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Whether you’re looking to give your home an easy update, curate the perfect living room vibe, or inject some personality into your space, coffee table decor is an easy way to accomplish all of the above.
1. Inject Some Personality
When thinking about your coffee table style, consider injecting some personality into your design. Allison Wright of Metal + Petal says that “playing with different vessels, candles, trays, and books that you’ve picked up over time serves as a call for conversation.” An assortment of objects that you’ve gathered from various places showcases who you are and where you’ve been– and allows for an easy swapping of stories with guests.
2. Go Big
Many are afraid that utilizing larger decorative objects on coffee tables will look off, or dominate the space. However, Allison Wright advises the opposite. “Don’t be afraid of larger-scale accessories,” she says, “try mixing large sculptural pieces with beautiful books on your favorite artists or musicians.”
3. Embrace Some Greenery
Whether or not you’re a plant lover, you can never go wrong with adding greenery to your coffee table decor. This is especially true if you’re working with a small space. “For very petite coffee tables, we like to keep it simple,” says Jennifer Walter, founder of Folding Chair Design Co. “The above table sits at only 33 inches wide, so we left room for drinks and everyday items alongside the succulent terrarium the homeowner’s kids like to take care of.” Additionally, Walters added a female sculpture just beside the terrarium, which she says adds “just a bit of asymmetry.”
4. Think About the Surroundings
In addition to decorating the surface of the coffee table, it’s important to take into account how the table fits in with the surrounding home decor. In the process of styling the above coffee table, Jennifer Walter says that her team opted for a piece of minimalist sculptural driftwood as the only piece on the table because, “when multiple rooms open to one another, those rooms are all seen as one expansive space.
This round coffee table could seem cluttered in front of the artwork and accessories displayed on the fireplace wall.” Walter’s team also appreciated that the driftwood is light enough to move aside, or even remove if necessary for both entertaining and cleaning.
5. Create a Centerpiece
According to Rebekah Correll of Transparent Interiors, adding a centerpiece to your coffee table creates an eye-catching space. “When styling a coffee table, think about balancing out the horizontal surface space,” she said. “But also, consider vertical balance as well. Combine and stack your pieces to create an interesting visual centerpiece.”
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6. Vary Size and Scale
While it can feel exciting to add a centerpiece to your coffee table, don’t go overboard with large items. “The key to coffee table styling is balance,” says Dave Adams, Merchandising Director at BDI. “This refers to both the size and number of items you use to decorate your table. A coffee table or side table that serves as a base for many trinkets can look cluttered, while one large object can feel cumbersome.” To create a harmonious balance, Adams recommends varying the scale, size, and height of your items, or grouping like objects together, to create a balance of size that both works with the table’s design and is pleasing to the eye.
7. Build Around One Large Item
For those struggling to create an aesthetic that looks proportional and balanced, interior designer Stephanie Parisi suggests building your design off of one large item. “The most important thing is to choose objects that you love and that reflect your personal style,” says Parisi, and recommends adding objects like stacks of books, small family photos on stands, and interesting knick-knacks to transform your coffee table into a stylish statement.
Lisa Kahn of Lisa Kahn Designs agrees. “There’s beauty in the visual impact of a pile of oversized, hard-cover books, especially ones that showcase our passions,” she says. “Books reveal our interests and inspirations, and invite others to share with us what they love.” Kahn suggests stacking coffee table books artfully, using at least three, and placing them within reach to stimulate conversation.
Erika Souza-Mejia of Concept 2 Design likes utilizing coffee table books because they add height and dimension to a surface in addition to showcasing a bit of your personality. “When we incorporate these elements into our projects, we focus on books that not only showcase the client’s color palette, but their style, interests, and even their heritage.”
9. Try Layering
While most think of coffee tables as a one dimensional surface, Amy Peltier suggests layering as a way to create dimension. “I like to group items in three and start stacking– layer down a tray, put down your coffee table books, and then your vase of flowers or accessories,” she says. “Also, include a vase filled with some sort of greenery and flowers.” Peltier suggests faux flowers for those with not-so-green thumbs.
