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Design Basics: The Essential Guide to Coffee Table Materials

A sofa (or a sectional) is probably the most important piece of furniture in your living room—but a coffee table is a close second. Not only do they add a layer of practicality to your living room, but often this piece of furniture is a way to drive home the style of your space. So, when it comes to choosing the perfect coffee table for your living room, start with figuring out the best shape and size for your sofa and overall room. (Check out our guide to coffee table shapes and sizes for everything you need to know about that!)

Once you have a coffee table shape picked out, you’ll want to think about materials. In general, the material you choose is tied pretty heavily to your interior design style. (Not sure of your style? Take our free style quiz!) If you find yourself drawn to a certain interior design style, there are some materials that will fall into your style and others that won’t. Keep reading for a break-down on the predominant materials for coffee tables and what styles go with them!

Coffee table materialsWood Coffee Tables

Wood is the most common material for coffee tables (along with stone). As such, it fits into most styles—though different finishes will cause it to lean in different style directions, making it the material with the most diversity in it.

Wondering what finishes go best with what styles? Lighter finishes will have a more Scandinavian and modern vibe, with a lighter and airier feel. Teak or acorn finishes are very mid-century. Meanwhile, dark wood finishes will have a more classic, rustic, or industrial vibe. Weathered woods will also fit well in a rustic, coastal, or industrial space. A red-tinted finish will be in the American traditional camp, along with some classic looks. And then there are the ornamental woods, like a burl wood, will have a contemporary or glam vibe, with their nature-sculpted quality. These pieces are statements in and of themselves, a great example of material being used as ornamentation.

Different shapes will also help drive home the style of a particular wooden coffee table. A round drum coffee table will have a different style and vibe than a rectangular coffee table with tapered legs, even if they have the same finish. But, regardless of the finish and shape, a wood coffee table adds a natural and organic element to the space. Just remember to use coasters! And know that some woods require special polishes and cleaners—so be mindful of that when cleaning and maintaining your coffee table.

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Coffee table materialsGlass Coffee Tables

Glass coffee tables are perfect styles for those with a glam, minimal, or transitional and contemporary aesthetic. Often, glass tables will have metal frames and legs—and the color and finish of the metal will help drive home the overall style.

We love how easy a glass coffee table is to clean and maintain. However, you will still want to use coasters, and you won’t want to burn a candle straight on the glass. In fact, if you’re worried about scuffs, scratches, or other damage, you may want to layer a cloth or mat down to protect the glass. This isn’t a good material for a high-traffic space, and it’s definitely not kid-friendly.

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Coffee table materialsAcrylic + Lucite Coffee Tables

Looking for the best modern coffee tables out there? Go for an acrylic or lucite coffee table. They’re also perfect for glam and minimalist spaces. Many acrylic or lucite coffee tables come in an arc shape, which adds a bit of a statement in your living room, even though it’s a translucent material; this makes the shape itself the decoration. And, if they’re not entirely acrylic or lucite, they’re often paired with some sort of metal, like brass or gold legs—which really plays into a glam aesthetic.

This is a very low-maintenance and easy-to-clean material. This is a great material for small spaces; since they’re translucent, they don’t add visual weight or clutter to your space.

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Coffee table materialsMetal Coffee Tables

Many metal coffee tables sit within the industrial or transitional camp, especially if the metal is silver or pewter. Though, if it’s a gold or brass finish, it probably falls more in the modern or glam world. It’s rare that you’ll see an all-metal coffee table though—usually metal is paired with wood or glass elements, which will also influence what interior design style it most closely aligns with.

Metal is a strong material that’s fairly easy to clean. However, with its proclivity toward rusting, you’ll definitely want to make sure you use coasters! And you’ll want to make sure to dust often, as metals will show even the finest elements of dust. (In fact, the same goes for glass and acrylic coffee tables.)

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Coffee table materialsStone Coffee Tables

There are many different stone materials that can be used in a coffee table—though marble is by far the most common. Marble is really beautiful and can pair with almost all interior design styles, though you’ll most commonly see it in a glam, minimal, or modern space. We love how, with any style, it adds an organic modern touch to your living room. Some marbles are very subtle, with minimal veining, while others are actually more dominantly black with white veining (perfect for a maximalist space). Marble is similar to burl wood in that the material is the ornamentation and statement, in and of itself.

