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How to Style a Coffee Table with Unique Details that Make a Huge Impact

Coffee tables are small on space, but big on style

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By AD Clever | November 10, 2023 | Design

Figuring out how to arrange your coffee table decor can be a frustrating process, to say the least. What begins as a simple task can quickly turn into a chaotic “what’s going on here?” moment. Though having countless options can be overwhelming, don’t let the endless possibilities deter you from letting your inner curator shine. In our humble opinion, coffee tables are your chance to show off organizational and creative talents all in one go. And best of all, coffee table decor can be the least permanent part of your space. Swap books for tabletop objects, puzzles for candles and flowers—or just mix it all together and let your coffee table serve as a decorative catchall displaying your current obsessions.

From stacking books with personal mementos to unconventional pieces of furniture, we’re here to ease your styling anxieties with some eye-catching coffee table decor ideas that will be sure to satisfy whatever type of design lover you are.

1. Go the clear route

“God, I love this room,” Matthew Bees says. “It’s like a Bunny Mellon, Albert Hadley–imagined menagerie of furniture and art. Nothing is skirted so that everything is light and lifted. Charleston is known for its paneled drawing rooms and I wanted to pay homage to that but in an updated way.” Bees chose vinyl wallpaper from Thibaut with a wood-grain finish. “I first saw it in Katie Ridder’s house,” he said, referring to the interior designer. The striking Austrian shades are made of a celery-colored, Kemble-designed fabric for Schumacher. The handsome secretary is early-to-mid-19th century English mahogany and was purchased at Jere’s Antiques in Savannah, Georgia. “Jere’s is a favorite gettin’ place,” Bees says. The table lamps were large vases that Bees found in an antique store in Jackson, Mississippi. “I sent them up to [ceramicist] Christopher Spitzmiller [in New York] and he converted them to lamps for me,” Bees says. Mounted cobalt blue glass hurricane lamps adorn the walls between the windows. In some ways, the most unusual accent in the room is the clear Lucite coffee table. “There’s a lot going on in this space,” Bees says. “I had the small acrylic table made so it would float in the room without causing visual clutter.”

Add dimension to your space by layering objects around or beneath your coffee table, creating the illusion of multiple tiers. Image via Pexels.

A glass coffee table allows you to showcase your accessories without worrying about maximalist overload. The sleek see through design is anything but overpowering, and it’s a particularly good choice if you’re super into your rug or flooring, as seen here in this Matthew Bees–designed living room. Let your objects of choice do the talking and style away!

2. Turn it into a library

The living area of Peter’s apartment features a mix of custom pieces, like the sofa and window treatments, alongside vintage elements, like the midcentury-modern coffee table that he sourced on Chairish.

Top off your coffee table by styling it with some (or all) of your favorite books. They make for lovely home decor in any case, just check out interior designer Peter Sandel’s own living room setup. Haven’t actually read most of the books sitting pretty on top of your coffee table? Don’t worry, we won’t judge.

3. Let your flowers have a moment

More of a minimalist? Clear out the clutter and let your flowers take the spotlight, like in this Jessica LaGrange–designed apartment. Don’t have time to grab fresh flowers? Whip out that decorative vase you’ve been dying to use and let it fly solo or go for some succulents or low maintenance greenery.

More of a minimalist? Clear out the clutter and let your flowers take the spotlight. Image via Pexels.

4. Use a tray to house your favorite tabletop decor

“My big, plushy blue couch was a gift from my mom,” Claudia Dockery says. “I’ve always loved color, so whenever I’m gifted a home good from someone, it’s a colorful, fun piece.”

An oldie but a goodie when it comes to coffee table design ideas: Use a tray to collect even the smallest of objects, as seen here in a Los Angeles rental apartment. It’s also highly convenient when you have to turn your coffee table into a makeshift dining table. If you have a round coffee table, be sure to pair it with a round tray.

5. Layers, layers, and more layers

Add dimension to your space by layering objects around or beneath your coffee table, creating the illusion of multiple tiers. This not only adds dimension and visual appeal, but it can also be practical. Take it even further by grouping smaller tables of different sizes, like in this colorful living area, to cover as much surface area in the most unique fashion.

6. Who says it actually has to be a coffee table?

Working on a small project can have its challenges, but Beata Heuman managed to take the living room and make it feel sophisticated yet accessible through bespoke furnishings, vintage cane chairs, and the homeowner’s own accessories.

