How your coffee table can be the star of your living room

Living room with coffee table
Jennifer Morgan,-Interiors Editor

Transform the humble coffee table from practical homebody to style hero with our easy styling ideas

At the centre of many living rooms, the coffee table can all too easily be overlooked, seen as just a practical, everyday item rather than a creative opportunity. Well, it’s time to think again. Show off your styling skills and let this unsung hero step into the spotlight. 

Before you add something new, though, try taking away a few items. Prime culprits for coffee table clutter are scented candles with any fragrance long gone, plants in need of a little TLC, and piles of old newspapers or magazines. Get in the habit of doing a regular living-room sweep – it will only take a few moments but will help restore a sense of order.

Show off your personality

Treat your coffee table as a snapshot of your home. If you love reading interiors books, then choose a table with a deep shelf below on which you can stack up your favourites – a glass version works well, as it helps the space flow. 

You can display foliage and blooms in small votives or vases. You could also arrange your favourite photos in picture frames – odd numbers often work best. Whatever you choose to place on your coffee table, make sure it can still be utilised when needed, with coasters or an empty tray ready to put drinks on, and of course, somewhere to pop the remote control.

If you’re having trouble making it work, then strip it back – choose just three items. Either go for three the same – such as vases in different shapes – or mix a vase (for height), a coffee-table book and a decorative piece (such as a bowl or photo frame).

Coffee table styling tips

Size matters

Start by measuring the floor area – you need enough space to walk around the table and vacuum or clean easily. Think about shape too: a round or oval table will mean less sharp corners to bump into (particularly advantageous if you have young children), while a low, square design can echo the lines of a modular sofa. Looking for something a bit different? Why not use an upholstered footstool instead of a table.

When arranging accessories on your coffee table, think about the height of the objects. You don’t want to block conversation across the space or even obscure your view of the TV. Choose low and squat when it comes to objects such as vases, and if you want to add height, think tall and thin, that way you’ll be able to see past them. Coffee-table books reveal a little of who you are – or who you’d like to be – so have some fun and choose titles that you love to sit and flick through in moments of calm.

Coffee table styling tips

Avoid the overload

One of the easiest styling tricks for your coffee table is to make it symmetrical, with a central object – like a glass or ceramic bowl – flanked by a pair of vases or lanterns. You can also create balance using similar materials and colours – choosing glass or metallic finishes for decorative pieces rather than mixing helps create a more eclectic vibe.

If your coffee table has a shelf below, then try not to overload it – a few objects rather than loads piled high works best. Remember, your coffee table isn’t a dumping ground – it’s an opportunity to be creative. Look for new shapes coming through for spring, like our soon-to-launch hexagonal wooden design (see above), with its lovely Scandi feel and smooth edges. Here, the plants are mirrored – one on top and one below.

Taking a snap of your table from above is a great way to see if you have the balance right. On a round coffee table, you should be able to see your groupings flow, echoing the shape. You can also see if you need to work in any more textures, such as wood or glass, and how your coffee table works with any rug it sits on.

Coffee table styling tips

Arrange on a tray

When styling your coffee table, a tray is your best friend. It will help contain smaller bits and pieces, making it easy to pull your look together. Choose one that’s in proportion to your table, but don’t be afraid to introduce a new shape, such as a square tray on a rectangular or round table. Working within the confines of your tray will also help prevent your space becoming cluttered – if something doesn’t fit, find somewhere else to display it. A large flat dish can work in the same way, adding a different shape to your scene.

You can also try using a small pile of magazines or coffee-table books in place of a tray. This works brilliantly on glass-topped tables as it adds more ‘weight’ to the look.

Coffee table styling tips

Shake things up

If your coffee table still isn’t working, then perhaps it’s the table itself that’s wrong for the space. Try a nest of three smaller tables grouped together to make an interesting yet flexible centrepoint, swapping a heavy wooden piece for something lighter – such as a glass table or on-trend cane – or adding interest to a corner with a turned pedestal design (big news for spring).

The same styling principles also apply to side tables, so if your living room doesn’t have the space for a large coffee table, then create smaller moments instead.

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