Solved! The Perfect Height for Your Coffee Table
For optimum functionality and good looks, don’t go too low or too high on this furniture essential.
Q: I host game nights in my media room and need a coffee table to lay out board games and snacks. How tall should my coffee table be?
A: You’re smart to question the ideal height of a coffee table for your particular use, so your family and guests will be comfortable playing board games. But a coffee table is a versatile piece of furniture, potentially working as a serving station, a dining surface, a place for reading material and other objects, and even a footrest. So with coffee tables ranging from 12 to 24 inches tall, it can be tricky to figure out what’s perfect for your purposes. Ideally, coffee table height allows you to easily rest objects and your feet on the surface from a seated pose. Adding to the challenge of picking the perfect coffee table is the need to factor its length—as well as the location and size of room seating—into your calculation.
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Choose a coffee table height between 16 and 18 inches.
A coffee table should measure 16 to 18 inches from the floor to the tabletop. At this height, an average-size adult seated in front of the table can set an object on it without bending his back or straining his arms to reach the surface. He can also kick up his feet on the table while keeping his legs relatively level with the floor instead of at an uncomfortably steep upward or downward incline.
Adjust the standard height according to seating height.
The standard height guideline assumes you have an average-sized sofa in front of the coffee table with a seat cushion height of 17 to 19 inches measured from the floor to the top of the seat cushions. But if you have low-profile seating, such as a futon couch, a small armchair, or an ottoman, a coffee table at the standard height can be hard for seated folks to reach. Likewise, if you have more elevated seating, such as an overstuffed leather sofa, a standard height would put the table too low for use as a serving or dining surface.
So the ideal height for your coffee table depends on the seating it will serve. Go by this rule of thumb: The tabletop should sit one to two inches lower than the seat cushion height. This will ensure enough clearance above the tabletop to keep any objects you set down from butting up against the table edge.
For example, for a sofa with a typical seat cushion height of 18 inches, choose a 16- or 17-inch-tall coffee table. If you have a seat cushion height of 14 inches, go with a coffee table height of 12 or 13 inches. Likewise, if you have a seat cushion height of 22 inches, your ideal coffee table height will be 20 or 21 inches.
Follow the two-thirds rule to determine coffee table length.
The length of your coffee table should be approximately two-thirds the length of your sofa. For an average three-seat sofa measuring 84 inches wide, look for a coffee table length of about 56 inches. This guideline offers a few benefits: It ensures that your coffee table looks proportionate to the seating around it rather than disproportionately small or large. It maximizes walking space in the room—an overly long coffee table can impede foot traffic. Plus, it allows everyone seated around the table to use it, whereas a too-short table may only be accessible to people on one side of a sofa.
Position your coffee table at least one foot from the couch.
Leave 12 to 18 inches of floor space between the coffee table and surrounding seating. This allows an adult of average height adequate room to hop on and off the sofa and to stretch his legs while seated. It also lets passersby easily navigate the room without bumping up against the table.