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How to Style Your Coffee Table Once and for All

Living room with plants and coffee table

Bauer Media/Trunk Archive 

In a perfect world, we'd all have immaculately styled coffee tables—ones with perfect monochrome stacks of fashion books, designer candles, and towering floral arrangements. Yes, in the age of Instagram, our innate determination to keep up with the Joneses has extended to the living room. In the real world, however, our coffee tables better resemble a mashup of remotes, miscellaneous magazines, kids' toys, and other random objects. In everyday life, function takes precedence over form. So how do we strike a balance between stylish and manageable? We'll show you how to style a coffee table to be the centerpiece of your living room, no matter how you use your space.

Start With a Plant

Living room filled with plants and a large paper lantern
Bauer Media/Trunk Archive

A little greenery goes a long way. Start with an interesting plant or greenery arrangement to make your coffee table feel more organic and less staged. Larger sculptural succulents, like pencil cactuses, or branches, like eucalyptus or cherry blossoms, are great to anchor larger coffee tables.

Play With Varying Shapes

Gold circular coffee table in living room
Courtesy of Stefanie Stein

Round coffee tables can be a little tricky. Generally, they look their best when items are arranged in a triangular shape: a stack of books, a tray, and a bowl, for example. Too many square or rectangular items can also make a round surface feel a little off. Playing with a variety of geometric shapes, from circles to hexagons, will help the surface feel more dynamic.

Divide and Conquer

Modern living room in neutral tones
Courtesy of Liljencrantz Design

On square coffee tables, try dividing the surface into quadrants and display an arrangement of four main items: A stack of books, a tall plant, a tray, or a collection of bowls, for example. This grid feels organized and dynamic at the same time. Move items the four quadrants until you reach the best display.

Layer Personal Objects

Eclectic living room with sculptural coffee table
Courtesy of Liljencrantz Design

Add decorative objects on top of your stack of books for a personal touch. Vases, candle holders, or heirloom objects will give your surface a more dynamic and interesting feel. It will also create height where things might otherwise feel a little flat.

Organize With Trays

Living room with rectangular coffee table
Bauer Media/Trunk Archive

Use trays and boxes to keep all your essentials organized. This could include remotes, matchboxes for your candles, coasters, or any other small items you like to keep handy on your coffee table, but that might feel out of place or not hold enough weight on their own.

Stack Your Books

Living room with blue coffee table
Thomas Richter; DESIGN: Space Exploration and White Arrow

Go the minimalistic route and display only a collection of your favorite coffee table books—no fuss needed. This can feel especially impactful if you have a bold or colorful coffee table, or if your books are color-coded or carry a specific theme.

Typically, stacks of two to four books work best.

Throw in Unexpected Objects

Living room with wooden coffee table
Bauer Media/Trunk Archive

Do you have family memories or souvenirs you want to display? While we tend to save those types of objects for bookcases or console tables, the interesting objects can actually have more impact on a coffee table, where people congregate, so don't be afraid of throwing in a few unexpected items—especially ones with interesting backstories.

Layer With Floor Cushions

Living room with floor cushions around glass coffee table
Courtesy of Fantastic Frank

Embrace the Scandinavian hygge philosophy and layer the space around your coffee table with floor cushions to encourage people to gather around, and to make your space feel extra cozy. This is an especially good trick if you have small children or pets, or if you love hosting friends for game night. Your living room will instantly look more inviting.

Display a Collection

Living room with glass coffee table
Courtesy of Space Exploration

Do you collect antique silver boxes, busts, bowls, or other interesting objects? Let your coffee table be a display for your most prized collections. Repetition is a known trick of the trade, so use it to your advantage and display similar items in large numbers.

Play With Scale

Living room with wooden coffee table
Courtesy of Catherine Kwong

One mistake that people often make with their coffee table is displaying too many objects of similar sizes. Breaking up the surface with a comparatively large object can do wonders for the overall feel of your room. For example, display an oversized vase with tall branches or a large bowl to give your space a more dynamic look.

Consider Its Function

Modern living room with powder blue chaise
Courtesy of Catherine Kwong

Above all else, consider how you use your coffee table before you choose how to style it. Do you typically set your drink down on it when watching TV? Do you love to play board games? Do you lounge around reading books and magazines on weekends? The best coffee tables may be expertly styled, but they aren't functional if they don't serve the purpose that their owners need them for.