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Coffee Table vs Side Table

A wood-top side table to match the wood top coffee table.

There are many ways to make your home comfortable and inviting. The interior design you choose will depend on your tastes and preferences, which will be reflected in the kinds of furniture you select.

If you are to be comfortable in your house and entertain family and friends you invite over, then you should consider buying small tables on which they can you can put drinks, food, books, and trays. Coffee tables and side tables are among the many categories of tables that you will have to choose from.  

Spending money on new furniture for your home is an investment. Like any investment, you should expect a significant return. When it comes to small tables, your return will be in the comfort and convenience provided by these furnishing and their aesthetic value.

You should not buy such furniture without a plan and a purpose. It is important to weigh different factors, including appearance, functionality, expense, benefits, and durability.

Coffee tables and side tables are for people who want to be comfortable in their home and who want to enhance the hospitality they offer. If you are this kind of person, then you should gather as much information about the furniture options available on the market.

If you have narrowed the choice to a coffee table or a side table, then you should learn everything you can about them. This article will give you an adequate start.

What is a Coffee Table?

A square wooden coffee table to match the shelves.

The coffee table is probably familiar to you. You may have seen different coffee tables in the homes of family and friends over the years. If you have gone through life not knowing the difference between a coffee table and other types of tables, do not worry.

You are not the only one with this knowledge gap.  A great many people pretend to know the defining characteristics of a coffee table to please interior design snobs, but they actually have no clue.

A coffee table is a long, low table that is designed to hold cups, glasses, trays, and other types of dishes and serving platforms. This is the simplest, most concise, and most accurate definition of it.

Coffee tables are meant to be put in front of sofas and chairs. They are also designed to blend in with the rest of the furniture in the space. The best coffee tables are decorative as well as functional. Putting a coffee table in your living room can enhance your ability to relax. It will make it easy for you to set down your drink or plate of food while you lay on the sofa.

What is a Side Table?

This is a small white side table with a vase on top.

A side table is essentially defined by its name. It is a table that is placed beside a piece of furniture a person would sit on. The main function of a side table is to put items such as glasses, cups, books, and cell phones within easy reach of the person sitting or lying down on the furniture.

Side tables tend to be more versatile than coffee tables. They are meant to be put into different rooms and to occupy different positions alongside various pieces of furniture. Side tables also have a high aesthetic value. The side table you purchase should harmonize with the other furniture in the space.

Features of Coffee Tables and Side Tables

Coffee Tables in General

If you decide to buy a coffee table, then you should get the most for your money. In other words, the coffee table you bring home should be more than a place on which to set down drinks and magazines.

Your coffee table should help create a comfortable atmosphere by centering the room. It should also help improve your ability to entertain multiple people at the same time.

With some coffee tables, you can change the height in order to use it as an eating space. Other tables come with different sections that you can slide in and out to give you extra space when you need it.

If extra storage space is a priority, you can buy a coffee table that is designed with this feature. Such tables tend to have enough space to store books, DVDs, games, candles, toys, and other household goods.

Coffee Tables by Design

If style is important to you—and it probably is if you have read thus far—then you should give due attention to the design of your coffee table. You should not go out and buy any old table.

Consider the general appearance and atmosphere of the room that you will put it in. You must also think about the type of house that it will sit in.

Here are some of the most popular designs:

1. Cottage

ChooChoo Farmhouse Coffee Table, Rustic Vintage Living Room Table with Shelf, 40 White

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Whether you live mainly in a cottage home or you have a second home in the countryside, these coffee table designs are perfect for this kind of home. Cottages tend to be earthy, simple, humble, and unpretentious.

A cottage coffee table should have those qualities as well.  They should have clean lines and painted finishes. A light and rustic look will help it blend in with the rest of your furnishings.  

2. Industrial

VASAGLE Industrial Coffee Table with Storage Shelf for Living Room, Wood Look Accent Furniture with Metal Frame, Easy Assembly, Rustic Brown ULCT61X

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This kind of table should evoke the feeling of the factor. The best industrial coffee tables incorporate metal and wood in a rough-hewn construction. An industrial coffee table sits well with softer surroundings.

3. Mid-Century Modern

A midcentury modern living room with a side table that matches the coffee table.

This table is one of the more popular vintage designs. It leans on design styles that were popular between the 1950s and 1960s. They are characterized by clean lines, bentwood, and a simple finish.

4. Parsons

This is another classic design. It consists of a thick top and four thick, flush, square legs. The Parsons coffee table was created in the 1930s and has been popular since then.

5. Modern and Contemporary

A modern coffee table refers to any design that has been in production since the late 19th century. This is not to be confused with a contemporary coffee table which refers to pieces that are currently popular. The latter designs often have stark interiors and bold accents.

Side Tables in General

The most important thing to know about a side table is that it is designed to be placed alongside a piece of furniture that is sat or laid on. You should not buy a side table until you know where you want to put it.

This may sound obvious and trite, but you should have a plan before you spend money on such furniture. If you don’t consider the arrangement of this furniture, then you can have a living room, dining room, or bedroom that is uncomfortable.

