Shopping for Outdoor Coffee Tables

On terraces and decks, one piece of furniture is often key to anchoring a seating arrangement: the coffee table.

And if you haven’t got one, where are you going to put your drinks?

“It’s a must,” said Lee Cavanaugh, a partner at Cullman & Kravis Associates, a New York-based interior design firm. “I’ve seen people, to my horror, who don’t have a table near a seating arrangement — a decorator’s worst nightmare — and they have to put everything on the floor.”

When you’re selecting a coffee table, she advised, choose the materials carefully. Be aware that wood will weather over time if it’s left unsealed and that urban grit has a tendency to work its way into porous surfaces. Some metal finishes, on the other hand, may be problematic in the salty air near the ocean.

Another piece of advice: Don’t make the mistake of trying to match your table to your chairs. Patio sets, Ms. Cavanaugh observed, invariably look outdated. “It’s more interesting and aesthetically appealing if the materials are different,” she said.

And a smooth top is advisable if you want to avoid a tsunami of spilled rosé.

“You don’t want too many woven or wicker things,” Ms. Cavanagh said, “because it can be difficult to put a drink down.”


  • How large does a coffee table need to be? That depends on the size of your outdoor space. “You want about 18 inches of walking space,” Ms. Cavanaugh said, between the table and each piece of furniture.

  • How high should it be? “Our recommended height is usually 16 to 18 inches,” she said. “You don’t want a coffee table too high or so low that you’re tripping over it.”

  • Does it have to be a single piece? No, the designers at Cullman & Kravis often use clusters of small tables rather than one monolithic table. That way, Ms. Cavanaugh said, “people can move their own little tables around.”


Solid acacia wood table

$349 at Article: 888-746-3455 or article.com

Six-foot-long recycled-plastic table

$845 at Loll Designs: 877-740-3387 or lolldesigns.com


Powder-coated stainless steel tables with glazed stoneware tops by Gordon Guillaumier

$2,350 at 1stdibs: 877-721-3427 or 1stdibs.com


Mahogany-and-eucalyptus table with inset concrete top

$499 at West Elm: 888-922-4119 or westelm.com


Round terrazzo table

$549 at CB2: 800-606-6252 or cb2.com


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