John Eric Byers in The New York Times

Shopping Guide: Coffee Tables
By Tim McKeough

A coffee table isn’t just a place to put down your coffee or put up your feet. It’s “like the campfire of the home,” said Francis D’Haene, the principal of D’Apostrophe Design.

That’s why it’s important to find the right one. “It’s usually in the center of the room,” Mr. D’Haene said, so it’s one of the most noticeable pieces of furniture. “And people sit around it to have conversations.”

Whether he’s designing apartments in Manhattan, houses in the Hamptons or boutiques for fashion designers like Jill Stuart and Rick Owens, Mr. D’Haene, 50, favors clean-lined spaces. “I don’t like the word minimal, but we want to be simple,” he said. “It’s modern and contemporary, but with a warm feeling.”

That means including just enough sculptural furniture to make those spaces inviting — so every piece counts, particularly the coffee table. Before you buy a new one, he suggests asking yourself a few questions:

• How does the height compare to that of the seats around it? “It should be at seating height or a little lower,” Mr. D’Haene said.

• Should the table be square, rectangular, round or organic? “The choice depends on the shape of the room and type of seating,” he said. A long, skinny table often works well in a rectangular room, while organic shapes pair nicely with curvaceous sofas and chairs.

• What will you put on top? “You can do a coffee table very low to the ground, if you know you’re going to stack a lot of books on it,” he said. In that case, “it can become more of a display space and conversation piece.”

The Future Heirloom
Luna Coffee Table | John Eric Byers

With a hand-gouged surface of tiny craters, this blackened maple table by John Eric Byers has a travertine disk at its center, so it’s loaded with textural appeal. “He makes great pieces that are very simple in form,” Mr. D’Haene said, but reflect top-level craftsmanship — all of which should help this table stand the test of time.