Here are some of the most common locations for a side table:

  • On either side of a long sofa
  • Separating two sofas that are perpendicular to each other
  • Beside a sofa armchair
  • The corner of a living room
  • On either side of a bed
  • Alongside an armchair in the dining room or kitchen
  • Next to a bathtub

The point of the side table is to provide additional space in the room. The smaller size of a side table allows it to fulfill this function without taking up too much floor space. You should be able to reach the side table easily from wherever you are seated.

It should also be the same height as the chair or sofa arm or your mattress or bathtub.

Side Tables by Design

There is no shortage of side table designs. In this section, we shall break down the designs by function rather than style, as there are too many of the latter to list and describe.

Here we go!

1. Bedside Table

BAMEOS Side Table Modern Nightstand Round Side End Accent Coffee Table for Living Room Bedroom Balcony Family and Office (15.7inx23.4in)

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A bedside table can make it easy for you to relax at night. You can purchase a design that is simple and sleek so that it blends perfectly with the interior of the space.

If you are a night reader, a bedside table can serve as a platform on which to put your book. It can also hold up your cell phone and other gadgets. And it will serve as the perfect place to put down your evening cup of tea or morning coffee mug.

2. Side Table for Sofas and Chairs

Homemaxs Sofa Side End Table C Table Multiple Stand 26-Inch for Small Space

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Your sofa is a central piece of your living room furniture. You may also have one or two armchairs in the space. What you want are side tables that bring style, aesthetic balance, and greater comfort to this seating.

Wooden Clip-On Armchair Table with Protective Lip, in Cherry by Jumbl

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The latter shows that a side table need not stand in the same way as a conventional table. You can find a range of side tables that can be set directly on your sofa for even greater ease and convenience.

3. Side Table with Drawers

WINSOME Timmy Accent Table, Black

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You may want a side table that stands as an independent piece of furniture—as a focal point of your interior design. A side table with drawers can fulfill this role.

You can put such a side table in your den or study, where it can hold magazines, batteries for your remote control, batteries, chargers, and important documents. If put in the living room, a drawered-sided table can add to the décor of the space.

4. Dining Room Side Table

Gold Side Table, Metal Gold Modern Nightstand, Small Round Table Metal Tray Side Table for Living Room Bedroom Kitchen Dining Room Game and Recreation Room

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You have a couple of choices here. You can punch up the look of your dining room by installing a purely decorative side table.

Or, you can buy a table that is useful.

2-Tier Round End Table Coffee Side Wood Table for Living Room,Bedroom,Corridor,Balcony,15.7 inches Diameter,Brown

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Opting for the latter will give you extra surface room for serving your guests. You will also be able to use it for the storage of plates and silverware. A multi-functional dining room end table will help you optimize the space available to you.

5. Bathroom Side Table

BAMEOS Bamboo Side Table Console Side Table, 2-Tier End Accent Table with Storage Shelf, Modern Furniture for Living Room Bedroom Balcony Family and Office in White Color(23.62 x 11.81 x 23.23 in)

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If you have made your bathroom into more than a place where you shower and do your business, if you have renovated it into a kind of serene spa-like space, then you will need a good side table to finish the job.

A standalone bathtub requires a side table that will make the time you spend soaking yourself even more comfortable. You can get a bathroom side table that can hold magazines, towels, and all your toiletries.

It should be easy to reach the various items on the side table. The latter should also enhance the ambiance of the room.

6. Entryway Side Table

2 Tier Freestanding Console Sofa Table, Vintage Entryway Side Table with Open Shelf, Narrow Foyer Table for Home Living Room, Industrial Style Home Furniture 40''L x 11.8''W x 31''H

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The entryway, or foyer, of your home, gives your guests their first impression of your home. You want each person who enters your house to feel welcome. One of the best ways to do this is to have a decorative piece of furniture in the hallway.

The same item can serve as a place where your guests can put their shoes, bags, and other stuff.

For you, an entryway side table can be of even more use. You can use the surfaces to place keys and organize mail. You can add a flower vase or artwork to the table to make it even warmer.

The Most Common Materials Used in Coffee Tables and Side Tables

Coffee tables and ottomans are made of many different types of materials. We shall deal with coffee tables first.

A living room with a round metallic coffee table.

Metal is an increasingly popular pick among coffee table enthusiasts. Such tables are constructed of iron, steel, aluminum, and other alloys. A glass or wooden top often tops the structure. A metal coffee table will be easy to clean.

Wood coffee tables are by far the most common type. Oak, pale wood, and other types of tables offer a finished, polished, and elegant look. The only downside of wood is that water rings easily form on it, which is why it is necessary to buy and lay down coasters.

A glasstop coffee table in a living room.

Glass-top coffee tables are quite common. But glass structure coffee tables are also available. A table made entirely of glass can be striking in its appearance.

This is a marble-top coffee table at a living room.

It is also possible to get coffee tables with a stone, marble, or slate top.

A patio with a rattan side table in the middle of two wicker chairs.

