Should a Coffee Table Be Higher or Lower Than Sofa

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Choosing the perfect coffee table to complement your sofa and tie together your living room decor can be a tricky endeavor. While most interior design experts recommend selecting a coffee table that is close in height to your sofa seat, questions arise when dealing with a particularly low sofa or unique living room setup.

Can a coffee table be higher than the sofa it accompanies? Does going against the traditional guidelines spell disaster for your living room feng shui? This comprehensive guide examines when it may be appropriate to use a taller coffee table, and ideal height differences, and provides tips for selecting the perfect coffee table for your space.

Quick Tips


  • Measure your sofa seat height and use it as a guide. The coffee table should be around the same height or up to 4 inches taller.
  • Opt for a slightly taller coffee table if you have a very low sofa to avoid an awkwardly low table.
  • Increase the coffee table height modestly if you entertain frequently to make setting down food and drinks easier.
  • Choose a shape like round or square that complements the existing lines and contours in your living room.
  • Make sure your coffee table is about 2/3 the length of your sofa for ideal proportions.
  • Style your coffee table attractively with books, trays, baskets, etc. to tie the whole room together.

The Purpose and History of Coffee Tables

Before delving into proper coffee table heights, it helps to understand the history and intended purpose of these ubiquitous living room furnishings. As the name suggests, coffee tables were originally designed to hold coffee while socializing in the living room.

Early versions were placed behind sofas to be easily accessed by seated guests. Lower coffee tables emerged alongside lower seating as styles shifted towards Japanese-influenced floor seating.

Today’s centrally placed coffee tables are typically low to maintain sightlines for conversation and keep the visual focus on surrounding statement pieces like the sofa. An overly large or tall coffee table competes with other furnishings and disrupts flow. Proper coffee table dimensions also allow users to easily place down and pick up items without excessive bending or reaching.

When Can A Taller Coffee Table Work?

Most interior designers caution against choosing a coffee table drastically taller than your sofa’s seat height. However, in some scenarios, going slightly taller can work well:

  • If you have a very low sofa or seating. If your sofa sits lower than average, maintaining the typical 2-3 inch lower coffee table height may result in one that is awkwardly low to the ground or difficult to use. Opting for one slightly taller can remedy this.
  • To accommodate frequent entertaining. A few extra inches of coffee table height can make setting down and picking up food, drinks, and plates more comfortable if you host get-togethers often.
  • With pets who may jump up. A slightly elevated coffee table can help deter pets from stealing snacks.
  • For a small space. A modest increase in coffee table height can make a lower-ceilinged or confined living room feel more open and relaxed.
  • With children and sharp corners. Going slightly taller eliminates sharp corners at toddler height.

Ideal Height Differences

So what’s the ideal height difference between your coffee table and sofa? Interior experts suggest:

  • Your coffee table should be around the same height as your sofa seat. Being within 2-4 inches of your sofa seat height is recommended.
  • Measure the height of your sofa seat (from floor to top of cushion). Use this as a guide for an appropriately scaled coffee table.
  • Consider your personal height and needs. If you are taller, you may prefer a coffee table on the taller end of the range.
  • The average coffee table height ranges between 16-18 inches. The average sofa seat height falls around 17-18 inches.
  • Avoid extremes. Aim for no more than 4 inches taller than your sofa to avoid an awkward appearance.

Other Considerations for Selecting the Perfect Coffee Table

In addition to getting the height right, keep these guidelines in mind when choosing a coffee table:

Consider shape

The shape of your coffee table should complement the lines and contours of your sofa and other furnishings. Round pairs well with curved shapes, while square and rectangular work nicely with linear designs.

Mind the length

Your coffee table should be approximately two-thirds the length of your sofa. Overly long tables disrupt flow while too-small tables get lost.

Factor in function

If you’ll use your coffee table for tasks like playing board games or working, opt for a shape and dimensions that can comfortably accommodate these activities.

Select durable materials

Consider your lifestyle. Active families may benefit from sturdier wood tables versus fragile glass.

Style it properly

Your coffee table should tie into the overall decor of the room. Use books, decor objects, trays, and baskets to style them attractively.

Set a budget

Prices span a wide range but focus on quality construction and materials over bargain hunting. A well-made coffee table can last for years with proper care.

Thoughtfully selecting a coffee table with ideal height, proportions, and style for your space allows this functional furnishing to pull your living room decor together rather than distract from it. While most often coffee tables look best situated slightly lower than your sofa, in some unique scenarios, going slightly taller works well. Follow the tips provided to choose a coffee table with perfect placement and style for your needs and interior design vision.