What Is a Sofa Table? How to Style the Living Room Staple

Use this classic piece of furniture to add style and storage.

a sofa table with a lamp on it

Greg Scheidemann

As its name suggests, a sofa table is a long, narrow table positioned behind a sofa for both decorative and storage purposes. It’s a classic, versatile piece that comes in various styles and materials and that can easily be incorporated into any home, whether with cozy farmhouse decor (like this Better Homes & Gardens Granary Modern Farmhouse Console Table, $96, Walmart) or a sleek midcentury modern design.

So what's the difference between a sofa table and a console? While today, the two items are often interchangeable, their original purpose differs slightly. 

A sofa table was traditionally only placed behind a large seating piece, such as a sofa, in a formal room. The table was narrow and rectangular in shape, but slightly lower than a console because its height needed to correspond with the back of a sofa. A console, on the other hand, tended to be a bit taller and was used on its own against a wall in an entryway, living room, or dining room. 

living room refinished hardwood floor gray walls
Nathan Schroder

How Big Is a Sofa Table?

To choose the right size sofa table, you will need to measure your sofa first. The general rule of thumb is that you want the sofa table to be no smaller than half the length of your sofa, and to have at least a foot of space on either side of the table. As for its height, it should sit slightly lower, approximately an inch or so, than the back sofa cushions. Sofa tables come in various standard lengths, anywhere from 24 to 60 inches. Position the table so that it’s centered on the back of the sofa for symmetry. 

a rustic living room

Cody Ulrich

How to Incorporate a Sofa Table into Your Space

A sofa table traditionally sits behind a sofa or sectional, whether against a wall or floating in the middle of the room. Because of its multipurpose nature, the classic furniture piece can serve as both decor and a functional storage piece. In an open floor plan that needs to accommodate several rooms within one large space, a sofa table can also serve as a visual room divider. 

If your sofa table doesn’t have shelves or drawers and isn’t positioned against a wall, use the space below its surface for decorative storage baskets or a pair of small benches or poufs that can be pulled out for extra seating when you have company over. Additionally, a larger bench under a sofa table can double as a spot to sit and work on your laptop if space on the table surface permits. 

family room

Edmund Barr

How to Style a Sofa Table

In addition to storage space, a sofa table provides a surface that’s perfect for displaying family photos, decorative accents, and personal mementos. There are three key design rules when it comes to a beautifully styled sofa table. First, use objects of various heights to create dimension and visual interest. Place a tall table lamp on one end for height and a source of light, a shallow bowl, tray, or decorative box in the middle, and prop up a picture frame on a stack of books on the other end for an asymmetrical look. 

Second, layer objects and materials for a collected feel that adds warmth, character, and a personal touch. Layering is one of the best decorating tricks you can use, whether you’re styling a sofa table or a bookshelf. Incorporate items in various sizes, textures—such as a leather box and a metal tray—and finishes. And lastly, think in odd numbers. A sofa table is a great spot to display a collection of pottery or candlesticks, and assembling them in odd numbers will create a visually appealing display. If your sofa table is placed against a wall, extend the decor vertically by hanging a piece of art, a mirror, or gallery wall above it. 

a sofa table with a lamp on it

Greg Scheidemann

Stylish Storage Ideas for a Sofa Table

Sofa tables come in various styles; some have a single surface in the form of a tabletop while others have one or multiple shelves that provide additional styling opportunities as well as valuable storage. To keep a sofa table from looking messy or cluttered, use decorative baskets (like this Better Homes & Gardens Rectangular Water Hyacinth Basket, Set of 4, $40, Walmart) to corral toys and electronics for quick and easy cleanup. 

Baskets and bins are also an excellent way to add color and texture. From wicker and wire to wood and rope, there are countless beautiful options to choose from. For a sofa table that doesn’t have any shelves, consider placing two or three large wicker baskets underneath it. They’ll fill the empty space below as well as provide pretty storage for extra blankets or throw pillows. 

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