The correct height of a coffee table in comparison to a sofa probably isn’t something you’ve considered unless you’re on the hunt for a new coffee table.
However, when browsing coffee tables, you’ll soon notice that there is a small variation in height between each type of table, and you may wonder which is the most appropriate height for your room.
Here we explore the rules and recommendations for the height of coffee tables and address the question of whether it’s deemed acceptable for a coffee table to be higher than a sofa.
How Tall Should a Coffee Table Be In Comparison to A Sofa?
Coffee tables, as a general rule, should be equal to or lower than the height of the seat cushions on the sofas they will sit amongst. Interior designers recommend that the ideal height of a coffee table is either level with the sofa seat cushions or between one and four inches shorter than the sofas seat cushions.
If the coffee table is any more than four inches shorter than the sofa, then it will look out of proportion with the surrounding furniture and also be at an awkward height to place drinks on while you’re seated on the sofa.
Keeping your furniture in proportion with other items in the room is important so that the space flows nicely and looks visually appealing. Well-proportioned furniture also has functional benefits which can make your daily life easier and more comfortable.
Why Are Coffee Tables Shorter than Sofas?
There are several reasons why it makes sense for coffee tables to be shorter than sofas. Interestingly, when coffee tables were used by the Victorians, they were taller than sofas, at a height similar to that of the back of the sofa seat.
These tables were positioned behind the sofa, and as the name suggests, they were used to keep mugs of coffee on.
Over time different influences have resulted in the coffee tables we have today being kept in the center of multiple sofas and being of a low height. One possible reason for this is the Japanese influence. In Japan, tables often have a low height as they are used for dining, and the diners sit on the ground.
For the way we live and socialize today, coffee tables are generally shorter than sofas for the following reasons.
Coffee tables, as well as being somewhere to put your coffee down, are also used as a surface to display our favorite decorations.
Coffee tables might be the ideal place to show off an antique vase, have photo frames with family shots in, or enjoy a fresh bouquet of flowers. If we imagine a tall coffee table with ornaments or other decors on, we will quickly realize why coffee tables are usually quite short.
A tall table with items on will block the eyeline of people who are seated on the sofas, making it difficult for them to see each other and have a conversation, or it may even block the sight of the television or a view out of the window.
Having lower coffee tables means we can store items on top of them without them interfering with the flow of the room and the eye level of anyone sitting on the sofa.
Another reason why coffee tables are short is so that they don’t become the focus of the room. A tall coffee table would dominate the space and draw the eye to that item of furniture instead of other areas of the room.
Generally, the sofas should be the focal point in the room in terms of furniture, as this sets the tone for the room as a space for lounging and being comfortable.
Coffee tables at a similar or slightly shorter height than the sofas feel natural in terms of putting down drinks and picking them up. Coffee tables that are too low would be a stretch to pick up a mug, making it inconvenient and possibly dangerous if you are at risk of overextending and potentially spilling a hot beverage.
Coffee tables that are too high would feel awkward to place drinks on if you were having to reach up or even stand up to have to put your drink down.
The height of a coffee table compared to the sofa greatly impacts the feel of a room and the flow of it. A low coffee table works to create a casual and social space, whereas a tall coffee table can look almost like a dining table in the middle of the lounge and creates a feeling of formality.
If you want your space to feel relaxed and informal, then a low coffee table can really contribute to this. Tall coffee tables can interrupt the flow of space and be like a physical roadblock in the room, which also affects the atmosphere.
When Can Your Coffee Table be Taller than Your Sofa?
As with most guidelines, there are exceptions when your circumstances simply don’t work with the recommended advice, and you need to break the rules to make your own space fit your life and your family.
Some situations which might cause you to opt for a coffee table that is taller than your sofa include the following:
If you are a frequent entertainer, then a coffee table that is slightly taller than your sofa can be more comfortable for resting drinks on. A taller coffee table can also make it less likely for glasses of wine to be accidentally knocked off.
If you like to have plates of nibbles or appetizers out for your guests to casually snack on, then a taller table can make more sense as it will be closer to a height that is comfortable for eating.
Similarly, if you prefer to eat your dinner in the casual and relaxed environment of your living room, then a taller coffee table might make your mealtimes more comfortable and cause less need for stretching from the sofa to reach food or drinks.
If you have pets such as dogs or cats who will swipe any edible item in sight, then a taller coffee table can prevent them from having access to your things.
Owners of well-behaved pets won’t need to make this consideration, but if you have a young puppy or a pet who simply can’t resist treats, then a coffee table that is taller than your sofa might help to deter them from jumping up to steal your snack.
This will be especially useful for anyone with small dogs, as a taller coffee table will make your items completely inaccessible to them if they can’t reach them.
One instance where you might simply have no choice but to opt for a coffee table that is taller than your sofa is if you own an unusually low-seated sofa.
In this case, if your sofa seat cushions are very low to the ground, then it might be impossible to source a coffee table that is any lower unless you have one custom-made. If this is an issue for you, choose a coffee table that is as close in height to your sofa seat cushions as possible, ideally no more than four inches taller than the sofa seats.
How Tall is Too Tall for a Coffee Table?
While coffee tables generally look best when they are the same height as a sofa’s seat cushions or within four inches lower than the sofa’s seat cushions, there are instances where a taller coffee table is called for.
In these situations, you should be careful not to choose a coffee table that is dramatically taller than your sofa, as this can look very awkward and might even make people think you’ve put your dining table in your living room.
As a general rule, tall coffee tables should be a maximum of four inches taller than your sofa seat cushions. This will help to maintain good proportions in your room and keep the atmosphere relaxed. The average height of a coffee table is between 16 and 18 inches, but it is fairly common to find taller coffee tables measuring up to 21 inches tall.
By comparison, the average height of a sofa seat is between 17 and 18 inches, so for most people finding a coffee table that is between four inches shorter and four inches taller than their sofa seats should not be too much trouble, and instead will come down to personal preference over availability.
Some taller sofas can have seat cushions with a height of up to 20 inches, so if this is the case for you and you want a coffee table that is taller than your sofa, for example, for entertaining, then your options might be limited.
Similarly, some sofas will have seat cushions as short as 15 inches in height, and therefore it will be quite unlikely to find a coffee table that is shorter than the sofa in this instance.