opt for a coffee table in shades of white, beige, or natural wood tones to capture the essence of seaside living. We love the Portsea Coffee Table from OzDesign.

Don't: Overdo the Theme

While coastal decor is charming, avoid overloading the space with too many nautical elements. A subtle approach with a few well-chosen accessories can evoke the desired ambiance without becoming overwhelming.

Image credit: The DesignoryThe Quarter Acre  

Oak Coffee Tables

Oak coffee tables bring warmth and a sense of tradition to your living room. Here's how to incorporate this classic choice effectively:

Do: Embrace Timeless Craftsmanship
Oak exudes a timeless charm and durability. Choose a design that showcases the natural beauty of the wood, whether it's a rustic farmhouse style or a more refined and polished look.

Don't: Clash with Existing Wood Finishes
If your living room features other wooden furniture, be mindful of the oak finish to avoid clashing. Consider harmonising with existing wood tones or introducing complementary materials.

Oak coffee tables have always been super popular within a large range of interior design styles, especially Japandi. Check out our guide for more tips on how to achieve the ultimate Japandi style home.

Mood board created by The DIY Decorator on Style Sourcebook. View mood board here.

Mood board created by Black Koi Design Studio on Style Sourcebook. View mood board here.

Coffee Table Decor Ideas

While these popular coffee tables are sure to inspire, we can’t forget our dos and don’ts for styling your new piece.

Do: Curate a Collection of Coffee Table Books
Select coffee table books that reflect your interests, whether it's art, photography, travel, or literature. Arrange them strategically, alternating between horizontal and vertical stacks for visual interest.

Don't: Clutter the Surface with Too Many Items
While it's essential to add decorative elements, avoid overcrowding the coffee table. A cluttered surface can make the space feel chaotic and hinder the functionality of the table.

Do: Personalise with Keepsakes
Infuse your personality into the space by displaying meaningful keepsakes or souvenirs on the coffee table. Whether it's a travel souvenir, a timeless family piece, or a cherished photo, these personal touches make your living room uniquely yours.

Don't: Ignore the Coffee Table's Purpose
Remember that your coffee table is not just a display surface; it's also meant to serve practical functions. Ensure there's enough space for essentials like drinks and snacks, maintaining a balance between style and usability.

Do: Mix Textures and Heights
Achieve a visually engaging look by combining items of different textures and heights. Consider a mix of decorative objects, books, and sculptural pieces to add depth and interest to the tabletop.

Don't: Neglect Lighting
Lighting plays a crucial role in creating ambiance. While you may not directly place a lamp on the coffee table, consider the overall lighting in the room to enhance the visual appeal of your carefully curated decor.

Do: Incorporate Greenery
Introduce a touch of nature to your coffee table with small potted plants or fresh flowers. Greenery adds vibrancy and freshness, creating a lively focal point in your living room.

Image credit: @elisehassey | Motel Molly 

Selecting the ideal coffee table involves a thoughtful blend of functionality, style, and consideration for your living space. From classic oak to modern black, the options are diverse and oh-so-stylish. We hope our living room coffee table guide has given you all the inspiration you need to elevate your space.

Image credit: @amastudiointeriors 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal space between a coffee table and a couch?

The ideal space between a coffee table and a couch typically falls in the range of 14 to 18 inches (roughly 35 to 45 cm). This provides enough room for comfortable movement around the coffee table while ensuring easy access to seating. However, the exact distance can vary based on the size of your living room and personal preferences.

Should a coffee table be taller or shorter than the couch?

A coffee table should ideally be about the same height as the seat cushions or slightly lower. This ensures a cohesive and visually pleasing look. A height difference of 1 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cm) is generally acceptable. This balance allows for easy access to items on the table without obstructing the view across the seating area.


Where should a coffee table be placed in a small living room?

In a small living room, consider placing the coffee table in the centre of the seating arrangement. This creates a focal point and maximizes the use of available space. Opt for a compact or multi-functional coffee table to avoid overcrowding. Additionally, choose a design that allows for easy movement around the table to maintain an open and airy feel.

Where should a coffee table be placed in a large living room?

In a large living room, you have more flexibility in coffee table placement. You can consider placing the coffee table in the centre of the seating area or use multiple smaller tables strategically placed around the room. Ensure that the placement complements the overall flow of the space, and the table remains easily accessible from all seating arrangements.


What shape of a coffee table takes up less space?

In small living rooms, oval or round coffee tables often take up less space than square or rectangular ones. The absence of sharp corners allows for better flow and movement around the table. Additionally, round tables can create a sense of unity and harmony in the room, making them an excellent choice for compact spaces.


Should the drawers of a coffee table face the sofa?

The orientation of the drawers on a coffee table depends on the specific layout of your living room and your personal preferences. If the drawers are functional and accessible from all sides, their orientation may not matter as much. However, facing the drawers towards the sofa can make storage more convenient and easily reachable, especially if you frequently access items while seated on the sofa. Consider the flow of your living space and choose the orientation that best suits your needs and aesthetics.