So is it a Coffee Table or a Cocktail Table?


Almost every home has at least one, a larger table that is low to the ground, that is often centered on the upholstered furniture. It goes by many names, coffee table, cocktail table, and in general, it classifies as an occasional table along with end tables and sofa tables for living and family rooms. But why does it have so many names? Well, here’s a deep dive to try and find an answer, as it seems like there’s many possibilities, with no clear distinct answer.

Earliest documentation of this table vary, as well as its’ country of origin, but the first time it’s consistently used is during the Victorian era with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the middle class. At this time, upholstery back heights were shrinking to be more transportable and to match new lowered ceiling heights of the newer homes being built, and as such the accompanying table heights lowered with them. Since this would be a new type of table on the market, a new name needed to be invented to separate this new table from the tea table.



Tea is a meal that is served with both tea and biscuits in most European countries, and as such this table has a dining height of 26-31″. The tea table is still present in most American homes today as the breakfast table. At this time, coffee and likewise cocktails began to be enjoyed in a more relaxed informal sitting area with sofas and chairs with a seat height of 15-21″. This new table also would be within 2″ of the seat height of the upholstery nearby.

Another theory about the emergence of this table is due to a more mixed cultural landscape. Asian inspired art and furniture including their tea tables became popular, such as the Japanese Chabudai. These tea tables are lower, as they are designed for people to relax on the ground to enjoy these beverages. Again, since the tea table already existed in the west for a different table, a new name would need to be given to seperate it in the western market. Another potential source of inspiration is the Ottoman Empire which used a similar table in their tea gardens, and the popular upholstered stool called an ottoman came from them as well.



But what about it’s name? A popular belief is that originally this newer table was originally referred to as a “cocktail table”, as this was avante garde at that time, but once liquor became illegal after the prohibition, these tables were renamed “coffee tables” to be more socially acceptable and marketable. Another reinforcing bit of information, is that as industrialization grew during the Great Depression, society’s reliance on coffee grew as well.



Today both terms are used interchangeably. Attempts were given within the industry to use both names for the table and establish a difference by classifying a cocktail table for rectangular or square pieces and coffee tables for round or oval tables, but this isn’t widely taught nor explained as a difference. Another attempted difference is that coffee tables are lower to the ground with a wider top, and cocktail table is a bit taller with a smaller top that one can sit at. Coffee table has been used to say that a table is more casual than a more formal cocktail table. There’s also the thought that this distinction is more of a regional dialect choice within the United States, with the South and Midwest preferring the term coffee table, and the North-east and West Coast preferring cocktail table.

While interesting that both names still exist and are widely used interchangeably, it just proves that this table is an important piece of the modern home. And by looking through many of the most popular home designs today, this piece of furniture is still widely popular over a hundreds of years later! So, what do you call it? Is it a Coffee Table or a Cocktail Table?

Here’s a few fun and unique ways to use a wide range of styles and styling them for inspiration for your own Coffee or Cocktail Table.



This table is a piece of art, and minimal styling allows the beauty of the piece and it’s materials shine in this modern room. A sculpture, book, and two candles are all it needs to shine.


Traditional rectangular tables are still popular, but we find a greater variety of construction using metals and glass. Books, open or closed, singular or stacked, are still a staple for dressing up that surface. A second surface below can be used for seasonal decoration or left plain to put the spotlight on the upper surface items.


Depending on your furniture placement, circular tables can add aesthetic interest by varying the lines to provide more visual interest to rectangular furniture. Of course, a circular table also can complement a curved sofa, which is becoming more popular.


Upholstered pieces can double for ottoman-type use and table-type use. It takes only a tray to display an accessory or two or serve up some drinks.


This cool coffee table is truly multifunctional for the male client’s den. It is part lift-top, part bench and part storage while coated in a beautiful ash taupe finish.


Speaking of multifunction, the table shown upper left includes four nesting tables for use as side tables.


Or, how about the touch of elegance offered by these modern glass and metal nesting tables.


Three pieces become a multi-piece coffee table which becomes the statement furnishing in this odd-shaped room which dictated the design and amplifies the benefit of having a Decorating Den Interiors design professional help you with a particularly challenging space.



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