Does a living room need a side table? Home decor experts unanimously agree

Is a side table right for your living room? This is how to ensure it stays chic instead of cluttered

Living room with grey sofa and side table
(Image credit: Future/David Giles)

A side table is so much of an essential that you likely haven't thought about whether you actually need one, it's simply a given when planning a new living room design. But putting some thought into where you position one, what you use it for and whether your living room needs a side table will make it work much harder in your living space. 

'Side tables are the unsung hero of the living room. The perfect side table combines form and function and deserves to be front and centre,' says Emma Cottrell, marketing manager at BoConcept. From a place to perch a cup of tea to a decorative design feature to fill an empty gap, a side table is a functional and fashionable choice - if you use it to its full potential.  

So does a living room need a side table? And what style should you choose? We've asked interior experts for their top tips on how to make it work in your living space. 

Does a living room need a side table?

Mid century living room with grey sofa and dark wood side table

(Image credit: Future/Kasia Fiszer)

A living room is likely to be one of the most used rooms in your house, so while you want it to reflect your taste aesthetically, it also needs to be practical for everyday life. Whether you're a regular series-binger who needs a place to store snacks, you want a place to rest your current read or a cocktail table perfect for guests to perch their drinks on, a side table is an unintrusive option that even small living rooms can manage.  

'Side tables not only function as a practical storage place or for storing blankets, magazines or pillows, but they are also a modern home accessory for your living space. Classic yet contemporary, our elegant designs elevate any living space,' Emma adds.  

Where to position a side table

Living room with grey sofa and side table

(Image credit: Future/Chris Snook)

Ideally, you want to position a side table close to a sofa or armchair so you can reach it from where you're sitting. Side tables are not synonymous with coffee tables - these are typically positioned in the middle of the room, particularly one with a lot of floor space, and sometimes require getting off the sofa to use properly. 

Think of a coffee table as a more stylistic option that you can decorate with magazines and aesthetic trays, while a side table is a smaller surface used specifically for placing things on. 

'The most common placement for a side table is on either side of a sofa or between two armchairs,' explains Sophia Ayrton-Grim, interior designer and founder of Studio Raff. 'Other ideal locations include spare corners, beneath a window, in a bathroom or hallway.'

Emma adds, 'Opt for space-efficient side tables which also have the potential to double as elegant storage solutions. The key is to look for a designer side table with shelves. This will allow you to store newspapers, magazines, TV remotes and more in the living room or your drink, book and night lamp in the bedroom.'

How to style a side table

Living room with pink armchair, fireplace and side table

(Image credit: Future/David Giles)

Side tables are often on the smaller side, which can mean they begin to look untidy very quickly. Once there's a mug, a book and other miscellaneous bits on the table it's suddenly gone from chic to cluttered.  

While practicality is key, there are clever ways to style a side table to ensure it looks effortlessly curated and in line with the latest living room trends.

'Play with colour and stay away from keeping right on theme against other items of furniture when it comes to choosing your side table or accessorising it,' urges Tricia Guild, OBE. Founder & Creative Director of Designers Guild.

'For me, it's all in the detail. A side table becomes effortlessly sleek when it's not too cluttered and makes use of bright, bold colours; quickly becoming one of the main centre points of any room.'  

Living room with white sofa and side table with fire on

(Image credit: Future/Paul Raeside)

So when it comes to figuring out how to design a living room, advice around choosing a side table steers towards selecting something unexpected. A different colour or unique shape will prevent a side table from becoming an unattractive corner you'd rather keep hidden. If you draw attention through colour and shape, it will attract the eye for the right reasons. 

In terms of styling the top of a side table, creating a homely vibe through books and a lamp will provide ambience without creating too much to dust over. 

'For your side table to take on the ultimate form of cosiness, you might instead place a small modern lamp or books on top,' Tricia adds. 'This is why many side tables are placed next to the seat we use the most. Consider where you sit and how often you need to place your coffee or book down. Side tables can also look best next to a smaller sofa or armchair - filling up unused space and creating a cosy nook within the room.'

Get the look

It's official - your living room really does need a side table to complete the look. These tables and accessories will help you get there with minimal effort. 


Do side tables have to match?

If an eclectic interior isn't your natural taste, it can be tricky to know whether side tables have to match or whether different is best. 

'It depends on the room's scheme and personal preference,' muses Sophia of Studio Raff. 'While some may not mind non-matching side tables, I prefer having matching ones on either side of the sofa or bed. However, if a side table stands alone, it doesn't necessarily need to match the others adjacent to the sofa.'

Living room with beige sofa and walls, ottoman and side table

(Image credit: Future)

Can a side table be higher than a sofa?

Clever interior design is all about balancing proportions, and for a surface that is most likely to be littered with mugs and crumby plates, you probably don't want it poking out from over the arm of a sofa. 

Sophia agrees: 'For me no, a side table shouldn't be higher than a sofa. In interior design it's all about balancing and proportioning in your room; this includes height, weight, texture, pattern and colour ratios.'

Tricia adds, 'Opt for a slightly smaller table in terms of height in comparison to your sofa and top with objects of a contrasting height, such as an elegant vase with dominant flowers and a smaller candle.'

What style of side table takes your fancy? And more importantly, what are you planning on using it for first?

Holly Cockburn
Content Editor

After starting out her journey at Future as a Features Editor on Top Ten Reviews, Holly is now a Content Editor at Ideal Home, writing about the best interior ideas and news. At Top Ten Reviews, she focussed on TikTok viral cleaning hacks as well as how to take care of investment purchases such as lawn mowers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Prior to this, Holly was apart of the editorial team at Howdens which sparked her interest in interior design, and more specifically, kitchens (Shaker is her favourite!).