Old pallets or crates are a fine alternative to the traditional coffee table and are incredibly versatile too. The ones here have simply been turned upside down — but you could screw yours together if you tend to move your furniture around a lot. You could also stack them or cut them down to size, or use one pallet and elevate it with small apple crates, for example. A coat of paint will transform the trusty courier once again.
Another consideration is how it will sit on your floor or rug, and if it will damage those surfaces. Splintered table legs or rusty metal bases can scratch or stain the flooring. Secondhand stores sometimes leave those areas unrefinished, so be sure to check. Sculptural wood coffee tables tell their own story and can add a natural element and warmth to a room with multiple upholstered pieces. Sealers and, of course, coasters can help protect the surface from water damage.
A lip edge or tray top on a coffee table is always a smart choice if you have a tendency to spill your coffee or have kids that will be using the coffee table for snacks and drinks. They’re also good if you entertain often and don’t want to worry about red wine getting spilled on your carpet.
A coffee table is many things: a place to set your drink, a footrest, somewhere to stash the remote and — of course — a beautiful decorative addition to your living room. Or, at least, it has the potential to be all of these things. Your coffee table can also become a cluttered mess if you aren’t careful, or a drab disappointment if you’re scared to get a little creative. To help you achieve style success, I’ve put together some helpful guidelines with specific situations so you can master the art of decorating a coffee table.
Coffee tables should be the same height as the surrounding seating, with 18 inches being a good average (although it will depend on your furniture). If you select a coffee table with a lip, make sure the lip isn’t higher than the adjacent seating, or you’ll end up hitting your drink against the lip when you try to set it down. The idea is to put your drink down, not up.
Choose your fabric wisely, since people may want to put up their feet (and shoes). Outdoor fabrics can be smart; steer clear of linen and fabrics with high amounts of rayon or viscose. Take a swatch home and test it out with dirt, red wine or whatever you think your coffee table will encounter, to make sure your fabric choice can handle it all. Keep an upholstered ottoman 18 inches from a sofa or chair, so you can easily put up your feet, and make sure the height is consistent with the surrounding seats.
Don’t forget when styling a glass coffee table that it’s not just about what goes on top, but also what goes below. A see-through table practically demands a graphic rug. Try a black-and-white rug and use similarly stark accents in differing shapes, or leave the top completely undressed and let the rug be the star of the show.
Solid tabletops usually have a very square corner. If you have little kids or the circulation is tight, allow extra space at the ends so it’s easier to get around the corners without hitting your shins. Go for color with an upholstered coffee table, as it will draw people to the surrounding sofas and chairs. Top it with a tray to hold books and other items (and to soften a strong color, such as the pink).
If your coffee table has a lower shelf, you don’t have to fill both levels, but if you choose to, try lining up the items on each tier. Use two pairs instead of threes, and don’t forget to play with heights. A lidded storage box or small basket can help keep the bottom level looking sharp while giving you a place to stash items like remote controls.
Sometimes a coffee table that isn’t the standard height or width is exactly what a room needs. In this instance a very low coffee table creates a crisp horizontal plane in the foreground, offsetting the long horizontal line of the credenza in the background. A higher table would have blocked the view of the credenza and competed with it; the varying heights add interest.