Have you ever thought about the differences between a coffee table and a cocktail table? Can these tables be used for the same purposes? Are they different sizes?

It can become confusing because many people use the terms coffee table and cocktail table interchangeably, but they are actually different pieces of furniture.

cocktail table and chair with drinks

Similarities Between Coffee Tables and Cocktail Tables

Although you could expect people to get the two types of tables confused, what becomes even more perplexing is that furniture manufacturers interchange the names.

One of the most significant similarities between these two tables is the height. Coffee and cocktail tables are both small and are usually around the same height as sofa cushions or just a little lower. The height of each of these tables is typically around 14 to 20 inches tall.

Another similarity between the two types of tables is that they typically sit in the center of a living room, usually in front of a sofa, a loveseat, or chairs.

These tables are used to place beverages and are often used to display reading materials, including magazines or large books. Some people view these tables more for aesthetics than function.

What Are the Differences Between Coffee Tables and Cocktail Tables?

While these tables are often used for the same purposes, there are some subtle differences that can help you tell them apart. First, we will discuss the history of both of these tables.

Coffee tables have been around for at least a hundred years. These low tables with a sturdy build appear to be an accident that caught on quickly.

In 1920, a company by the name of Imperial Furniture claimed they inadvertently created the first coffee table by accidentally sawing the legs off of a table, impressing Woodrow Wilson, president at the time.

While coffee tables were used to place cups of coffee when people came to visit, these tables have become catch-alls for families, including a place for remote controls, snacks, drinks, cell phones, and more.

References to cocktail tables were discovered in the early 1900s and gained popularity in the decades between 1920 to 1940 when cocktail parties became a social norm. While these tables can look just like coffee tables, they are often viewed as being more elegant or sophisticated.

One way you can tell the difference between coffee tables and cocktail tables is by their shape. Traditionally, coffee tables are almost always round or oval. Cocktail tables are typically square or rectangular.

round wooden coffee table and chair with a lamp

How to Choose a Coffee Table or Cocktail Table

Both types of tables can serve the same functions. First, you need to determine your preferred style. As mentioned, coffee tables are either round or oval, while cocktail tables are square or rectangular. When choosing between the two tables, you simply need to decide which will fit within your decor scheme.

The following offers some tips on helping you choose a coffee table or cocktail table for your home.

Consider the Size

The size of a table is an integral consideration. To ensure you get the perfect fit, you are going to need to pull out your handy tape measure and measure the space for placement.

You will need to ensure you have plenty of room for people to walk around the table and sit on the furniture comfortably. Ideally, the table should sit at least 16 inches from your sofa and at least 28 to 30 inches from the television or other pieces of furniture.

In addition to measuring your living room space, you also need to consider the measurements of the table. Coffee and cocktail tables are typically around 14 to 20 inches tall.

Consider the following measurements.

  • Small tables are usually around 14 to 16 inches wide
  • Medium-sized tables are normally between 22 to 30 inches wide.
  • Larger tables average 47 inches wide and 27 inches deep.

When considering the size of a coffee or cocktail table, you need to keep a rule in mind. The golden rule is 2:3. The largest piece of living room furniture should measure two-thirds of the living area.

For instance, if your sofa is 70 inches long, you will need a coffee or cocktail table that is around 47 inches wide to balance the space.

square cocktail table on carpet

Mix Up the Shapes

While the rule of thumb is for coffee tables to be round and cocktail tables to be square, this does not mean both tables do not have these shapes.

When choosing a table for your living space, consider mixing the shapes. For instance, if your sofa is rounder, you are going to want to choose a square table. If your sofa is squared, choose a round design to balance the space.

Factor in the Function

When considering a table, you need to think about the function and your family’s needs. If you have small children, you will need a rugged table that does not have sharp corners or glass.

Considering what you will be using the table for will help you decide on the size, storage space, and materials. You should also decide if you want the table to blend in well with the space or become the focal point.

coffee cups on a natural wood coffee table

Consider the Materials

Finally, you need to consider the materials of the table. Choosing durable materials will help to ensure the coffee or cocktail table will be lasting.

While wood is the most popular choice, there are many options. You can choose acrylic, marble, and even fabric.

Bottom Line

Although there are some slight differences between coffee and cocktail tables, the two have been intermingled so much, that most people do not know the difference. Consider the factors above to select the best table for your space.

large live edge wooden coffee table

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