Marble is a very fussy and high-maintenance material though. While many marble coffee tables have finishes that protect the stone from water, scratches, and stains, not all do. (Make sure you read the product description so that you clean and treat the surface appropriately.) On the bright side, many stains fade over time with marble—they’ll sink deeper into the stone over time, and eventually fade or disappear completely. However, you definitely want to avoid a marble coffee table coming in contact with citrus or acid, as these will eat away at the marble or the finish.

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Coffee table materialsNatural Material Coffee Tables

And, of course, there are natural materials, like rattan and seagrass, which add a nice pop of texture to your living room. Depending on the shape and finish, coffee tables in natural materials can go in a boho, eclectic, or coastal space—or even some rustic contemporary or modern homes! They’re great kid-friendly coffee tables, since they typically don’t have hard edges and natural materials are pretty forgiving around kids!

Maintenance is pretty simple with a natural material coffee table—just wipe any spills down with a damp cloth, and use coasters and even trays to help keep it looking its best! With woven materials, dust could easily collect in nooks and crannies, so be sure to dust frequently!

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Start Styling!

Once you’ve landed on the right shape, style, and material for your living room design, you get the joy of styling your coffee table, which adds additional personality to your space. Some people prefer a very minimal and clean tabletop, while others love a highly styled look. Check out our coffee table styling ideas for some inspiration!

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Coffee table ideas

13 Ways to Style Your Coffee Table

The coffee table is the centerpiece of your living room, so invest in one that suits your style and space. Keeping in mind some common coffee table dos and don’ts, you also want to make sure it’s functional for your daily lifestyle. If you have little kids, a storage table that corrals clutter can be a lifesaver, or if you love to entertain, a tiered table with an extra shelf can be a great choice.

Beyond function, though, a stylishly arranged coffee table can help set the tone in your space. It can be as simple as a few stacks of books topped with objects or one that’s organized with trays of objects. No matter your coffee table styling approach, it should feel personal and be visually appealing to you.

To inspire you, here’s a roundup of coffee table ideas with our best tips for styling it into an eye-catching visual display.

Coffee table ideasPretty & Practical

A simple arrangement of elegant everyday items can go a long way as decorative finishing touches on your coffee table. Curate accents and objects that tie back to the color scheme of your room. This grouping of coffee table books, a feather tray, and a lantern candle holder make for a minimalist display that reiterates the room’s calming, neutral vibe.

Styling Tip: Your room’s palette is a great jumping-off point if you’re not sure where to start with your coffee table decor. This approach guarantees your final display will blend seamlessly with the other pieces in your space.

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Coffee table ideasEclectic Mix

A good mantra for coffee table styling is to stick to the rule of three—three different kinds of objects in varying heights and shapes. Here, a decorative wood box is mixed with a tall planter that adds texture, color, and height along with a stack of vintage-style books. There’s not shortage of intrigue and balance here.

Styling Tip: An eclectic coffee table works best with an eclectic mix of objects. The wooden trunk table here offers both storage space and an unexpected look. If your style leans more quirky, consider coffee table alternatives that have the same edgy look as the items you plan to put on top of it.

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Coffee table ideasSimple & Understated

When it comes to cool and functional living room design ideas, you can’t go wrong with a pair of matching coffee tables—or bunching tables pushed together! With a pair of coffee tables, you already have a visually bold setup, so keep the surfaces simple. A book and a small cactus does the trick here, adding a pop of color and texture.

Styling Tip: If you go with a pair of tables or one that has a bold sculptural design, they’re already ornamental in and of themselves, so keep the surface minimally decorated. Think a small tray, a tiny plant or a scaled-down vase.

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Coffee table ideasTransitional Minimalist

Speaking of minimal styling in the living room, a simple wood coffee table design is the best surface for styling up or down as you like. You can layer statement decor on top or keep it tightly curated with just a few accents, like one or two gorgeous vases to compliment your room decor, like the blue-and-white combo here.

Styling Tip: Sometimes it’s all about aesthetics with your coffee table display. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it ties back to the overall look of the rest of your room. This is perfect for those of you who don’t use your coffee table every day.

