How to Style Your Coffee Table


In the past, we’ve discussed the importance of finding a coffee table you will completely adore but what comes next? As striking as the piece might be, a coffee table left bare will feel incomplete and inauthentic. Although creating the right look may only require a book and a decorative bowl, the process behind achieving that effortless, Elle Decor-worthy aesthetic, in reality, takes some… well, effort! Much like decorating shelves, we always fall-back on a few simple guidelines when styling coffee tables in our clients’ homes…

Katherine Kwong Design

Step 1: Gather Things That Speak To You

We always like to start by gathering things that speak to us. Much like selecting art for your home, these items don’t necessarily need to have a rhyme or reason. If it’s a coffee table book, for example, it might happen to be on a subject matter that interests you or, you may simply like the colour of the binding or the cover photo. When gathering your items, select a variety. In addition to books, you can add sculptures, bowls, ashtrays, candles or whatever trinkets that stand out to you. There are no rules and at this stage, the more you have, the better.

Photo from Fantastic Frank

Step 2: Choose a Focal Point 

Once you’ve gathered items that speak to the aesthetic and style of your home, you can start playing around and arranging them on your coffee table! To begin, select a focal point that will anchor the table-scape. Normally, the focal point is a statement piece that has some height to it. It might be a sculpture or beautiful bowl or, it could be a stunning floral arrangement in a vase that you love. Remember, patience is a virtue! The focal point will inform all of your other choices on your coffee table so this may take a few tries before you get it right.

Photo from Trunk Archive

Step 3: Add in a Variety of Objects

Now that you have your focal point, you can add in some other objects. When adding pieces to the collection, keep variety in mind. Choose objects that have different heights and shapes. Even if you’re steering clear of vibrant colours and going for a more neutral palette, try to add in different textures and tones. Though some items on your table might be brand new, try to add in something vintage or antique for authenticity and interest. The idea is to create visual appeal by arresting the senses with unexpected choices. Odd numbers, unevenness and juxtaposition create tension on a coffee table that is incredibly desirable so don’t over think things and don’t default to everything being super matchy-matchy.

Athena Calderone Design

Step 4: Give Your Objects Room to Breath

With the theme of unevenness at the forefront, when stacking, layering and arranging your pieces, remember to leave breathing room around your objects. Don’t fall into the trap of everything being symmetrical and having the surface evenly covered. Apply what you’ve learned about  “social distancing” over the past year to your coffee table and create some negative space for a positive effect. For example, if your coffee table is rectangular or oval, you may want to place your items exclusively on one end. If you’re working with a square or circular coffee table, don’t feel the need to decorate in quadrants! You can divide the table into thirds or simply stack a few pieces in the middle. After all, you likely selected your coffee table because you liked the look of it so why would you wish to conceal it?!

White Arrow Design

Step 5: Take a deep breath, try again, and edit, edit, edit! 

We call these steps guidelines because they are exactly that, guidelines! There is no fool-proof method or set of rules to getting this right. It’s an art that requires patience. When you’re done, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. So pick a different focal point, choose a different group of items and edit, edit, edit. This is one of those, “when you know, you know” scenarios and you just have to keep trying until you’re happy with it. We like to apply one of the French rules of dressing that dictates that one must take off at least one accessory before going out the door. In our book, the same applies to the coffee table. Start with more than you need and edit it down until it feels right!

If after reading this you’re thinking, “that’s great, but I still don’t get it” don’t worry. We’re here to help! Our new In- Home Styling package is made for decor dilemmas just like this!