When talking about home decor, the terms ‘cocktail table’ and ‘coffee table’ are often used interchangeably.
They refer to a small to a medium-sized table which has a height equal to or lower than the height of the sofa. Here we will look at cocktail tables in more depth and their dimensions.
What is a Cocktail Table?
Today a cocktail table and a coffee table are essentially one and the same. These tables can be any shape though they are most commonly square, rectangular, or round. They will be placed in front of a sofa to create a convenient place to put drinks, snacks, books, or other small items.
Historically, though, a cocktail table would have looked different from a coffee table. Cocktail tables were first popularized in the 1920s as small square tables with a low height that would hold cocktails and ashtrays.
Coffee tables, by comparison, are thought to be from the Victoria era and were typically round. These tables would be small and probably taller than the coffee tables we see today.
If you want to distinguish between a cocktail table and a coffee table, the key differences are the shape and height, though nowadays, the two types of tables are considered to be much the same.
Cocktail Table Length
The ideal length of a cocktail table will be dependent on the size of the sofa it is paired with. The recommended length for a cocktail table is between half and two-thirds of the total length of the nearest sofa it is serving. This will allow for a balanced look, where the cocktail table doesn’t dominate the space and also doesn’t look too small and out of place.
Having a cocktail table that is at least half the length of the sofa will also mean that anyone seated at the sofa should be within a reasonable distance of the table, allowing them to easily put down and pick up their drink. If a cocktail table cannot be reached from any seat on the sofa, then it is too small and should be switched out for a longer one.
Generally, most cocktail tables will range between 30 and 90 inches in length to suit a wide variety of sofa sizes.
The cocktail table should not be any longer than two-thirds the length of the sofa because this will make it difficult to circulate around the table to access the sofa, and it can also make for a disproportionate look.
Cocktail Table Height
The right height for a cocktail table will be determined by the height of the sofa it is positioned next to. The tabletop surface of a cocktail table should be the same height or lower than the height of the sofa’s seat cushions.
If the cocktail table is taller than the sofa seat cushions, then it can look awkward, almost as if you have a dining table in your living room. If it is too low compared with the height of the sofa seat cushions, then it will be difficult to use while seated.
The recommended height for cocktail tables is equal to the height of the sofa seat surface or slightly lower. The table surface should not be any more than 2 inches lower than the sofa height to avoid a peculiar look.
This does not give you very much wiggle room when it comes to choosing a cocktail table, as you’ll be limited to a 2-inch height difference between your sofa and the new cocktail table. Most cocktail tables vary in height between 10 inches and 18 inches.
Always check the height of a cocktail table compared with the height of your sofa seats before making a purchase, as a table that has a very different height measurement to the sofa seats can look very odd in a room.
Cocktail Table Clearance
When considering the dimensions of a cocktail table for your room, you should also think about the clearance available around it. In any room, you should allow for at least 24 inches of clearance all of the way around a cocktail table.
This will give ample space for people to move around the table and prevent a feeling of the room being over-furnished. This means that there should be at least 24 inches of vacant space between the edges of the cocktail table and the nearest sofa or another piece of furniture.
Clearance between the sofas and the cocktail table should not exceed 30 inches, as this will make it difficult for people seated on the sofas to conveniently access the table to set down drinks.
Cocktail Table Shape
Cocktail tables come in many shapes, including round, oval, square, and rectangular. You can also find cocktail tables in novelty shapes such as hearts and stars.
The shape of your cocktail table should reflect the style of the rest of your space to ensure that it looks cohesive within the room. It should also be a shape that provides good functionality for your living room.
You may also want to think about the practicalities of the shape of the cocktail table if you have pets or children.
For example, if your pets accidentally knock things off of low tables, then you may find a taller cocktail table is better suited to your needs to prevent spillages and breakages. With young children, tables that lack corners may work well to prevent injuries.