WHY YOU NEED A CONTEMPORARY COFFEE TABLE IN YOUR LIFE
CONTEMPORARY COFFEE TABLES: THE WHY
When you’re at a friend’s house, sipping tea, the kids are off playing (ideally/if only) and you’re having a good old natter, sometimes you need to exemplify aspects of your conversation. Just a little confirmation with phone-based imagery.
‘I just have to show you’. ‘You won’t believe this’!
You begin to put down your tea. It’s cold now anyway – the kids didn’t go off to play as you would have hoped and, during the time that you diffused a stubborn conflict over nothing in particular, your brew edged from hot to stone cold. I deviate. You may not even have children and your tea might still be piping. (If this is the case, i’m a little jealous). The point is; you aim to place the tea somewhere, to free up both hands, and – shock horror – there’s nowhere to put it. No coffee table, no side table, NO TABLE. Just sofa. And floor. And you’re the sophisticated type after all…
‘Oh just put it anywhere’ your friend says, unfazed, in a nonchalant tone. I have to be honest – this unnerves me ever-so-slightly. As an interior designer, in my day-job, I’m well versed in coffee table. I know when a space needs one (most of the time) and it’s absence is felt most gravely.
Surfaces are a must for coffee-resting or serious styling! This Kate Spade candle is just too pretty
WHY DO YOU NEED A COFFEE TABLE?
In short, most living spaces would benefit from a coffee table. What’s the point of them? To perch your cup of tea or – you guessed it – coffee. Plus sociable nibbles: cakes, crisps. This refers to the functionality of the coffee table in any case. Having a functional item is key because as much as I’m highly image-driven, when it comes to interiors, a true designer knows that usability and ergonomics are paramount. Aesthetics are wildly important to me but a space must be practical, first and foremost.
Did I mention, they are also AMAZING to style!
THE BIG COFFEE TABLE DEBATE
Before I convince you why a contemporary coffee table is a MUST-HAVE, let’s first think of reasons why people avoid:
1. My space is too small and I don’t want to make it look smaller with a coffee table
2. I have kids – they could hurt themselves on the sharp corners/ruin it with stickers/Playdoh/Sharpies
3. Expense – coffee tables are loads of money and I’d rather buy a bag/shoes/Ed Sheeran tickets
In all seriousness, I have heard versions of the above rationale, in various guises, on many an occasion. And, there are elements of truth to each point (ish). Of course, within design there are no totally exacting, hard-and-fast rules but rather, design codes that we generally adhere to/advise on. The coffee table, however, is largely a no-brainer and should be a welcome addition to your space.
So let me address each point, individually. To discuss why, even with barriers in the way – serious reservations – the coffee table is always a good idea:
COFFEE TABLE RESERVATION #1
My space is too small and I don’t want to make it look smaller with a coffee table
On the whole, unless your other furniture is totally enormous and incongruous, there is always space for a coffee table (of-sorts).
If you want the area to be sociable, to be enjoyed by you, friends, guests, then a coffee table is always sensible. The key is to allow enough ebb and flow around it, including space between the sofa and edge of the coffee table. Ideally people should be able to walk around the space comfortably and you should allow for leg-room when sitting on the sofa. You also want to be able to reach for nibbles and drinks without straining. Ideally you want this distance to be between 45cm and 90cm. (The latter if it’s a through-way).
If your space is small, then don’t be tricked into thinking that the coffee table needs to be minuscule. As long as you allow some space for movement and remember the minimum 45cm gap, then often larger is better.
This floor-plan exemplifies an ideal room set-up. The contemporary coffee table as the central feature, with furniture – occasional chairs, sofas and a bench – set around it. This allows for lots of movement – this space could actually take an even larger coffee table.
HOW TO OVERCOME RESERVATION #1
You could also opt for a reflective finish – be it mirrored glass, polished wood veneer or a metallic sheen – as this will encourage the light to bounce around and exaggerate the feeling of space within the room. Total winner. Plus, you can decorate your coffee table with lots of lovelies – fresh flowers, grouped accessories, coffee table books, deliciously scented candles – and put your drinks down. Result!
Gorgeous antiqued bronze glass coffee table grouping, styled with a range of accessories by me at Sarah Mailer Design. More on rose gold and copper accents in this previous post
COFFEE TABLE RESERVATION #2
I have kids – they could hurt themselves on the sharp corners/ruin it with stickers/Playdoh/Sharpies
I do understand the challenge with children – I have two little boys myself – and I am also extremely aware that they don’t see pieces of furniture, soft furnishings, woven carpets, textural wall-coverings as sacristan, or at least in the way we do. They like to draw on walls (I’ve had this happen to me…sob, sob), to put stickers on every possible surface aside from the sticker book and to mush red Playdoh into ivory silk-piles (frightful scream). They also don’t always fully agree with – potentially arguable – surplus furniture. So how can a coffee table work with kids?
First and foremost, it depends on the coffee table. I admit, a totally mirrored piece would survive 3 luxuriant seconds fingerprint free. If you’re not yet good friends with Mr Muscle Glass Cleaner, in this case you’d be pretty inseparable by the end of the first coffee-table hour. #bff #squadgoals.
