First think about what you need your coffee table to do for you, or what your room is missing, then pick a 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. 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.
Many people with small children prefer a round coffee table as they consider the lack of sharp corners a safer option and less likely to cause accidents. Round tables can be difficult to fit into smaller rooms and can take up more floor space than other shapes. They can be very social however and are a good choice if you regularly sit around playing cards or board games. Consideration should also be given to whether you prefer a coffee table with legs or one that is solid to floor level. Raised coffee tables that allow a clear view under the table can help to create an impression of space; however solid coffee tables can often look more expensive and substantial.
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. If you get a tufted ottoman, consider the depth of the tufts — especially if you expect to eat on it. Crumbs will find their way into the tufting and are not always easy to get out. Round coffee tables aid circulation, especially where there are many available seats, as in this example. If not every seat can reach the table, make sure there’s another surface at hand. Using a vintage object for a coffee table adds a bit of history — a story — to a room, and is one of my favorite things to do. Make sure the piece is stable and all the connections are secure. If you need to refinish the piece, ask the vendor precisely what it’s made from, as this will help in the refinishing process. 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.