Since when does your coffee table actually have to be a coffee table? Think outside the conventional coffee table ideas box and use a vintage trunk or even a cushioned bench as the focal point in your living space, like in this gorgeous space by Beata Heuman.

If you have side tables and plenty of other room for decor, will you actually be using your coffee table for knickknacks or drinking glasses, or will you in fact be using it as a place to rest your feet? Image via Unsplash.

7. The more the merrier

“It’s always been the room that we spend the most amount of time in, it’s our little cave,” Wesley Vultaggio says of the media-room-slash-library. The lacquered gray bookshelves hold treasures from the couple’s international travels. The coffee table is by the late French sculptor Pierre Sabatier.

Sometimes more is most definitely better, so why should we limit the number of coffee tables in our space? Decorate the space by adding multiple tables to create an anything but basic aesthetic. The sculptural coffee tables in the above Studio MBM living room are by Pierre Sabatier.

8. Make it a giant catchall

Philip Gorrivan’s treasured Christian Astuguevieille coffee table, an item he can never part with, holds several vibrant pieces from his malachite collection.

Use your coffee tables as a catchall for all things, just as Philip Gorrivan did in his East Village apartment. Let candles, flowers, books, sculptures, and maybe a sage bundle or two sit pretty atop your perfectly imperfect coffee table. And if you’re worried about water stains, be sure to keep the coasters close at hand for guests to protect your precious belongings.

9. Get sculptural

The chairs in the living area are a vintage IKEA chair from the 1970s that Sam Klemick rebuilt and adapted with dowels and a new sling and her signature Bell Chair, also with a hammock-like construction. The Cutie Stool is also from Sam’s furniture line.

Turned off by all of the above? Style your coffee table in the simplest possible way: Don’t. Let your coffee table speak for itself by investing in one that will demand a double take all on its own. The interesting form of Sam Klemick’s coffee table allows it to leave a meaningful impact on the room with very minimal styling.

Remember that styling a chic coffee table doesn’t have to mean “put everything you own on top of this surface.” Keep it simple. Image via Pexels.

10. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple

Remember that styling a chic coffee table doesn’t have to mean “put everything you own on top of this surface.” Lean into the simplicity of a clean and neatly curated coffee table, because sometimes we just want a little zen in our lives. Doesn’t this cohesive Boston living room by Hacin + Associates really sell it?

11. Go two-tiered

If your difficulty with styling a coffee table isn’t what to put on it but instead that you have too much you’d like to display, go for a two-tiered coffee table that gives you double the surface space. As seen in this Salvesen Graham–designed home, a tiered coffee table makes it easy to keep numerous coffee table books close at hand, making it simple to rearrange your display as frequently as your heart desires.

12. Try an unusual shape

The newly added Murano egg lamp with a Hue lightbulb “transforms the room into a colorful womb space,” as Rachel Traub put it. A plethora of seating, including &Tradition’s Develius couch and Little Petra chair, allows guests to enjoy the calm atmosphere.

With a coffee table of an unexpected shape, you needn’t depend on styling to make an impact on the room. We love the triangular stone table that plays off of the softness of the room’s other dominant elements in this LA space.

13. Play to your color scheme

“Our living room has a very lounge-y vibe, which is great for entertaining,” Candice Molayem says. The coffee table, we’re proud to say, is by Objects for Objects for the Urban Outfitters collaboration we did last year.

Your color palette doesn’t need to be quite as in your face as this primary color pad in LA for you to learn something from it. Whether you’re in a small or grand space, choosing a coffee table that matches the colors or materials of your other furniture can help to unify the many elements.

Perhaps one of the simplest options for styling a coffee table, candles can set the perfect relaxing mood. Image via Pexels.

14. Accessorize with games

In apartments of a small square footage, every last bit of storage space helps, including atop the coffee table. If you’re someone who fancies party or board games, go for well-designed editions that make for a fun display and keep ’em out as coffee table centerpieces, like in this West Village home.

15. Go low

With a low the ground coffee table, it’s best to keep the accessorizing short as well, otherwise you risk losing the lowkey appeal of the furniture piece in the first place. The lounge area in Jacquelyn Jablonski’s loft is the perfect example of this, with its short stack of books and small floral arrangement.

16. Choose a piece with storage

Using a piece with closed storage–whether it was intended as a coffee table or not—is another great option for a small space. The wooden table in this Project AZ living space has plenty of room inside, allowing its surface to be devoted to a table centerpiece and not much else.

17. Add candles

“Painting the walls a deep, rich green really changed up the space,” Paige Wassel says. She also removed the old ceiling fan and replaced it with a flush mount light, which made it feel more open and spacious.