10. A Fresh Bouquet
For Tatiana Olkhovski, the owner of ETM Interiors, a fresh bouquet of flowers can transform any coffee table into a dramatic statement. “Never underestimate the impact of a bright floral arrangement in a sophisticated vase paired with a stylish stack of magazines,” she says.
Lisa Kahn also values the impact of a bouquet, saying that, “nature’s artistry is best seen in the limitless variety of color and texture in fresh flowers.” According to Kahn, adding fresh flowers to a coffee table is a subtle reminder that we’re connected to nature– and are better for it.
11. Stylish Coasters
For Tatiana Olkhovski, coasters combine both functionality and style. “A few eye-catching coasters can work wonders,” she says. “Employ an artful coaster or two on your coffee table to bring a pop of personality to your living room.”
12. Mix and Match
For Julia Dempster, combining various textures can create an eye-catching coffee table display. “Two vessels are better than one, especially when they vary in height and add texture and dimension to your table,” she says. “Whether you fill your vase with branches, flowers, or keep them empty, you can’t go wrong.” On the above table, Dempster filled one vase with rope, rather than a conventional floral display, to add symmetry.
13. Keep it Natural
For those looking for a simple display, Julia Dempster recommends keeping things neutral– and suggests utilizing black and white accents to do so. In the above design, Dempster used an eclectic selection of accessories, including a silver skull, black quartz, and wooden beads, to create an arrangement full of intrigue. She says that “balance is achieved on a circular table with books piled high.” Additionally, Dempster suggests adding to the atmosphere with scent, and recommends keeping diffusers on display so that “you’re ready to make your home a fragrance-filled haven at any time.”
14. Add Boxes
Lisa Kahn uses boxes to add a small bit of mystery to coffee table decor. “Boxes give us the opportunity to hide or reveal as we desire,” she says. “I love a beautiful box on a coffee table because it gives us a place to store clutter or to conceal a treasure you want to reveal upon closer inspection.” To Kahn, fine box-making is an art form, as “there are so many wonderful boxes made of wood, crystal, mother of pearl, and more.”
15. Focus on Candles
Kahn also recommends using candles as coffee table decor, as they “bring a warm glow to a room, and add a touch of sacred energy that can be shared with family and friends.” Kahn describes candles as a “magnetic power almost parallel to our ancestors gathering around bonfires to share stories and songs during ancient times.”
An element many ignore are candle holders, often inexpensive objects that can bring an interesting shape, color, or texture to the table.
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16. Go Minimal
While curating coffee table designs, Pamela O’Brien of Pamela Hope Designs likes to keep it minimal. “A single item like this antique Chinese covered bowl (above) looks lovely on the metal and glass coffee table,” she says. However, when featuring just one piece, O’Brien recommends making sure that it’s large and important enough to stand on its own.
17. Choose an Accent Color
To create a coffee table vignette, Pamela O’Brien uses an accent color to her advantage. “In the above home, turquoise is an important part of the color story,” she says. “We added a rustic tray with three glass jars in flowers, and used the pop of color in the glass to add interest and help you notice the color in other places, such as in the sofa pillows.” Additionally, O’Brien says that using a tray gives small items importance, and makes it easy to change out your decor or make room for people to place food and drinks while entertaining.
18. Stay Practical
While many can feel overwhelmed by the amount of decor options for your coffee table, Lucy Small of State and Season Home Design & Supply says that “the perfect coffee table set up tells you exactly what you’re supposed to use it for.” The above seating area “is designed to be a place to chat, read a book, and sip your coffee. So naturally, we have it decorated with a few books on theme to this home, some coasters, and (fake) fruit in a pedestal bowl for a little bit of color.”
19. Natural Textures
Lucy Small pairs natural elements together to create a cozy, casual vibe in the above game room. “This game room coffee table is set up with some terracotta decor and seagrass placements,” says Small. “For maximum seating, I’ve added some low two-tone Moroccan poufs and woven chairs casual enough for any get together.” To show that the space is intended for comfort, Small uses sheepskins.
