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How To Style A Coffee Table

Perfectly adorned coffee tables litter the pages of every catalog and are front and center in every Insta-worthy home photo, but how those tables become so perfectly styled is hardly ever documented. If you marvel at coffee tables like these (most of which are styled by professionals) and wonder how they came to be, you will soon find out. And, no, you don’t need a designer’s eye to make your coffee table shine. We’re spilling some design secrets to help you learn how to style a coffee table and what to put on a coffee table in the first place.

So, if you want to up-level your living room with a decorative object, have a notepad ready. When we’re done here, you’ll have a list full of what you need to style a coffee table display and handy tricks to make it all work together.   

How Will it Function?

When learning how to choose a coffee table, function and beauty should work together seamlessly. This is why it’s important to first consider how your coffee table functions or how you want it to function before you begin to style it.

If, for instance, your coffee table serves as a place to put your feet, you won’t want anything too fragile on top of it that you could accidentally kick. Say, you frequently entertain and your coffee table is often full of appetizer trays; then, you should leave ample space for platters and keep the area free from anything you won’t want around food unless you can easily move it during party prep. Is your coffee table your WFH office? Then perhaps decorating it with notebooks, coasters, and a calming candle makes sense. 

The function of your coffee table is up to you, but whatever it is, it should guide the way you style it. Pause, and consider what you want to prioritize before scrolling down. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Learning how to style a coffee table requires practice. It is, after all, an art. Before you begin coffee table styling, keep this in mind. Even if you have styled coffee tables in other rooms or other homes, no space is the same, and the odds are good that it won’t come together on the first try. Have fun playing with different items and arrangements, and don’t get too hung up. If it just doesn’t “feel right”, walk away and revisit it when you’ve got more accessories or more creative energy to work with. It might take more than a couple attempts but eventually, you’ll get it.  

Styling Tricks We Swear By

Now that you know how your coffee table will function and are prepared to practice styling it over and over again (it’ll be fun, promise), you’re ready to tackle the table. Here are a few styling tricks that are sure to help along the way. 

1. Stick to a Color Palette

Seeing as styling a coffee table is one of the final projects you’ll take on when decorating your living space, you are probably already working with a specific style and color palette as dictated by the rest of the room. Take in the room, and consider what colors are already occurring and what colors will complement what’s already going on, and stick to those. Repetition of color is key to making any room feel cohesive. The last thing you’d want is for your coffee table decor to feel happenstance or out of place. Each item should blend seamlessly with the overall aesthetic and look as though it is in its proper place. 

2. Mix Textures

Texture is every designer’s and, in this case, every coffee table styler’s best friend. You will want a combination of soft, hard, and natural textures on your table. This could mean fabric-covered books, a plant, and a metallic tray. Hard textures are things like glass, metal, and ceramic. Soft textures are things like fabric, faux fur, and woven goods. Natural textures are things like plants, flowers, bone, and wood. 

Texture can come into play in a variety of ways. The decor items you decorate with such as vases, trays, throws, candles, and pots can come in all sorts of styles and materials. A sculptural object such as a string of beads, a globe, or a crystal can provide a lot of interesting texture to the top of a coffee table as well. What’s important is not what textures you choose, but that you choose various kinds.  

3. Work with Varying Heights

When styling a coffee table, you’ll need a few decor items; something tall, something short, and something in-between. Of course, what is tall, short, and in-between is relative to what items you have on hand. Vases, pitchers, plants, and candlesticks are great “tall” options while sculptural objects, books, decorative boxes, and bowls are great “short” options. If most of your items are around the same height, you can stack an object on books or magazines to make it taller and produce that desired variance in height. 

4. Incorporate Books 

Books are one of the best tools when it comes to coffee table styling; they help add height and texture to a coffee table and come in various sizes. They are also abundant in most homes and cheap to buy at thrift stores if you need to amp up your collection to achieve a specific color palette or a vintage look.

In addition to regular old books that you can find in your nightstand or attic, you may also want to consider investing in a few coffee table books. We say “investing” because these large-scale, decorative books can be on the pricier side. The good news is, you only need one or two to make a big statement. They are called coffee table books for a reason; this type of book is beautiful and comes in a variety of styles that can match any home’s aesthetic, but it’s also the type of book you could pick up and flip through as you lounge in the living room.  

A coffee table book with style can be a great statement piece but the size of a coffee table book is also helpful. It is ideal for filling up space and stacking smaller items, which makes your job of styling the table it sits on much easier.  

5. Contain Items in Trays

A decorative tray is a great way to keep your ornamental pieces from “floating” on your coffee table display and minimizes the surface area you need to style, because, well, you only need to style within the tray. Trays also come in handy when you want to clear the coffee table, be it for dinner during a movie, game night, entertaining, or crafting your vision board.

If your coffee table is large, you may want multiple trays to cover more space. In this case, we recommend two trays of the same size and material to create a symmetrical look or two trays of dramatically different sizes. If your coffee table is small, or round, you may not want a decorative tray at all.

When choosing a tray, pick one of a different color and material than your coffee table to create contrast. And be sure that whatever material tray you do pick won’t damage the surface of your coffee table. Speaking of damage, a tray is also a great place to put a set of coasters for easy access so you don’t leave behind any rings on the coffee table.

While it’s important to consider how your daily activities could wear on your furniture, you don’t have to worry about anything with an Inside Weather coffee table. Our pieces are made to last a lifetime. The durable surfaces are safeguarded against spills, bacteria build-up, warping, and scratches, and impenetrable to moisture. Additionally, every coffee table surface is both scuff and UV resistant and easily cleaned with any household cleaner you have on hand. So, pick whatever tray you like and place whatever you want on the surface of your custom coffee table—it can handle it. 

6. Switch It Up

We know, you just learned how to style a coffee table, and may very well have settled on the perfect setup—congrats! Whether you did or didn’t nail it, don’t get too attached to how it looks now. We think the best styled coffee tables shift with the seasons. Whether it’s with warmer or cooler colors, cozier textures, different scents, fresh flowers, seasonal decor, or all of the above, swap out the items on your coffee table as the weather changes. 

Swapping styles with the season is not only fun and will give you more practice, but it’s also a great way to shake up the decor in your home, which as we all know, we can grow bored or tired of. When you re-incorporate the pieces you swap out now in a few months, they will feel brand new!