Six Basics for Choosing the Perfect Cocktail Table

joy of nesting



Why are great cocktail tables so hard to find? Because the market has been inundated with bland designs, poor quality materials and predictable finishes. Take heart however. Once you understand a few tips from a “pro”, you’re on your way to finding the perfect table. Image above, House Beautiful.

There are six basics to consider: size, shape, material, function, finish and style.

Since the cocktail table sits smack in the center of the most important room in the home, you want to choose it carefully. In most design schemes it’s meant to be a backdrop to the artwork, antiques and fabric elements in the room like the sofa, chairs and window treatments.


Cocktail tables are like a great haircut. They flatter the overall appearance of the décor without over powering any of the other elements. They should be classic, well constructed and have enough personality to show you put some time and thought into choosing them.

When I choose cocktail tables for my design projects I prefer to choose them after I have chosen my sofa and chair frames and fabrics. Cocktail tables are “accents”, meant to accentuate the other elements in the room.

They are the piece de resistance. The icing on the cake.


The widest part of the cocktail table should measure between one half to two thirds of the sofa’s overall width. You can go with a smaller table in tight spaces however, but larger ones will overpower the sofa. Heights will vary but generally they run around 18 inches. Don’t worry too much about the height of your cocktail table. End tables, however, require more attention to this detail.


Rectangle shapes are easiest to work with in rooms both large and small but if space isn’t an issue, square shapes can be really lovely too. Round tables of 30 inches are easiest to place but the larger round ones, such as 40 inches or more, are more practical in spacious living rooms.


Style is the most fun consideration. You can play it safe with just a simple gold or silver leaf frame or if you have time to go treasure hunting, you can find something truly unique. Pieces with personality are fun to work with as long as they don’t overpower the rest of the décor. Whether you like classic or trendy, go for a subtle reference to the other furnishings in the room.


Function is important but there are few pieces that will meet every criteria. Some of us like to put our feet up on our tables while others want to reserve them for drinks, snacks, flowers and parties. If you must have the best of both worlds, keep that in mind when shopping. I accommodate both scenarios when choosing for my clients but it’s not always a quick or easy process. More requirements translate into more shopping time.

The cocktail table is a recent invention, not 100 years of age yet. But there are antique tables that can be pressed into use such as the tea table. They are higher than today’s cocktail tables and work best in formal rooms.

Vintage or retro tables tend to be low and wide. Lucite is a fun material but be sure to choose pieces in perfect condition.

An over or under accessorized cocktail table is purely a matter of preference. Personally, I love big stacks of hardbound coffee table books and perfectly sized flower arrangements in interesting pots. Their “heft” adds an anchoring effect to the middle of the room without looking too busy.


Measure the width of your sofa, identify the perfect size, shape, style and finish. Then find some reliable quality sources.

Book mark this post for future reference if you find it helpful, and please be sure to share!


March 20, 2014

What's Popular


Six Basics for Choosing the Perfect Cocktail Table

Six Basics for Choosing the Perfect Cocktail Table

Six Basics for Choosing the Perfect Cocktail Table