Should a coffee table be lower than a sofa?

Discover the perfect height for your coffee table with in-the-know tips from interior designers

Should a coffee table be lower than a sofa?
(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the best furniture is one of the biggest challenges in the home, especially when it comes to finding the right coffee table or sofa in a living or family room. What you choose needs to be contemporary and contribute to the personality and harmony of the space. This is where the size and shape of your coffee table will truly shine – usually the central piece of furniture in this social space, the humble coffee table has a vital part to play. When it comes to living room furniture ideas, it's not just the look and style of furniture that's important – it's the height, too. 

Often the last piece of furniture to be bought – after the sofa and storage – coffee tables are often, even unintentionally, the focal point of a living room, so finding the perfect coffee table décor ideas is a must, as well as knowing if a coffee table should be lower than a sofa.  

Should a coffee table be lower than a sofa?

It may seem insignificant at first thought, but the height of a coffee table is actually of great importance. The relative height of the coffee table, and other furniture, is key when deciding how to design a living room. Get it right and you'll have a cohesive scheme that's the envy of your friends and family. 

The answer to this vital question may decide the final look, feel, and function of your home. Get it wrong and you risk creating a scheme that confuses the mind. 

Catherine Staples, the principal designer at Toronto-based Aspen & Ivy, agrees. ‘It depends on the style,' she says. 'So a modern home tends to have furniture that is the same height. Whereas traditional or transitional styles play with sight lines for interest.'

Take these points into consideration in your living room layout ideas and you won't go wrong.

1. Choose a coffee table that is lower than your sofa

Design tips, The Expert, Living room

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte Photography/Cortney Bishop)

There are many possibilities at play when deciding whether your coffee table should be lower than a sofa. Firstly, think about the focal point. Not taking the focal point into consideration is a furniture arranging mistake to avoid. A focal point in a room is important, not only does having one help to anchor a room, but it also serves as an area to decorate around. 

Here, rather unusually, the standout feature is the impressive window and vista beyond. In this earthy space, designed by Cortney Bishop, the coffee table is lower than the sofa, which works beautifully to enhance the view and chime beautifully with all the wood, raw and neutral elements elsewhere. Elegant, and effortlessly chic, a combination of raw wood, woven materials, and natural textures is a timeless choice that will you will love for years and years.

2. Keep a coffee table at the same height for practical purposes 

Living room with twin sofas, fireplace and TV

(Image credit: Kathrn MacDonald / Liz Daly)

Finding a coffee table that is the same height as your sofa has many advantages, but as well as height, you should also consider the material used. A coffee table doesn't always need to have a hard surface, in fact, investing in a padded or upholstered design, also known as an ottoman, will add softness, and texture to your family room. Plus, you can also use your coffee table as a footrest if it is the same height as a sofa. 

One of the most common mistakes made when specifying an ottoman is to do with size, says interior decorator and fabric designer Susan Deliss. ‘If you are not sure about the size of the ottoman, fold an old sheet to the size you think might work and lay it on the floor in front of your furniture,’ recommends Susan. ‘Ask yourself, can you walk comfortably between it and your sofa or chair? Can your legs reach it if you sit on your sofa and want to put your feet on it?’

3. Go for a coffee table that is taller than a sofa

Mid-century modern style living room with modern art, white walls and curved chairs

(Image credit: James Merrell / Future)

If you want your coffee table to stand out and not just be a sideshow to surrounding furniture, invest in a design that is taller and unusual. The contrasts between the varying height of furniture will make a space feel interesting and unexpected – and will also highlight the differences between individual pieces so the eye appreciates them more. 

Find the line between eclectic and chaotic. Don’t cram too many pieces into your living room – and balance out the furniture with neutral walls. 

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Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.