Cocktail Table vs Coffee Table

Posted In Knowledge - 07/24/2020

Today the terms coffee table and cocktail table are used interchangeably by virtually everyone, including furniture industry professionals. While there seems to be disagreement among historians and experts, there are many similarities and a few slight differences in these two types of tables.

Both coffee tables and cocktail tables are low tables that center a living room, sitting in front of a couch, sofa, sectional or seating arrangement.  They are shorter than end tables, falling at approximately the same height as the cushions on the seats they front.

What is the Difference Between a Coffee Table vs Cocktail Table?

Historically, a coffee table is round or oval, and somewhat sturdy in build. Some sources cite late Victorian era Europe as the origin of these living room mainstays. Once used primarily for entertaining, these tables are now convenient for daily life offering a spot to place snacks and drinks, books and magazines, remote controls and keep other items close at hand.

References to cocktail tables pop up in the early 1900s but the style gained popularity in the late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, as entertaining in the form of cocktail parties came into fashion. A cocktail table is described as square or rectangular in the shape of its top. It is often implied that these tables are more elegant, sophisticated pieces that have slighter proportions than a coffee table. But in today’s marketplace you will find the names used interchangeably with, in most cases, no discernable difference between the two.

These pieces are essential in any living room, family room or den. Just try and picture your living room without one. A sofa, love seat or seating area just doesn’t look right without something there in front of it. With living rooms being the place where families spend much of their time, people entertain guests, and television is enjoyed, the functional convenience offered by a coffee or cocktail table is unmatched. This is a place to play games with the kids, to set out drinks and snacks when entertaining, and to prop up your feet or place the remote control when binge watching your favorite show.

Either table type can have lower shelves or drawers for storage. Some models come with lift top design for added convenience.

Finding the Right Fit in Cocktail Tables and Coffee Tables

With the lack of distinction between these two types of tables, when you are searching online be sure to browse both terms. In the store, you won’t know the difference unless you check the name on the product tag. These tables come in such a wide range of styles, shapes, finishes and materials that you are bound to find many that complete your design vision. But when choosing the right table, be sure to have a good idea on your dimensions. Allow for a foot and a half between seating and table and possibly more if the seats recline. You want your living space to be navigable and not overly crowded. Choose a coffee table with a height that is within a few inches of the height of your sofa seat, and the length should be between ½ - ¾ the width of your sofa. This enables easy movement around your sofa while providing a balanced look.

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Other Options

Maybe you prefer not to have a cocktail table or coffee table in your living room – possibly your space is extremely tight or you have small kids and want to eliminate hard edges and maximize your floor space. Other people require more space to move around or desire an eclectic or unique look. Even if one of these descriptions fit you, you’ll find that you still need something to serve the functional purpose of a coffee table. There’s a long list of possible substitutes including cocktail ottomans, a grouping of nesting tables, or a small occasional table.

Indoors or outside, you will always add to the style and functionality of your living space by placing a coffee table or cocktail table in the center of your seating arrangements. With styles from contemporary to traditional this low, wide living room staple will soon become one of the most used pieces of furniture in your home.

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