Design School

How To Style A Coffee Table


When we put the finishing touches on a living room, we like to style the coffee table (and other surfaces) with a little soul–really tell a story of who lives in the house, what they collect, and where they came from. It’s no different for you. Tell a story about yourself and how you live. Your coffee table is great place to do this because it sits in front of your guests and begs them to look closely at what they see.

Here are a few simple rules to get you started:

1. Use some form of low, medium, and high. In the pictures here, you’ll see that we have a flat picture album, a slightly taller bowl and container, and a large horn that provides height. Books are great items because they can be whatever height you need simply by adding more to the stack. In the store, we use books more than any other object to provide interest to table tops.

2. Use objects that have soul—something personal or collected. We like to use things that have been crafted by human hands. In this case, we used a intricately inlaid Japanese box, which must have taken a very long time to make. We also like to intrigue guests with something that they need to know the story behind. The rodeo picture never fails to strike up a conversation.

3. Use objects that function. In this case, both the Japanese metal box and the horn bowl can serve a purpose. Though we didn’t do this, we should have placed candy or a small collection of items in the bowl. The metal container could have held matches for the fireplace. The point is to make sure that nearly every surface in your home has the ability to function. That makes it feel authentic and alive.

4. Use something natural. Here we have two things gathered from nature. Flowers are always a great idea, too, but require that they be fresh at all times. That’s why we didn’t include them. A good substitute would be a bunch of sticks in a vase—or bound with twine and placed sideways on the table.

5. Use objects that are big enough to make an impact on your coffee table—but not too big. Here we covered about half the total surface of the table, which is enough to make it feel full but still allow someone to set down their coffee cup or wineglass. There’s nothing more intimidating to your guests than the prospect that they will have to move your things to make room—or risk spilling something because space is tight.

Follow these rules and we’re sure you’ll find it much easier to put a little personality into your coffee table. Happy styling!

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