Styling a Coffee Table

Styling a Coffee Table

Using décor to make a table pop.

Consider placing coffee table items on a tray, like this one from the Nest Egg, says Interior Designer Susan Tucker.

Consider placing coffee table items on a tray, like this one from the Nest Egg, says Interior Designer Susan Tucker. Photo courtesy of the Nest Egg


Books add visual interest and can provide topics of conversation when displayed on a coffee table.

There’s an art to designing a living room coffee table, says local interior designer Susan Tucker. In fact, when she’s helping a client create a living room space, she pays particular attention to creating a stylish and functional table.

“It seems like such a small thing, but when designed the right way, a coffee table can become the focal point of a room and really make it pop,” she said. “I believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to put together a coffee table, but it’s not hard if you keep certain things in mind.”

Vary the height and scale so that each item can shine on its own. “If everything is the same height, none of them will be noticed,” said Tucker. “Think a pretty vase of flowers behind a small porcelain bowl.”

Work to create balance between small and large items, says Alexandria, Virginia-based designer Steven Gambit. “For example, a smattering of small knick-knacks can look cluttered on a coffee table,” he said. “Along the same lines, too many large items on a coffee table can be overpowering. Instead select a few items and group them together by size.”

Change items as the seasons or holidays change. “As spring approaches, consider adding a small bouquet of fresh or silk spring flowers,” said Tucker. “If you celebrate Easter, consider Easter décor, like a bunny or a basket with eggs. I picked up some elegant Easter items at a local home accessories store last spring. One or two simple items can breathe fresh life in a table design.”

Choose items with colors that are found in other places in a room’s design. “If you have a painting with bright colors, for example, choose one of the colors and find an item in the same color to add to your coffee table. If you have throw pillows in interesting colors, considering using one of those colors on your coffee table.”

Consider only decorating one section of the coffee table, especially if the table is large. “It’s a good idea to leave some space free, especially if you entertain a lot,” said Gambit. “Your guests will need a place to put a drink. Don’t feel compelled to fill every inch of space.”

A serving tray can serve two purposes on a coffee table, says Gambit. “An elegant serving tray can make a dramatic statement on a coffee table, and can give a table some structure, especially if it’s holding smaller items,” he said. “If you need to clear the coffee table quickly, like if you’re entertaining, a tray makes it easy.”

Think about what the items on the coffee table will look from different places in the room, suggests Tucker. “Stand over your coffee table and get a sense of what the objects look like gazing down at it,” she said. “Sit across the room from it. Can the items be seen fully or are the most appealing parts of an item obstructed? I generally discourage clients from putting picture frames on a coffee table because you can’t see the main attraction — the photo — from behind.”

Be practical and sentimental. “Because people tend to gather around coffee tables, don’t put a breakable family heirloom or an expensive piece on them,” said Gambit. “Coffee table books are a good idea because they can be topics of conversation. You can use a coffee table to display things that represent a part of your personality, lifestyle or a hobby.”