How to Pick a Side Table

How to choose the right side table

How to Choose a Side Table

Wood, metal or acrylic? Square or round? Shelves or drawers? High or low? With so many options, choosing the right side table can be daunting. So we’ve created some simple guidelines to help you get the casting right.

Durham side table sized to meet the arm of sofa


First, let’s tackle one of the most important considerations: height. Ideally, a side table should be equal to or just below the arm of the seat it’s next to. Not only does it create a nice visual flow in the room, the table is within easy reach for setting a drink down or turning on a lamp. Standard sofa arm heights can range between 24 and 32 inches, so get out your measuring tape.

Leyland armchair with garden seat as a side table

For armless side chairs, you can opt for a shorter side table, such as a Garden Seat, or choose a table height where the arms would normally sit. Tables with graduated heights, such as a nesting table or stepped table, may defy the convention. The lower tier typically sits below the arm height and is easily accessible, so these tables generally work at any height. (Plus, they offer multi-tasking versatility in a family room.)  

Felicity acrylic side table is a great choice for a room with lots of upholstery


If you’re already on the hunt, you know there are a dizzying array of shapes and styles out there, so it can be hard to settle on a look. When in doubt, it helps to think in terms of adding contrast to a room. Take a look at your existing furniture. Do you have a lot of upholstered pieces or bold patterns? You might want to offset the soft edges and visual texture with a more clean, streamlined design, such as our Felicity Acrylic Rectangular Side Table.

If your aesthetic slants modern, you probably have a lot of leggy pieces in your room, so go with something more chunky and ornate. Our Bornova Side Table helps ground the seating and adds a bit of curviness to break up the straight angles.

Ballard Designs' Morgan Side table


And speaking of round tables, they’re the perfect shape for bringing balance to a square room with so many boxy pieces. You can rarely go wrong with a round shape. However, square tables tend to offer more surface space for a lamp and other accessories, so think about what you’ll put on top. Square side tables are also a natural fit tucked into corners or flanking a sofa and chair at a right angle.

Just think of your side table hunt like a Jenga game. What fit’s the space best?

Ballard Designs' Grand Marquis Side Table with shelves and storage

Storage & Function

You’ll want to make sure the functionality of the table you choose is tailored to your needs. If you think you need extra storage space for remotes, games, tablets, books or magazines, look for a table with drawers or open shelves.

So how many side tables does one room need, anyway? Well, it depends on the amount of seating you have and the size of your space. Generally speaking, we think every seat should have its own side table or share one with another seat. And sofas always look great with a side table at either end.

Use side tables of different sizes and shapes in a large living room

There is no law that says the style, shape or finish of your side tables has to match. In fact, we prefer a more mismatched, collected look. It adds depth and dimension — and a lot more personality. If you’ve inherited a pair of matching side tables, that’s okay, but go for a bit of contrast on the rest of the pieces.

Whatever side table you end up with, we know you’ll love the finishing touch and polish it adds to your room.


Patricia Palermo

Patricia Palermo

Patricia Palermo has been writing about home décor and design since 1999, which is when she first learned the term faux bois. She's passionate about helping others find their design style, because she believes with a little know-how and inspiration, anyone can decorate with confidence. Patricia has a degree in Journalism and lives in Atlanta with her husband and four-year-old twins.


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    Audrey Hyman

    July 27, 2021

    I’m interested in finding out the name of the side table used in the first picture. It’s square shaped and seems to be a walnut color. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.
    Thank you,
    Audrey Hyman

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    Christina Brewton

    April 18, 2017

    Great Post…!
    I would LOVE to see more updates as Ruby grows! My son is 3. As someone mentioned above, most of the stuff in your living room would be fair game to him, especially that table behind the sofa! And while he hasn’t taken to climbing bookshelves (like your bar cabinet) he’d have brought the step ladder to that the second I wasn’t looking! I feel defeated and have given up on “style” for the next 15 years (more things were broken in my house growing up when I was a teen than when I was a toddler) =P

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    March 12, 2017

    Thanks for the helpful tips for side tables..

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    November 18, 2016

    Thanks for the helpful tips for side tables. I love the tangerine print armless chair with the Garden Seat as an end table. Do you mind sharing the fabric name and manufacturer of the chair?

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    Bonnie Coward

    August 27, 2016

    Great advice about side tables! Could you do another column on rugs? I need rugs to cover the floor in oddly shaped rooms and square spaces. I have lived in several old houses. The hearth sticks out into the room and heating/ac comes through floor vents which leaves a rectangular room with a square that needs covering. You have great looking rugs but none of them are square!!!

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    February 17, 2016

    A very thorough overview with great information! The visuals along with your explanations are so helpful. Your rooms and examples are just beautiful.

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      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      February 17, 2016

      Thanks Donna!

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    February 16, 2016

    Could you please tell me the name of the square table with the basket on the lower shelf? Thanks!

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      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      February 17, 2016

      That’s our Morgan End Table.
      Happy Decorating!

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    Monica Lavin

    February 10, 2016

    This is great advice for picking a side table! It can be so challenging to find the perfect fit for a room. But I love all of your pics! They definitely add a polished touch to any rom.

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      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      February 10, 2016

      Thanks Monica!