Guide to selecting a coffee table

When it comes to living room furniture, coffee tables generally form the centrepiece of your space. Types of table range from oak to beech, walnut to glass, while the shape is generally round or rectangular. Consider the size and style carefully before making a purchase; whether you want a classic wooden coffee table, you need lots of storage space built in with a shelf, or you want a decorative modern glass design, we've put together a handy guide to coffee tables that should help you decide.

All coffee tables deserve love and attention in the form of sound cleaning too. Select a table you can maintain and keep looking at its best while you go about using your living room, whether you are setting down your cup of tea on a coaster before reading a good book on the sofa, or you want to use it as a place to store magazines, stationery and other items.

Coffee table size

As a rule, the coffee table should be half to two thirds of the length of the sofa, or the longest piece of furniture in the living room, and the lip should be level with the cushions that sit on the surrounding furniture.

If you have a small living room avoid large or high tables that take up lots of space, opting instead for something compact. Bigger living rooms can look good with two matching coffee tables, rather than a single large one. Form an idea of the proportions of your potential coffee table by measuring the width and length on your floor and marking them out with string.

Remember that people and pets should be able to move comfortably around the coffee table, so there should be at least three feet between the table and the nearest adjacent piece of furniture. Constantly squeezing past could mean that it's easier to spill hot drinks, for example, but circulation can be made easier with a round coffee table.

Table styles: wood, glass or metal

Your selected coffee table should match the style and décor within your living space. A room furnished quite traditionally will work nicely with a rectangular walnut or oak coffee table with wooden legs. Tapered legs, or an unusual base, add shape to the room, while vintage coffee tables infuse flair. Ultimately, you'll always warm up a room with a classic solid wood coffee table too.

Of course, a traditional look isn't your only option. Coffee tables can be round, oval or geometrically shaped for a more contemporary feel. A glass top or a metal base or legs convey a modern look, leaving your room looking more open and spacious. These options work especially well in small living rooms and are both versatile and practical. Colour is another consideration, we have everything from white metal coffee tables to dark wood and black two tiered products, meaning you can choose a shade to match your other living room furniture.

Living room focal point

A coffee table is often the focal point of the room and as such it can be used to provide contrast. There are a number of ways to do this. If you have mainly rectangular or square shapes in your room, a round or oval coffee table will do the trick, while geometric products add a unique centrepiece.

Another way to offset a room using your coffee table is to upholster it. The upholstery colour should contrast with the space e.g. brighter colours amid dark furnishings and vice versa. This will draw people to the seating around the table, plus the upholstery will protect the wood from any spills.

Blending your coffee table colour with a rug will ensure that it still draws the eye too, while the illusion of greater space can be made by layering the room in this way.

Using your coffee table

What will you use your coffee table for? Most of us use them as a place to set down drinks, magazines, newspapers or TV remote controls, or to gather round and play card or board games with friends and family. You should also consider coffee tables with drawers, or a lower shelf, so that you can put items out of sight quickly and easily, keeping the room tidy. This calls for a good solid multi-purpose coffee table.

Lipped or tray-top style coffee tables are handy if you have children or regularly invite visitors round to the house. They can help to prevent any mess straying further than the edges of the table? Glass coffee tables can be wiped clean easily in the event of an accident as well.

If you're using your coffee table for more decorative purposes than practical ones, why not accessorise it with candles, vases and ceramics? A splash of colour atop the table can bestow a real touch of elegance in your living room.

Taking care of wood or glass coffee tables

Whether you have a solid wood coffee table or a glass one, you should use coasters, or even a drinks tray, to protect it as much as possible from water stains or heat marks.

Cleaning and maintenance

Maintaining a glass-topped coffee table is a simple endeavour. Remove any excess dust or dirt with a dry cloth, spray some water or glass cleaner on the table and wipe it down before drying it off again.

Wood is a little bit trickier, depending upon the finish. You should avoid using alcohol or products that contain ammonia. Clean the coffee table in-line with the finish:

  • Unsealed - Wash with plain or soapy water and a damp cloth, but don't apply the soap directly onto the wood. Dry the table straight away.
  • Varnish - Damp dust and then spray polish, but don't get the table excessively wet.
  • Veneer - This type of finish should always be treated with care. If unsealed you should damp dust only, and if coated you should wash sparingly with a sponge and washing up liquid. Rinse off the soap and then dry.
  • Wax - Use soapflakes rather than detergent to clean the coffee table, and don't wet the table too much. You should dry it off with a soft cloth.

Avoiding scratches

Lay objects on your coffee table carefully - especially glass - and refrain from placing particularly heavy objects on it. Scratches are an unfortunate occurrence of everyday life where furniture is concerned, but be wary of items that have jagged edges or rough bases. Light scratches can be remedied fairly easily, while deeper scratches may require a repair kit or a professional to remove them.

When considering which coffee table to buy think about your space and what you will use it for carefully before making a final decision.