First think about what you need your modern coffee table to do for you, or what your room is missing, then pick a walnut coffee table that provides the solution. Before buying a table, mark the footprint with painter’s tape so you can see the scale of the piece in the room and how that affects the surrounding furniture. If you have a very large room and a large coffee table, you can break up the scale of the table by flanking it with pairs of ottomans or benches, as in this example. When there’s a party, they can be moved out of the way for better circulation, but for everyday use these extra seats help connect the sofa at one end and the pair of chairs at the other end. Be sure to use a pair of ottomans — not just a single one.
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.
Keep in mind that with most glass tops — if they are not inset — you’ll see a green tint on the sides. You can order a speciality glass that doesn’t have this tint, but it’s more expensive.On the other hand, perhaps you want your space to look cozier (and you need some storage). Stash baskets, trunks and old suitcases under simple legged coffee tables to ground spaces that are otherwise too open.
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.
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.
When you have two sofas or any larger seating arrangement, a big coffee table might seem like the obvious solution. But also consider a pair of matching coffee tables. They will keep the focus off one large piece of furniture and let your eye move around the room more easily. One classic coffee table size is 48 by 24 inches, so you can plan on that when thinking about your furniture arrangement. A large coffee table is often double that: 48 inches square.
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.
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.
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.
A coffee table does a lot of work. It needs to hold books, magazines, drinks, food — even games on game night. You might want to put your feet up on it, or the kids might need a place for coloring. Plus it’s usually smack dab in the middle of the room, where you cannot miss it — so make sure it’s a good one for small glass coffee tables.