Cocktail Table vs. Coffee Table – Which Is Better?

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Are you wondering whether you should get a cocktail table or a coffee table? This side-by-side comparison looks at the differences, pros, and cons of each.

Are you shopping for a new table for your living room and don’t know what to get? It can be pretty confusing especially if you do a search on the internet for design ideas and some sites suggest a cocktail table while others think a coffee table is better.

If you’re wondering if there is a difference between cocktail tables and coffee tables, the answer is yes. Through this article, you will learn the main difference between the two, as well as their origin, history, and how much they usually cost. You will also learn the popular styles that you can find as you look for the perfect cocktail table or coffee table for your home.

The differences between cocktail tables and coffee tables

Cocktail tables and coffee tables often get mixed up and used interchangeably, creating a lot of confusing and conflicting terms where both of them are concerned. In some ways, they are pretty similar, often standing as the centerpiece of your living room and serving as both a design component and a functional piece.

These days, they are often used to describe any table that is placed in front of your sofa. If you Google for their differences, you’ll find some sites that list various—and sometimes even conflicting—differences. You may even find that upon searching for “cocktail tables” only websites about coffee tables come out.

Nevertheless, correctly identifying which is a cocktail table and which is a coffee table is not that hard. In fact, it’s probably simpler and easier than you imagined. Cocktail tables have square or rectangular tops, while coffee tables have round or oval tops.

What is a cocktail table?

Contemporary cocktail table with a glass top and faux marble design
Cocktail tables often have a rectangular or square shape with a glass top. See more examples on Amazon.

If you do a quick search on Amazon, you might find that, just like furniture shops, the terms are used interchangeably. You’ll see rectangular or square tables for your living room called “coffee tables” and tables with round or oval tops being called “cocktail tables”. If you were to identify cocktail tables correctly, however, they would be square or rectangular tables that sit in front of a sofa.

Cocktail tables first gained popularity in the 1920s. Back then, they were used to hold cocktails and other alcoholic beverages that were served. Books, ashtrays, and other accessories were also placed on top of cocktail tables.

They are, however, not that different from coffee tables, in the sense that both were created to hold beverages. They are also often made of similar types of materials, such as wood, metal, wicker, or glass. Their surfaces can sometimes be made of leather, glass, marble, wood, and more.

The cost of a cocktail table

The average cost of a cocktail table is around $200 to $500, depending on the quality and the type of cocktail table you buy. You’ll definitely find some that are cheaper than this, but you might want to check for quality before making the purchase.

Some cocktail tables, however, cost a lot more because of the type of material they use or the quality with which they were built. If the body is made of wood, there are some woods that tend to be less expensive than others. If a wooden cocktail table has a distressed look, it may cost more as the production process can add to the cost. Naturally, well-known brands might charge more for their cocktail tables as compared to other not-so-known manufacturers that are able to produce the same kind of cocktail table.

What is a coffee table?

Round coffee table with a wooden top and a black metal frame
Coffee tables and cocktail tables have a lot in common, but coffee tables are usually round. See more examples of coffee tables on Amazon.

Coffee tables were first used in the Victorian era. They were a lot taller than the coffee tables you see now because they were made to stand behind high-backed settees and sofas. Their main purpose was to hold tea and coffee so ladies hosting tea parties could easily get them to serve to their guests.

Also read: Examples of coffee tables with built-in storage

Because tea was the popular drink back then, it led to an increasing demand for coffee tables, then called tea tables. They were not intended to place just tea, however, but often held books, candles, and flowers as well. Shortly after that, coffee became a popular drink in households and the tea table was renamed to the coffee table.

As the backs of sofas became lower, they also lowered the height of the coffee tables till they could come around from the back and sit in front of a sofa as well. Eventually, the term “coffee table” became a broad term used for any table that sits in front of a sofa where people can place down their cups in between sips (regardless of shape and size). Of course, you can place various beverages down on a coffee table too, such as tea and even cocktails.

Like the cocktail table, coffee tables are made of various materials, like wood, metal, glass, for the body and glass, marble, leather, and others for the surface. You can find various styles of coffee tables to suit your living room design.

The cost of a coffee table

Coffee tables cost around the same amount as cocktail tables do—around $200 to $500. Of course, they will cost more if they come from high-end brands or are made from materials of better quality. Some coffee tables with vintage or traditional Victorian designs can also cost more.

Coffee tables made of real wood instead of faux wood or real marble instead of faux marble will tend to cost more. If you have a bigger budget, then it’s better to go for coffee tables made of real materials.

Popular cocktail table and coffee table styles

Cocktail tables and coffee tables come in various styles to suit the theme of just about any home. Whether you’ve got a traditional-looking home with rich colors, decor accents, and a lot of wood, or you prefer the light, airy feel of a coastal-themed room, you’ll be able to find a cocktail or coffee table that is perfect for you.

Here are some of the most popular cocktail table and coffee table styles:

  • Coastal – Usually designed to give off a feel of being on the beach. The materials they use tend to have a lighter, more neutral tone and the shape is more natural.
  • Contemporary – Defined by simplicity and clean lines. Contemporary coffee or cocktails includes any kind that is currently popular and in style.
  • Farmhouse – Practicality and comfort are the defining characteristics of farmhouse design. Most farmhouse coffee and cocktail tables are made of wood elements and white tones.
  • Glam – Think luxurious, elegant, and sparkling. Glam style is all about solid colors and glam accents. Most coffee or cocktail tables will have a lining of silver or gold to give it a glamorous look.
  • Industrial – Constructed to give a feeling of purpose and function, which is why most pieces have a raw, edgy design that looks unfinished. They will often feature tables that are made of metal or wood.
  • Modern – Featuring style within the 20th century, specifically from art deco to mid-century style. Modern furniture often comes with a monochrome color palette and natural materials and earthy tones.
  • Rustic – Usually made of wood, stone, and other organic elements. Rustic style highlights ruggedness and allows natural beauty to shine through.
  • Traditional – Said to be timeless, by interior designers and home decor enthusiasts. Usually made from carved wood and may have curves and designs, but they are never overly ornate.
  • Transitional – Brings together various design styles to create a singular, cohesive look and feel. Most transitional furniture focus on comfort and darker colors are usually reserved for accent pieces.
  • Vintage – Old-fashioned, elegant, and generally has a nostalgic look and feel. It uses natural materials, such as wood and stone and natural fabrics.

Other styles include: Mid-century modern, casual, bohemian & eclectic, urban, Americana, country, nautical, shabby chic, classic, French country, cabin, Scandinavian, beach, Oriental, Mediterranean, colonial, lake house, novelty, Moroccan, and more.