Rattan and acrylic are also used to make coffee tables. These are lesser-known table types, but they are widely available on the market.  Rattan is often thought of as a patio furniture material. When applied to the coffee table design, it gives the latter a more luxurious feel. Acrylic bears, in appearance, a striking similarity to glass. The material has the versatility and transparency of glass without the weight or the cost. Many of the most innovative coffee table designs use acrylic.

Now we turn to side tables…

This is a wooden side table on the side of the sofa.

Wood—especially pale wood—is a commonly used material in side tables. You will also find them in oak.

Homykic Nightstand End Table, Bamboo Bedside Accent Bed Side Table with Drawer & Shelf Storage, Boho Style Farmhouse Night Stand for Bedroom, Living Room, Lounge, Space Saving, Natural

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Bamboo is also widely used in side table frames and surfaces. This is an especially good material for bathroom side tables, as it is more resistant to moisture, heat, and humidity.

A close look at a round black side table.

Some of the trendier side table designs are composed of a mixture of glass and metal. These tables are creatively shaped and engineered to be simple and stylish, functional, and aesthetically pleasing.

Durability of Coffee Tables and Side Tables

You are right to be concerned about the longevity of your coffee or side table. These are not pieces of furniture that you should have to buy every few months. However, it must also be said that you get what you pay for.

If you are willing to spend a substantive sum of money, then you will get a table that lasts.

A coffee table that is cleaned regularly, protected by coasters, and otherwise well-maintained should last up to ten years. The quickness with which the table wears down will depend greatly on the quality of the materials used and the brand that produced them.

Though you should not believe the hype used to promote brand-name furniture, some brands have a good reputation because they make tables that are superior in design, engineering, and materials.

Generally speaking, side tables last a long time—at least ten years. Unlike coffee tables, most side tables are not a centerpiece of the living room. The human instinct when sitting down and facing forward is to focus on and deal with whatever is before the eyes. If you have both a side table and a coffee table, most people will place their glasses, plates, books, and magazines on the coffee table rather than the side table.

If you have a side table only, you may be surprised by how many of your guests will take their empty cups to the kitchen rather than turn to the side and place them on the table.

In any case, the same factors that determine the durability of a coffee table can be applied to a side table.

Cost of a Coffee Table and a Side Table

It is perfectly natural to prioritize cost over all else when deciding whether to buy a coffee table or a bench. You can find a good solid coffee table for less than $400. The general price range is from $200 to $400, but you will not pay more than $500 for even the most high-end table.

Side tables tend to be a little less expensive than coffee tables. You can find a beautifully crafted side table for any of your rooms for less than $100. Side tables of higher-end designs and materials can run you up to $200.  

Benefits of a Coffee Table versus a Side Table

You cannot go wrong with either of these types of furniture. They each come with benefits. We will take the best qualities of a coffee table first.

A wood-top two tier coffee table by the sofa.

One of the best things about coffee tables is that they are easy to clean. The sturdy material they are made of also makes them hard to damage. A coffee table that is of the right height and surface area can function as a kind of desk on which to use your laptop.

Most coffee tables are streamlined in their design. They are not as heavy and bulky as other types of tables. In fact, coffee tables of the simplest design can open up more visual space, making your living space appear large and roomier. If you have furnished your living room with mostly upholstered items, the hardness of a coffee table can enhance the atmosphere by offsetting these fabrics.

You will also benefit from the range of coffee table designs that are to choose from. No matter your tastes or size requirements, you will find a coffee table that meets them.

A close look at a platform bed with a bedside table.

Convenience is the great benefit of a side table. Although side tables come in many elegant designs, their primary purpose is to be used. There is nothing more irritating than going to someone’s house for a drink and a chat on the sofa and having nowhere to lay down your glass.

It is also annoying to have no suitable place to put your bedtime book. The side table is meant to eliminate all these minor inconveniences. It pleases most when it functions best.

Fun Facts from History

To make the article complete, we offer a few fun historical facts about coffee tables and side tables

Coffee tables are thought to have originated in mid-17th century London. The first tables appeared in coffee houses, which began to sprout up all over the city during this time. Coffee tables became known by this name because they functioned as places where people could put their beverages—almost exclusively alcoholic.

The original coffee tables had little to do with coffee and everything to do with beer!

F. Stuart Foote, who founded a furniture company in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the early 20th century, claims to have invented the modern side table. He did it, so the story goes, by helping his wife prepare for a party with friends.

He lowered the legs of an existing dining table to make a smaller table from which drinks could be served. There has been no independent verification of Foote’s claims, but it does make for an interesting story.

Coffee Table or a Side Table

Although the side table has many uses and makes any room it’s placed in more comfortable, we prefer the coffee table. If you are pressed for cash and must choose one or the other, we recommend buying a coffee table.

Like a side table, a coffee table provides a surface on which people can put drinks, plates, and personal items. But unlike a side table, a coffee table can be a centerpiece of living space. It is much easier and more natural to gather guests around a coffee table than a side table.

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