Ok guys, so I have a confession: After months of agonizing over what coffee table to buy and buying and returning one, we finally have a coffee table and … I don’t really love it. I wouldn’t say I hate it. But I’m just not in love, ya know? But we needed a large table to go with our supersized couch that wasn’t too wide or too narrow, and well, it fits the space. It’s not that it’s ugly or anything — it’s just a bit more rustic than I had wanted. I probably should have returned it, but I was sick of buying and returning furniture — it requires so much coordination and restocking fees and annoying my husband. Plus, I just wanted to get our space more complete and the price was right for what we wanted to spend with young kids and for a space we won’t be living in forever. But now I’m on a mission to figure out how to style a coffee table so that I regret this purchase less. In fact, I want to figure out how to style a coffee table so that you don’t even really pay attention to what the table looks, if that makes sense.
My favorite thing to do when I’m looking for design help is to go down the Pinterest rabbit hole in search of ideas. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I’m a Pinterest junkie, and I’ll take any excuse to peruse interior design photos for hours. I find studying photos of design I love really helps an amateur like me with no formal design training figure out how to achieve the looks I like. However, I realized quickly that I also needed to do some research on how to style a coffee table, because it looks really easy in pictures, but there’s clearly an art to it. Although I do believe that a lot of design is trial and error and having an eye for things, I have also learned that there are rules and formulas that can help, especially if you’re an amateur like me. After studying design pics, researching and experimenting myself, I’ve rounded up the best tips I’ve found for how to style a coffee table — plus, tons of ideas and inspiration. Now I’m getting excited to start shopping for accessories to dress up our table.
Here are my favorite ideas, inspiration and tips for how to style a coffee table — plus, a roundup of accessories and decor to deck out your table in style.
Stack coffee table books
You may have a collection of gorgeous books you want to display, but if not, you can go to Amazon or HomeGoods or T.J. Maxx (both secretly brilliant source for coffee table books) and find tons of affordable options. I love to show off books that reflect our interests and have beautiful images that I enjoy looking through on occasion. Keep your stacks low, with just 2-3 books, to allow for visibility. You can do multiple stackings around the table, or you can go for one, either centrally placed or one one side or corner. Stack them from largest to smallest. For a square coffee table, you could do four separate stacks that make a square along the perimeter of the table. For a rectangular table like we currently have, you could try two stacks flanking a floral arrangement. Choose large, beautiful books, but you can play around with stacks and work with your table size to see what works best. You could even throw in a wedding album or Chatbooks with family photos for a personal touch. If you want to take your coffee table styling up a notch, add a decorative object on top of the stack of books.
Add a centerpiece
Take a cue from a gorgeous tablescape and add some flowers or greenery to the center. I’m a fan of fresh flowers, but you can get away with faux branches or greenery if you choose right. One Kings Lane has some great options. A pretty vase or container can add interest and tie into the throw pillows and rug to further the color scheme. I love this arrangement in a blue and white chinoiserie vase or this is an elegant option that would work with any decor. If you’re sticking with a fresh arrangement that you can swap out regularly, Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite sources for affordable flowers.
Add a standout item
It can be a gorgeous floral arrangement, a sculpture, a vintage tray, or a gorgeous box, but adding one really pretty statement piece will elevate the whole table. I love to think of this as an opportunity to show off your personality, showcase a beloved family heirloom (as long as there aren’t children and pets around that will break it), display something quirky or memorable from a trip, or to just add in something cool that you really love.
Play with height
You want at least one object to be a bit taller than the rest. It shouldn’t be so tall as to obstruct your view or deter conversation, but varying the heights of the objects adds interest to your arrangement. This could be a decorative object or something slightly more practical like a candlestick or hurricane candles.
Corral items on a tray
A nice counterpoint to a stack of books on one side of the table is a tray with objects neatly arranged on top. A beautiful tray can also be placed in the center of the table as a focal point. I love using a tray to hold practical items like remote controls, but it’s also a great way to display a few decorative objects. I love placing a beautiful candle on a tray that you can light to make the room smell amazing before having guests over.
Allow for open space
You don’t want to completely cover the table in decorative objects (unless it’s truly an eyesore). Allow space between objects to give your decor some breathing room. You don’t need to let too much of the table shine through, but give each arrangement of objects some breathing room.
Consider the rest of your space
While you don’t need to go super matchy-matchy, and in fact, your coffee table can be a great opportunity to mix metals, bring in a new color, or add a touch of modernity or traditional to your design, you still want to consider the rest of the space when styling your coffee table. You can use your coffee table decor to bring in colors from the pillows, rug, curtains or upholstery. Or look for objects that fit the vibe of the space — chinoiserie for a traditional space, a cool sculptural item and sleek books for a modern vibe, or more earthy pieces like a wood bowl for a more rustic feel.
Vary your shapes
If you have a square coffee table, add a round bowl or sculptural element like a piece of coral to balance out the lines. For a round coffee table, square books or a rectangular tray brings just the right contrast. You want to mix textures, shapes, sizes and items to add visual interest.
Follow the rule of 3s
If you want to do a mix of disparate items, group them in threes. It’s a design rule that just works. It keeps the table from feeling disorganized and chaotic while allowing you to add interest and display different types of items. For example, put a stack of coffee table books in one corner, a floral arrangement in the middle, and a tray or vignette on the other side. You can arrange them symmetrically or play around with the location of the groupings.
Pick items that will look good from all sides
A key tip to remember when you style a coffee table: Since a coffee table is a central piece of furniture, it needs to look good from all angles. You don’t want to display picture frames on a coffee table because no one wants to look at the back. That’s why books, bowls, sculptural objects like knots and coral, floral arrangements and candles all work nicely.
While you can mix it up, you also don’t want your table to look disorganized. I am a fan of symmetry, but you can also create a vignette in the center or to one side of the table with a stack of books on the other. If you want a less “styled” look, arrange items in a circle on a rectangular or square table rather than symmetrically. That way you can still achieve balance without it looking too “done”.