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Coffee table ideasFamily-Friendly & Functional

Coffee tables with built-in functionalities, like a hidden drawer or a tray top, are perfect multitaskers for family homes in our book. They’re made for corralling objects and styled up displays that bring focus to smaller decorative items, such as plants, candles, small trays, books, and even decorative boxes. Don’t dismiss these tables!

Styling Tip: Round tables are perfect for homes with little kids since they don’t have sharp corners. They’re also perfect for books and other more angular objects, which provide visual contrast to the table’s rounded form. It’s always a good idea to contrast shapes in this way!

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Coffee table ideasReading Surface

If your living room is more focused on quiet reading time than TV watching, choose a practical wood coffee table that gives you a clean surface to pile books, magazines, and other reading materials on top of. You can also stack coffee table books for a more polished look, but the idea is that this is a working surface that has everything you’re currently reading or flipping through.

Styling Tip: This is perfect for those who enjoy reading on their living room sofa. Just make sure your coffee table has a spacious surface for you to spread your reading out. One with a tiered design can give you extra storage for more books and magazines.

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Coffee table ideasLevels Of Use

A two-tiered coffee table is always a great choice for a living room that has furnishings in a range of styles. A tiered design also makes for fun coffee table styling since it gives you double the surface to showcase objects and accents. Or you can even turn one shelf into a full storage space for books, baskets, and even blankets.

Styling Tip: With double the surface area, it helps to designate what goes on top and what goes on the bottom. A tray on top is great for cups, plates, remotes and other loose everyday items, while the bottom shelf is always a good place for things you might need in a pinch, like a candle, a throw or even a board game.

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Coffee table ideasStreamlined Styling

For those after a clean-lined contemporary living room, your coffee table doesn’t have to stay bare to keep that aesthetic alive. Make sure to first choose a streamlined table that goes with your style and top it with similarly pared-down items, like a stack of magazines or a small modern votive, box, or vase.

Styling Tip: Think playful but polished when it comes to coffee table accents. And less is definitely more here, so go for the sleek and unique tray or small modern sculpture piece to give your coffee table display just the right amount of oomph.

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Coffee table ideasMovable Display

You’ve seen us mention trays a few times. That’s because it’s one of the easiest and most stylish coffee table ideas to work into any space. Plus, they’re endlessly functional since they’re easy to move around and can be used to hold anything from flowers and candles to tea sets.

Styling Tip: Consider styling a tray with a teapot, candle, and plant so that it’s always ready for entertaining guests and family. Our favorite is turning a coffee table tray into a breakfast tray for serving a delicious morning meal in the living room. Once you’re done, just carry the tray to the kitchen and unload everything. It’s simple and it’s stylish!

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Coffee table ideasWhite Hot

If your coffee table has elements of white or a marble top, consider layering it with other white accents and objects for a look that packs a punch. Whether it’s a book or a candle holder or a vase, a white on white on white look is always chic.

Styling Tip: With this coffee table styling approach, it’s less about color and all about shapes and textures. You want to group together white objects that have varying textures and details, like perforations and weathered wood or a smooth white book cover. It’s all in the contrasts.

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Coffee table ideasOrganization First

Two smaller trays paired together on a large wood coffee table gives you double the function and endless styling possibilities. This allows for plenty of open space still on the table surface while giving you areas to corral and curate objects.

Styling Tip: Don’t be afraid to go all out with a style or theme! Here, the trays are filled with nautical decor and accents that reflect the room’s overall coastal aesthetic. When in doubt, always look to the rest of your room’s decor for styling inspiration.

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Coffee table ideasSleek & Spare

For city dwellers living in sleek condos with modern furniture, coffee table styling is all about paring things down. If this is your style, consider a concrete-and-glass coffee table that comes off as a sculptural piece in and of itself, allowing you to keep it bare or style it up with a few clean-lined accents.

Styling Tip: With modern industrial coffee tables, like this one, they don’t need much styling. But if you do decide to layer on accents, keep to simple low-profile objects that don’t steal away from the table’s bold form. Think tiny vases, white-cover books, and a paper-thin tray.

