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How to choose a coffee table, according to an interior designer

KMW Interiors CEO Kita Williams on how to choose your next coffee table — the anchor of your living room.
Mixed Race woman on sofa with dog writing in journal
“The most important factor to consider when picking a coffee table is utility,” says Kita Williams, CEO of KMW Interiors.Inti St Clair / Getty Images/Tetra images RF

When it comes to furnishing a room, buying a coffee table might not be first on your list. Perhaps you are more focused on finding the right couch for your space or the perfectly comfortable armchair. But according to Los Angeles-based interior designer and CEO of KMW Interiors Kita Williams, the coffee table is often the anchor in the room — especially in larger living spaces. Some of the best styles to consider include coffee tables with lift tops for extra utility, coffee tables with storage for similar function and round coffee tables to manage smaller spaces.

... a good place to start the narrative that will be your living room

Kita Williams, interior designer and CEO of KMW Interiors

“Between the coffee table and the rug, you have an excellent place to build the seating area around,” Williams told NBC News Shopping. “A hearty piece ... can be a good place to start the narrative that will be your living room.” Whether you want a coffee table that is understated and function-forward or one that makes a statement, it’s worth determining first what the right coffee table is for your living space.

What to consider when buying a coffee table

“The most important factor to consider when picking a coffee table is utility,” Williams said. “How will it be used?” Utility is the optimal starting point here.

When buying a coffee table, you’ll want to figure out what works best for your home/place. Perhaps you’re looking for one that provides extra storage space for blankets. With work from home being the new norm, you may be looking for a coffee table with a lift top to function as a desk. Or if you’re looking to upgrade your decor, you may want to try an accent piece or something simpler to display your coffee table books, hold your wine or house plants.

"I can’t say that a coffee table is ‘discrete.' Even when you get a self-assembled IKEA coffee table, it can make a statement,” Williams said. Anyone entering your living room is going to have “some kind of view or interaction with your furniture,” she added, “no matter what [or] where it comes from.”

“What may seem discreet or nondescript in your mind will always create a conscious and subconscious impression on your guest (and even you) when you engage with it in any way,” Williams asserted. In other words, all coffee tables make a statement. The best coffee table for you is one that reflects the statement you want to make — even if it’s a non-statement.

Best Coffee Tables of 2020

The best coffee table for you is one that meets your needs in regard to price, look and function. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some coffee tables in different styles and at different price points, based on guidance from Williams.

1. IKEA KRAGSTA Coffee Table in Dark Blue-Green

“In a very small living space, I prefer a round coffee table. It is easier to get around and is still functional,” Williams said. “It also cuts down on the incidents of bumping into hard or sharp edges."

A round coffee table can really soften your space, too, and pairing that with a bold color can help make a statement — a great example of checking many boxes with an affordable and compact coffee table. It’s also available in a few neutral shades: Black, White, and Light Beige. But the dark blue-green is both trendy and elegant. If you’re looking for something to hold your beverages and add color to a room, this piece is great for you.

2. IKEA KVISTBRO Storage Table in White

"I also recommend something that is possibly multi-functional that could perhaps provide much needed storage for items,” Williams said. Function, however, sometimes means a larger piece.

For a “comfortably usable” living space, Williams recommended ensuring you have 16 inches of free space around the coffee table. If that number is out of reach considering a smaller living space (as is often the case in places like New York City), IKEA’s KVISTBRO is another safe bet and even more affordable. It offers storage for blankets or other items you don't mind displaying.

3. Safavieh Jesse Wicker Natural Coffee Table

If your couch or chairs make a statement (or that's your plan), it’s best to go with a more neutral coffee table to balance out the room. This round coffee table is a good fit for smaller spaces and is made of rattan, a material composed of palm stems. It's designed to be lightweight and durable and its natural texture and color make it a great neutral option — whether it's complementing other pieces or that's just your preferred style.

This one also includes storage. It is nearly 30 inches wide and comes with short legs that allow it to stand at 17 inches tall, so it's best placed in a smaller space. If you want to create a seating nook in a larger bedroom, this one could also fit nicely alongside a chair or two.

4. Best Choice Products Modern Coffee Table

This modern coffee table offers both a lift top and shelves for storage. The lift top allows for the coffee table to serve as a desk or dining area. The two shelves at the base can hold up to 100 pounds, making it ideal for storage of blankets, books, games and more. It has a modern, clean design and features an Espresso shade to match your decor.

5. Burrow Serif Coffee Table

If you’re looking for something strictly functional, don’t need hidden storage and still want to add some style to your living space, this coffee table will work for your needs. Burrow's Serif sports a midcentury modern, Danish design and a simple, universal look thanks to the Oak and Walnut wooden shade options. This coffee table works in almost any space as long as you have room for its 50-inch width and 16-inch height. It's built with open storage for placing books or remotes. You can add a matching side table or two to complete the look.

6. Burrow Bento Coffee Table

Burrow's recently launched Bento Coffee Table comes with built-in storage. Three removable trays allow you to decide how to use it in different ways and at other times, easily modifying its surface — or pull the tray into your lap for a couch session with your dinner or a laptop. The new coffee table is also built in a way that allows it to combine with another model and click into it with the removable trays.

7. West Elm Mid-Century Pop-Up Storage Coffee Table

If you’re looking for something with hidden storage that also offers a bit of elevation, this West Elm coffee table lift top is a classic. This coffee table is available in Walnut, Winter Wood and Dark Mineral and is accompanied by a marble slab to complete that mid-century look. The pop-up top not only allows for storage beneath it, but also serves as a bit of a dining tray. This makes it ideal for bigger families or anyone looking to store items and keep them hidden while also making room for remotes, cups, and the like.

8. Tilden Lift Top Coffee Table with Storage

You can also combine the lift-top style with open storage in a unit that allows for both. This wood piece from Wayfair's Greyleigh store is available in three colors, Mystic Oak, Chalked Chestnut and Sindoori Mango, so you should be able to find a match that works for you. The neutral wood grain finish gives it a well-worn look and will help pair it with more furniture than otherwise. It exemplifies a quality coffee table with functional features.

9. Spin Rotating Coffee Table

This coffee table has a swiveling top that functions as a shelf, and two sliding drawers for storage. At 15 inches tall and 31.5 inches wide, it isn’t huge and living rooms with sofas will still be able to fit this coffee table as a statement piece. It will probably fit best with a sectional, where the table will help balance out the room. This one has true neutrals and a strong geometric design, giving it a modern feel, and so is ideal for people wanting to invest in a piece that draws attention. You’ll still be able to hide some items, but if you want to showcase some books or magazines, this is your table.

10. Olwina Coffee Table

If you’re looking to splurge with a coffee table that encapsulates an impression of soft glamour, the Olwina is worth considering. It has tufted, distressed leather resting atop brass legs, giving the table a sense of elegance and luxury. It's an investment, to be sure — if you’re looking for a statement piece that fits contemporary and traditional styles, it might be worth it. Beware, Williams advised, that a piece like this is not very kid-friendly.

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