20. Add Some Table Games
In the above scene, Lucy Small utilizes games and coasters to set the vibe in this secondary living space. “This marble top coffee table is paired with natural textures like rattan and wood to scale it down from a fancy marble look into something cozier,” Small says. “It is paired with complimentary colors that give it a casual vibe, and some games and coasters to say that this is a place to sit back, sip a drink, and have fun.”
Quick Tips for Decorating Your Coffee Table
According to Becc Burgmann of Becc Burgmann Interiors, “if you have a neat, tidy and styled coffee table, it doesn’t always matter what the rest of the room looks like, it still makes the room look like it’s a room to be proud of.”
We compiled quick decorating tips for your coffee table.
Start with a focal point
An easy place to start while styling a coffee table is with a focal point. A focal point is an area of interest or emphasis, and is used to draw one’s eye to the table. Katie Simpson of Mackenzie Collier Interiors uses serving trays as a focal point. “This allows you to keep your accessories looking neat, organized, and intentionally styled,” she says. “When selecting a collection of decorative pieces, I like to mix and match items that vary in size, texture, shape, and color.”
Focus on function
Interior designer Rebekah Correll says that a “well styled coffee table creates the perfect opportunity to merge function and beauty.” She recommends incorporating items that can be useful in the everyday, such as a decorative box that holds your remote control, wooden trays that can be used to bring drinks and snacks to and from the kitchen, or even a coffee table book that provides your guests with reading material during their visit.
On that end, Lisa Kahn says that objects on your coffee table serve as a conversation starter, mood enhancer, and a platform to showcase personal interests or collections. “Or, a display area for the things we wish to use to connect to those gathered around the table,” says Kahn.
Vary heights and sizes
Similarly to the variation in texture mentioned earlier, KD Reid of KD Reid Interiors suggests “experimenting with various decor item rations.” This can include the ratios of objects like vases, candlesticks, statues, and books.
Andrea Hysmith, founder of ASH Interiors and Design, says that she utilizes height and contrast to create visual interest. She always tells her team to pay attention to the tone of the table, as “if a coffee table is lighter in tone, we usually use darker decor to create a focal point.”
Using the Rule of Three
While styling a coffee table, Becc Burgmann of Becc Burgmann Interiors follows the Rule of Three, which combines objects of different heights to create an area of interest. “Styling a coffee table doesn’t have to be a difficult or daunting task. While there are many ways to style a coffee table, a simple rule of thumb is the ‘Rule of Three’ and symmetry,” Burgmann says.
Burgmann breaks down her steps to employing the Rule of Three below.
1. Use a tray to define a space on a coffee table
Burgmann’s first tip is to match the shape of the coffee table to the shape of the tray she uses to define space. “If it’s a square coffee table, use a square tray. If it’s a rectangle coffee table, use a rectangle tray, a round coffee table, a round tray, and so on,” she says. When it comes to the size of the tray, Burgmann recommends that the tray be one-quarter the size of the coffee table top.
2. In the tray, create a vignette using the Rule of Three
Once you have your tray picked out, it’s time to select the objects to place on it. To utilize the Rule of Three, choose one tall piece, such as a vase of flowers. Next, choose a medium piece about half the height of the tall piece, and a smaller piece half the height of the medium piece. This design tactic creates an interesting area of emphasis.
3. On either side of the tray, create symmetry by stacking objects such as books.
To create symmetry, Burgmann stacks two A4 books on one side of the tray, and then does the same on the other side. “These books shouldn’t be much higher than the small pieces in your vignette,” she says.
Sasha Weilbaker is a freelance writer with bylines in Thrillist, Business Insider, and The Vegetarian Times. She's particularly interested in the intersection of sustainability and materials. In the wild, she can be found cycling around New England, scouting coffee shops, or obsessing over new podcasts.
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