How to Choose A Coffee Table or Ottoman (Plus 15 Favorites!)

As I learned from researching my year-in-review post from a couple of weeks ago, one of the topics y’all seem to enjoy the most is my “how-to” guides for decorating your home. I’ve gotten some great feedback from y'all on those, so thank you! I'm glad they've been helpful and I'll plan to keep 'em coming this year! Got any particular topics you'd like me to cover? Feel free to let me know. I'm always open to new ideas.

(Psst! If you found this post to be helpful, be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom because I’ve got links to some of the some other popular posts on various decorating topics I’ve covered on the blog!)

In today’s decorating guide, we’re going to dive into how to choose a coffee table or ottoman for your living room. This might seem like a pretty straightforward decision, but if you’ve ever gotten it wrong, you’ve probably realized that it can be a little trickier to pick the right one than you’d think. We spend a lot of time choosing things like sofas and rugs, and coffee tables/ottomans are typically an afterthought. That piece of furniture is usually one of the hardest working items in our homes though, so it’s worth giving it some attention! My goal is to walk you through some key decision points that’ll help you know exactly what to look for when you go to buy one. Armed with that info, you’ll be able to focus your search and feel confident that you’re going to get it right the first time.

Let’s think through these five important questions:

  • Do you want/need a coffee table or an ottoman?

  • Do you want/need it to provide storage?

  • What size works best?

  • What shape works best?

  • What’s your style?

Once you’ve got the answers to these figured out, you’ll be well equipped to find the perfect one for your living room! Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Need help with how to choose a coffee table or ottoman for your living room? I’ve got you covered! I’ll walk you through what you need to think about when you’re shopping for one for your home. Plus, I’ve got a roundup of my favorite coffee tables and ottomans to help you get started in your search. // Modern coastal eclectic living room

via Pure Salt Interiors on Instagram

Do you want/need a coffee table or an ottoman?

This question is a great place to start because your answer to it narrows your search right away. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the choices out there, choosing either an ottoman or coffee table from the outset will definitely help! The decision here is partly personal preference, partly practical. It’s important to think through your needs and how you plan to use this piece of furniture. For example, do you want it to act primarily as a table or would you rather prioritize a comfortable spot to rest your feet? If you have kids, is having a piece with soft edges important? What do your typical activities involve? Do you need a hard surface for things like board games, food, or drinks? Is this your TV watching room where creating a relaxing setup is the goal?

Also, be sure to think through the big picture of how you “live” in your living room or family room, what your current or planned seating arrangement is, and what other pieces you have there (like side tables) that play a role in how you use the space. Taking a larger view helps you think more holistically so that everything will work together to create a functional and beautiful room.

Need help with how to choose a coffee table or ottoman for your living room? I’ve got you covered! I’ll walk you through what you need to think about when you’re shopping for one for your home. Plus, I’ve got a roundup of my favorite coffee tables and ottomans to help you get started in your search. // Modern coastal eclectic living room from Studio McGee.

via McGee & Co.*

Do you want/need it to provide storage?

If the answer is yes, the natural question that follows is what do you need to store? There are plenty of coffee tables and ottomans with storage options, but you need to know what’ll go in there before you pick one out to make sure it meets those needs. Is it kids’ toys? Blankets? Remotes? Be sure to check the dimensions of the storage area to make sure it’s the right size and shape. If they’re not listed, give the retailer a call and ask! I’ve found that some “storage” ottomans or coffee tables have such a tiny space inside that can’t really hold much, so it’s worth finding out ahead of time.

One other way to think about storage is whether you could pair your table or ottoman with baskets or bins instead. Sometimes an open coffee table that has space for a basket or two underneath offers you just the right amount of storage and can be more flexible to evolve with your needs over time.

Need help with how to choose a coffee table or ottoman for your living room? I’ve got you covered! I’ll walk you through what you need to think about when you’re shopping for one for your home. Plus, I’ve got a roundup of my favorite coffee tables and ottomans to help you get started in your search. // Modern eclectic living room with blue swivel chairs and a round coffee table.

via Sunny Circle Studio

What size works best?

Getting the size of your coffee table or ottoman right is SO important and it’s where I see a lot of mistakes happen. Folks often choose one based on style without considering the dimensions and how it will fit in with the other pieces of furniture they already have. It’s not until they set it up in their living room that they realize it’s too big, too small, too short, or too tall! Let’s avoid that mistake!

Here are some good rules of thumb for choosing the right coffee size:

  • Length: Shoot for one-half to two-thirds the length of your sofa. To get that dimension, multiply the length of your sofa by .5 or .66 respectively. If you have a sectional or sofa with a chaise, apply that math to the length of the seat, not the overall length. This rule of thumb is true regardless of shape.

  • Height: Look for one that’s about the same height as your sofa cushions plus or minus a couple of inches. My preference is for it to be 1-2” lower than your sofa’s seat cushions. If you plan to put your feet up on it, it’s best to have it a little shorter than your seat cushions - if it’s taller, it’s not very comfortable for your legs!

  • Placement: Leave about 12-18” of space between the edges of a piece of furniture and your coffee table or ottoman. This provides enough space to walk around and allows you to reach things easily. If you can access it from multiple seats in the room (i.e. from the sofa and chairs), that’s a bonus.

In general, the keys are that you want it to be functional and look proportional to the other pieces and the room. Scale is important! If you have an exceptionally large living room or sofa, you may want to think about using two matching ottomans or coffee tables to fill the space and make the surfaces accessible to more people. Going that route offers you more options and tends to be a little more budget-friendly than one giant piece.

Need help with how to choose a coffee table or ottoman for your living room? I’ve got you covered! I’ll walk you through what you need to think about when you’re shopping for one for your home. Plus, I’ve got a roundup of my favorite coffee tables and ottomans to help you get started in your search. // Modern eclectic living room with sectional and round coffee table.

via Homepolish

What shape works best?

Square, rectangle, round, or oval? This decision depends on several factors from a design perspective and a practical perspective. Design-wise, I like to take the other pieces into account when I’m choosing a shape so that the room has a good balance of rounded and straight pieces. That balance helps a room feel both inviting and tailored at the same time. Too many sharp angles and it starts to feel cold and stiff; too many rounded edges and you lose some structure that rooms need. So if you have a lot of square or rectangular pieces already in the room, perhaps a round or oval coffee table or ottoman would look best. If you have the opposite setup, try a rectangular or square piece instead.

From a practical perspective, you’ll want to think about flow. In other words, make it easy for folks to walk around the room and get from one place to another (if you have a living room that’s on the smaller side, this is especially important to consider!). A round shape might be easier to navigate around than a rectangle or square.

Need help with how to choose a coffee table or ottoman for your living room? I’ve got you covered! I’ll walk you through what you need to think about when you’re shopping for one for your home. Plus, I’ve got a roundup of my favorite coffee tables and ottomans to help you get started in your search. // Modern coastal eclectic living room with striped ottoman and window seat.

via Amber Interiors on Instagram

What’s your style?

I purposely made this the final question because while it’s definitely an important factor, I want you to make sure you check all the practical boxes first! You will be able to find an ottoman or coffee table that fits your style, I promise. What you don’t want is to fall in love with one that’s the perfect style, but is the wrong size, shape, or fit function-wise. It’s kind of the worst when you find yourself saying something like this to yourself: “It’s so pretty, but it doesn’t work with the way we live in here.” Do you know what I mean?

So make that style decision last. You’ll be much happier in the long run!

To finish this post off, I’ve got a roundup of some of my current favorite ottomans and coffee tables to share with you. If you’re on the hunt, I hope these will help point you in the right direction!

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