coffee table styling

I seriously never tire of gazing at images of perfectly styled coffee tables.  There are just so many ways to achieve a pleasing visual balance of books, pretties, trays and table space.  There is less is more, and more is more, and more times fresh foliage divided by choice animal figurine more.

I’ve found styling a coffee table for someone else to be one of the trickier styling challenges.  A coffee table gets used a heck of a lot more than your typical vignette like a bookshelf or a console table.  If you go all out and don’t leave space for feet or the occasional plate, then you may be pretty but you’re not that practical.  And that’s just not good style is it?

I suppose the key to lived-in-beauty is all about balance, balance, balance!  My dad (and business partner) loves to say that form follows function.  But I wonder… can’t they walk together in harmony?

What is your coffee table style?  How much negative space (or the actual table) do you leave free?

images: Lonny, NuevoEstilo, Domino, via Diversion Project, via GlamLamb, Decor Demon,

Country Living, Betsy Burnham/Lonny,  Elle Decor, via Mimi + Meg, unknown, Badgley Mishka via Elements of Style

  1. I find my coffee table to be extremely tricky to style. I think the main problem is the shape. A lot of these are square so they have more surface area. Mine is rectangular – so it’s long and skinny with not much space. I mainly have a couple of stacks of design books with a decorative accessory on top of each stack. But I feel like it’s stale. I need to mix it up a bit. I think you should do a coffee styling tutorial. I try to leave room around the edge for drinks, but there’s not much to spare. Also, I feel like all these coffee tables are lovely but are just styled for the photo shoot not for real living. I’ll shut up now!

  2. Chelsea

    My coffee table is putting up quite a fight…I will use these images as inspiration to make it gorg. xo

  3. Erin

    Fabulous roundup! Since I have a messy little person I have to style mine with a big tray. That way I can just pick it up and move it out of the way when need be.

  4. Tara

    I’m a “moderate” in the coffee table styling world. I think 2 stacks of books, one tray of a few shorter pieces, and some flowers is perfect.

    Unfortunately, we have 13 month old twins. So my coffee table at the moment has one set of coasters, 5 baby board books, and a broken (non-glass) Christmas ornament all crowded to the middle of the table so little hands can’t reach!

  5. Kathy, maybe I will do a tutorial!

    And yes, decorating ANYTHING with toddlers in the house is a whole different ballgame. Maybe soft accessories, glued-down? I kid, I kid.

  6. I’m in the more is more camp- loved a table packed with pretty!! Books, flowers, trey and a few decorative thing is my basic rule.

  7. This is super tricky…I love to cover pretty much every inch, but then we run into the practical problem. Dang that furniture for having to be functional!

  8. Brandi

    I have a hard time with it. Mostly because we eat dinner at ours! Right now I have a tray with a few candles, incense holder and the remote. There are two books stacked as well. Not very pretty but the tray is easy to slide to the side or pick up when I need to clean the top. I will always be in the use a tray camp for this though. I hope to get an oval shaped coffee table someday, with a tray, no books, and leave it pretty sparse. I have a lot else going on in our living room so I think thats best for me.

  9. I agree with you that a coffee table is so tricky to style. From working in staging, one thing I learned is that coffee table books are a coffee table’s best friend. I just stack books and put little dec. items on top. Not the most inventive but it seems to work.

  10. I hate styling coffee tables! Most people are not going to keep fresh flowers and if they don’t have a lot of cool objects it can look flat…great pics and inspiration!
    -e (modern24seven)

  11. Flowers, candles, magazines and coasters are my go-to table toppers. I don’t really consider it styling, but it’s practical for every day living.

  12. I finally figured out how to style my coffee table, and I love the way it looks…three stacks of books in colors that accent other elements in the room, a small potted plant, and some vintage coasters. The only problem is that my husband and I eat dinner at our coffee table so it is all moved to our side tables most of the time! I know that sounds lame and super impractical, but I just don’t like the way it looks in its most useful state – bare – so the shuffling of books before company comes over is just how its gonna be :)

  13. @Libby- I”m the same way! Slide stuff out of the way to eat then slide it back. I always have to replace my table to just right because I’m anal about that.

  14. Great topic and great post. I always have tons of books, small frames, a big orchid and hurricanes..those are like my staples but I am always switching things around because lets face it…thats part of the fun!

  15. I love coffee table styling too. Sometimes I feel like I need to bring some of the accessories in for pictures just so clients get a better sense of why coffee tables look better stiled.

  16. I’m horrible at it, I don’t think it ever looks right! That’s one tough spot for me. I would love a square or circular double-tiered one so I put lots of books on the bottom and feel like they’re still out in the open (and my daughter won’t write or spill all over them).

  17. kalynor

    Most of the ladies have the same problem, we love to style our coffee table, but we have to be practical too, so how to balance that?

  18. Yeah, my husband believes in zero objects, all feet.

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