Perhaps too much mirror/glass for kids?
HOW TO OVERCOME RESERVATION #2
The size, shape and finish of the child-friendly coffee table is key. I often suggest round or oval pieces for clients with young, accident prone children. Corner-free is always a sensible solution (although you can get padded corner protectors for edges). There are so many gorgeous circular contemporary coffee tables available now, at a range of price points. For so long, rectangular pieces reigned supreme but curves have come back fighting! And for square spaces, they also look gorgeous. This is especially true if the rest of your furniture is quite ‘blocky’ and the formation is very structured. For rectangular areas, consider groupings of rounded coffee tables (more on this below). I would also recommend wood, stone or hammered metal finishes – slightly imperfect is beyond useful in this scenario.
Anthropologie – Targua Coffee Table with gorgeous bone inlay detailing. Image from Anthropologie.com
Of course, if you wish to dress your coffee table, you will need to train those little, inquisitive minds and wandering hands to ‘just leave it’. I have always left out everything with my children – unashamedly supporting fashion over function – and they are so desensitised by a Diptych candle that they simply ‘live and let live’. If you’re just not this way inclined, then you can buy gorgeous self-storage coffee tables, which will allow you to display or hide accessories really quickly and easily. Also, it’s worth noting, when designing a scheme or implementing changes, that childhood is a fleeting moment – there will come a time when their (much larger) feet are resting on your prize coffee table, whilst they slump back on the sofa, battling their mate on the X-Box.
My boys are well-versed in scented candle etiquette aka. ‘leave well alone’. This Diptyque is one of my all-time favourites! More candles and accessories in the GIRL ABOUT HOUSE shop
CONTEMPORARY COFFEE TABLES: THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
If you are still not entirely sold then consider padded ottomans and benches, which are fantastic alternatives to the traditional coffee table and can double up as additional seating. Just use a decorative tray (or two) on top to allow for drink-resting and styling purposes. This is a storage ottoman that I sourced and styled for a client’s lounge. It wasn’t a big space and they required extra seats for evenings entertaining, so it was the perfect solution. Ottomans also work really well with kids as they are soft, and you can remove the trays quickly and hassle-free. You can shop the best ottomans below.
An ottoman is a great alternative to the classic coffee table. This piece was upholstered in dove grey velvet and dressed with a tray and some brass accessories (Image: Sarah Mailer Design)
COFFEE TABLE RESERVATION #3
Expense – coffee tables are loads of money and I’d rather buy a bag/shoes/Ed Sheeran tickets
If you are really, really trying, you can spend thousands on a coffee table. In fact, you don’t need to try that hard – a quick trip to the Harrods furniture department, credit card in hand, slightly off-kilter from your lunchtime tipple, and a costly transaction can easily occur. That’s fine if you’re happy to spend it (and they do have an absolutely awe-inspiring collection) but a coffee table doesn’t need to be an eye-watering, re-mortgaging expense.
The High Street and online retailers have some gorgeous contemporary coffee tables on offer – from ’60s replica pieces to fresh, post-Postmodern designs. The key is to know what to look for and luckily, I’ve compiled a carefully curated, thoroughly researched, expert edit below for your enjoyment. And if you’re still pining over that pair of shoes or decided to sack it all off and go see Ed, then so be it. At least I’ve tried.
HOW TO OVERCOME RESERVATION #3
I’ve sifted through thousands of contemporary coffee tables on offer, to find you the very best available at a range of price points. There are even some cheeky sale buys! After all, it’s not always about what you spend, it’s about choosing the right products and how you dress and style them (more of that in another post). Ultimately, a coffee table allows to you integrate style on a lower level within your space. It’s a central focal point within a grouping of furniture – something to use and admire.
This gorgeous grouping takes pride of place amongst the furniture at Dior’s flagship store on Bond Street
IN THE ROUND: CIRCULAR CONTEMPORARY COFFEE TABLES
Child-friendly, easy-on-the-eyes and the perfect contrast to slick lines and angled furniture. All hail the contemporary classic:
ANGLE WATCH: SQUARE/RECTANGULAR COFFEE TABLES
Chic, slick and perfect for more rectangular groupings of furniture. Again, if you have opted for curves elsewhere, it’s interesting to mix it up with some strong, straight lines in the coffee table:
UNUSUAL SHAPES & MULTIPLES: CONTEMPORARY COFFEE TABLES
Sometimes, you just want something a little different. Go for quirky shapes and nesting multiples which are fast becoming the new normal.
THE OTTOMAN: AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE CONTEMPORARY COFFEE TABLE
Perfect for the non-believer or if you’re looking for additional seating too, the ottoman or bench is a great option instead of a coffee table. If you find that one is too small or narrow, opt for multiples – this always looks great! Finish with a tray or some coffee table books to balance the drinks and you’re all set…
3.Swoon Editions Aston Ottoman in Oatmeal
How do you feel about coffee tables? Are you as passionate as me or more ambivalent? I would love to see your spaces and hear how you have integrated a coffee table/ottoman and styled it up! Styling advice on the way in future posts so ensure you subscribe below and LIKE the socials to keep updated with the latest GIRL ABOUT HOUSE developments!
Girl signing off,