Perhaps one of the simplest options for styling a coffee table, candles can set the perfect relaxing mood in even the most cramped of spaces. We love the dramatic red ones in this moody Chicago apartment, and you can have even more fun by selecting glam candle holders or candlesticks to serve as decor accents.

The wide world of decorative accents becomes satisfyingly narrow when we zero in on a theme, and this is no less true for coffee table styling. Image via Pexels.

18. Use an ottoman

In this sitting room, the interior designers layered two shades of green for a cocoon-like effect—Farrow & Ball’s Calke Green and Benjamin Moore’s Vintage Vogue. The curtains and blinds feature Soane Britain’s Qajar stripe fabric. “Curtains are a huge part of English decor. The inclusion of them here is what gives it that layered, comfortable English feeling,” Salvesen Graham says.

Be honest with yourself: If you have side tables and plenty of other room for decor, will you actually be using your coffee table for knickknacks or drinking glasses, or will you in fact be using it as a place to rest your feet? If the latter, go for an ottoman instead. It can really soften the room up, as this Salvesen Graham–designed living room proves.

19. Consider each side

This great room, which was newly renovated after being made into a studio apartment by previous owners, is now a spacious area for the whole family to relax. When designing the interiors, Victoria Sass was inspired to “play with the nostalgia of growing up in the Midwest,” as portrayed through the braided rug from Capel Rugs or the lounge chairs upholstered in Schumacher’s checkered Smithton Weave. The latter, Victoria says, “felt like a new take on a quilt.”

If your coffee table is surrounded by seating on each side, make sure that your decorative items are styled to satisfy viewers at every side. A round table is perfect for a space with a lot of seating, especially when part of that seating is a sectional as in this Minneapolis space designed by Victoria Sass, and multiple small stacks of books can add interest for guests on all sides.

20. Group your items

A Poltrona Frau sofa determines the perimeter of this living room area. Additional modern touches brought into the space through Reda Amalou’s circular varnished coffee and side table play perfectly to the parquet floors and gallery wall.

If you’re concerned about your coffee table decorations looking randomly strewn, group your decorative objects in twos or threes to communicate intentionality, as in this put together pad by Reda Amalou.

21. Leave wiggle room

A colossal custom chaise lounge and sofa in Kirkby Design’s ochre velvet offers maximal seating with a minimal footprint along the walls of this living room, where the couple curl up with their pets and extended family for movie nights. The room’s artwork exemplifies the intentionality with which they collect, and it features a hanging JG Switzer felt tapestry made of merino and shetland wool from Sonoma, California; a Jesse Schlesinger sculpture on the mantle; MyungJin Kim’s terra-cotta piece; and the other half of Hernandez’s Heaven, an eye. The massive sisal rug actually extends through the doorway and across the dining room floor, creating a connection between the spaces separated by interior architecture frames.

For living rooms that tend to serve a lot of purposes—say, a place to study or work from home, a place to have drinks with friends after work, a place to do a puzzle on the weekends—leaving extra empty room on your coffee table will save you stress about clutter in the long run. This home designed by Studio Ahead centers its owners’ unique art collection, so spare styling on the coffee table is the perfect choice to avoid pulling focus.

22. Add poufs

This living room is a treasure trove of time-served gems. The vintage Heywood Wakefield Lounge Chair was sourced via Vintage on Point, while the Dan John Anderson side table is from The Future Perfect. The midcentury sofa, which dates back to Meghan Eisenberg’s grandparents’ ownership of the home, was updated by her with a skirt in 36 Bourne Street’s Burnley Overdye Ticking in olive/black, purchased via Nickey Kehoe. Likewise, the ottomans, originally Meghan’s grandfather’s, were reupholstered in Designs of the Time’s Milma fabric. The Early Barcelona Coffee Table is an original by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Okay, this has less to do with the physical piece of furniture and more to do with its surrounding space, but adding poufs around a coffee table can help make a welcoming atmosphere in your living room, no matter what the table itself looks like. Though we might associate poufs with boho interiors, they can work in sleek modern living rooms too. We love the family heirloom ottomans placed around the coffee table in this midcentury-inspired home by Meghan Eisenberg.

23. Play to your theme

The wide world of decorative accents becomes satisfyingly narrow when we zero in on a theme, and this is no less true for coffee table styling. Natural elements appear throughout this living room by Molly Torres Portnof, so for the coffee table, a large rock adds to that sense of cohesiveness.

This article originally appeared on Clever