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Coffee table ideasSculpture Show

One of our favorite coffee table decorating tricks is to curate an array of sculptural decor in varying shapes, sizes, and styles. That can range from anything like a decorative coral piece to a seashell to a porcelain bust or a super curvy vessel. Be sure to pick pieces with varying heights, which will make the display more captivating.

Styling Tip: When grouping together pieces that have varying sculptural shapes, be sure to pick pieces with different heights, which will make the display more captivating. You want to style it in a way that invites people to move in and examine each object more closely.

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Picking a coffee table dos

The Dos and Don’ts of Picking a Coffee Table for your Living Room

Picking a coffee table dos

Coffee tables – just like snowflakes and people – come in all shapes, styles, and sizes. It’s great having so many to choose from. But all those options can also make picking a coffee table feel totally overwhelming.

But don’t stress over your coffee table conundrum just yetWe tried on 8 coffee tables in Modsy 3D to show you the dos and don’ts of pairing this living room duo.

Want to try on coffee tables in your living room? With a Modsy design package you can see how all kinds of furniture will look and fit in your exact space. Picking a coffee table has never been so easy!

The Coffee Table Don’ts

Picking a coffee table dos1. Don’t go too large

What makes sectional sofas extra tricky is finding a coffee table that fits nicely into that little nook of space in front.

This coffee table, as lovely as it is, is way out of proportion with our sofa, and we lose our ability to easily move around the space. Next please!

Picking a coffee table dos2. Don’t go too small

The opposite end of the spectrum, a coffee table that’s too small leaves much to be desired.

While the Delfia Coffee Table fits nicely into the space in front, it still feels out of proportion to our sofa and misses an opportunity to make the most out of that precious real estate. Where will everyone put their drinks?

Picking a coffee table dos3. Don’t go too tall

The height of your coffee table is also super important to consider. Too short and you’ll be stooping low to grab the remote. Too tall and you might find yourself constantly banging your knees!

A good – and simple – rule is look for coffee tables about 1 to 2 inches lower than the height of your sofa seat. A quick glance at this pairing, and we can easily see the Clairemont Coffee Table is too tall for our sofa. Next option!

Picking a coffee table dos4. Don’t go too wide

Another sectional-specific problem is finding a coffee table with the right length.

Ideally, you don’t want your coffee table to be wider than your sofa, so look for options with a width less than the distance between the chaise and armrest of your sofa. While we love the Go-Cart coffee table, it juts out past the arm of our sofa and feels awkward in the space.

 

The Coffee Table Dos

Picking a coffee table dos1. Do break up the angles

Round or rectangular aren’t your only options when it comes to coffee tables. Think outside the box and try grouping a few side tables together in front of your sofa.

This is a great way to break up all the straight lines of a sectional sofa.Have company over? Easily move the tables around when and where you need them. 

Read This Next: 7 Reasons Why You Don’t Need a Coffee Table

Picking a coffee table dos2. Do sneak in hidden storage

This coffee table has a secret. What could it be? Hidden storage!

A great pick for households with kiddos, coffee tables with hidden storage make for great hiding spaces to stash clutter in a pinch. Also a friend to small spaces, the wooden top on this coffee table is actually a lid that pops off to reveal gloriously inconspicuous storage.

Picking a coffee table dos3. Do open up small spaces

If you’re in a pinch for living room real estate, it’s a good idea to try an eliminate any extra visual clutter.

How do you do this? Choose pieces with elevated and open bases (like the Avery Coffee Table from West Elm). Mirrored or glass surfaces are another great hack, as they reflect light around your room and will help it feel more airy.

Read This Next: Small Space Hacks for Your Living Room

Picking a coffee table dos4. Do incorporate extra seating

Ok, this one is not really a coffee table per se, but there’s no rule that says you can’t use an ottoman, like this leather option, in place of your coffee table.

A great option for low sofas, simply plop a tray on top to hold remotes or books, and you’ve got yourself a coffee table. You can even use it as extra seating when you have guests over. 

Bonus: Ottomans as coffee tables are also great for homes with young kids or babies. No sharp corners mean no owies!

Need help finding the best coffee table for your sofa?

With Modsy, you can try out as many coffee tables as you like without purchasing a single one. See all your options in an exact 3D version of your room and then shop your favorite pieces knowing exactly how they’ll look and fit. Ready to get started?