Designers Spill: 12 Essential Coffee Table Styling Tips

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Without question, the coffee table is one of the best places to express creativity and make a design statement in the living room. It’s a little like lipstick at the end of your makeup routine: a quick final step, but one that makes all the difference. However, finding coffee table decor ideas that are a little outside-the-box can be stressful for many of us. (Self included.) But since I’ve been wanting to freshen up my own, I reached out to a few of my favorite interior designers and asked if they’d spill their best foolproof coffee table decor ideas.

Ro Miller Rynd of RM Rynd Interiors puts it best: “The coffee table is often the centerpiece of the space, so we should treat it with respect.”

One common thread throughout these expert coffee table decor ideas is to fill it with things that feel personal to you. Whether that be a functional design that can (stylishly) house remotes and other small items, a stack of colorful books, or fresh flowers—the goal is to make it your own. According to Penelope Bianchi of McCormick Interiors, decorating your house should be like writing your autobiography; nothing should be fake or contrived. Amen!

Coffee table decor ideas.

Designers Share 12 Essential Coffee Table Decor Ideas

Read on for 12 coffee table decor ideas from the following interior designers to create a coffee table that speaks to your style.

Modern coffee table.

1. A Strong Foundation is Key

When styling a coffee table, Sarah Peddicord starts with the foundation. A ceramic, leather or textured tray will both ground the coffee table and give the foundation for layering opportunities on the table. Next, she suggests playing around with adding different ceramic vases that can hold flowers, giving the coffee table height. This can also be achieved by adding unique sculptural elements, matchstick holders, and other treasured elements, all of which give the table a lived-in look.

Coffee table vase.

2. Appeal to All the Senses

Shazalynn Cavin Winfrey believes that the best coffee tables appeal to all of our senses. They are tactile and display items we can touch; they include things that smell wonderful like candles or scented wax sculptures; they have a small vessel for your favorite candies, and they are also visually interesting. Pro tip: Look for pieces that double as conversation starters.

3. Think in Odd Numbers

This is a common rule of design but Peddicord encourages anyone who’s arranging coffee table decor to consider it in the preliminary stages. Depending on the size of the table, she recommends having three or five different elements. It’s also important to note that every part of the table should be the same. Remember juxtaposition creates tension that engages the eye and is much more visually appealing than a table that’s one-note. 

Minimalist coffee table

4. Showcase Your Books and Arrange Bindings in Different Directions

While Cindy Witmer Olrik agrees with the odd numbers rule, she makes an exception with square coffee tables. She loves using beautiful books and wants to showcase them on every corner. Arranging the bindings in different directions, usually facing the seat closest to that side, topped with “the prettiest little objet d’art that I can get my hands on” makes a perfect setting. Check out some of our favorite coffee table books here. 

5. Divide the Table Into Balanced Quadrants

Once you’ve divided your table into quadrants, Ro Miller Rynd suggests placing items in each of them to achieve visual balance. They do not need to match each other, but you’ll want to use things that take up similar space. For example, if you use a stack of books in one quadrant, you will want to use a plant or bowl of similar size in the quadrant diagonal from it.

Clean modern living room.

6. Think of Your Table as Your Autobiography

This is Penelope Bianchi’s decorating philosophy. Her entryway table is full of antiques she’s collected throughout her travels—they’re beautiful and great conversation starters. Similarly, Winfrey suggests using trays and glass boxes to hold collections that evoke an emotional response from the owner. She once designed a coffee table for a family with enclosed specimen trays to house items they collected on nature walks nearby. Never be afraid to use non-traditional, personal elements. 

7. Curate Your Decor Items to the Space

Another one of Rynd’s tried and true coffee table decor ideas is to use items that relate to the space. For example, use design or art books in a common area, but use sports or travel books in a men’s library. She also suggests layering books from largest to smallest on the top. Select favorite accessories such as bowls, candlesticks, plants, or succulents for the other quadrants, and finish off with small accessories placed on top of books.

Three coffee tables.

8. Use the Rule of Threes

Abbe Fenimore likes to style coffee tables using the rule of threes. This entails arranging items in odd numbers for a visually dynamic aesthetic. This is perfect for adding interest to a large square coffee table, plus it leaves a little space to kick your feet up. Don’t feel like you need to fill up every inch of the coffee table either.

9. Fresh Flowers Are Your Friend

This is the number one thing I heard from designers when it comes to coffee tables. According to Abbe Fenimore, an age-old styling trick (and still a favorite of hers) is to add fresh flowers. “They will instantly add life and soften up the area,” she notes. Fresh flowers appeal to all five of the senses and can be changed with the seasons. Peddicord also loves decorative branches to create a foraged look.

Eclectic coffee table decor ideas.

10. Employ the Triangle Method

Holly Lydick styles her coffee tables in the shape of a triangle. This is different from the rule of threes, as it applies to height. Start with a taller accessory, such as a box or a plant, and tier down to a lower height accessory, such as a small tray, and then a final, third-tier even lower. This helps to maintain balance and consistently draws the eye downward. 

11. Try Two

If you’re looking for an option with maximum functionality but also want to showcase your style, try out a two-tiered coffee table. Lydick recommends using one with a glass top. Here you can curate a collection of antique tortoise boxes on a tray or stack your favorite books detailing their beautiful bindings on the open end, while still leaving open space up top.

12. Don’t Be Afraid to Change It Up

Rynd reminds us that we’re not married to one look. Feel free to add new items as you like from your travels or as the seasons change. When you’re entertaining, subtract items as you need for extra space. Your coffee table can always be evolving which makes it a favorite and reasonable spot to modify. Lydick similarly advises making sure that any groupings still allow room for entertaining—creating space for coffee, wine, appetizers, etc.

Coffee table books

Our Favorite Coffee Table Decor

From candles to design books to decorative objects—these are a few of our favorite things that we always keep out on the coffee table. Remember: when curating your coffee table aesthetic, less is always more. Be thoughtful and discerning with what you display and consider how the various components play together to create the vibe you want.

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