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How to Style a Coffee Table – 6 Design Approaches

Best Of | Design Tips | Learn How To

A coffee table is typically a large, flat surface that is just begging to be decorated! Whether you use it to display a collection, showcase your heirlooms, display a plant, or tie together all of the colors in your room, how you style a coffee table is important. When seated in a living space, the coffee table becomes a focal point and there’s noting like a beautiful vignette to help set the tone of the room.  So are you ready to learn how to style a coffee table? Let’s talk about:

  • 6 different ways to style a coffee table
  • Examples of each
  • Tips for styling your table at home!
Collage of coffee table images for an article about how to style a coffee table

There are limitless options as to how you can style your table, but I’ve taken some of my favorite examples and categorized them into 6 Style Approaches based on the premise used to create the design.

1. The Four Corners

The premise of this approach is that all four corners of the coffee table are weighted equally so that the entire surface feels balanced. All four corners can be styled differently, but their visual weight is the roughly same. Sometimes, one corner might have a bit more “pop” than the other corners, especially when flowers or another similar organic material are used. There is also sometimes an added element in the center of the table.

Coffee table with items in each of the four corner pink and white flowers and tufted sofa
{via Comfy Home Decor}
Lucite coffee table with books in all corners and white hydrangeas in the center
{via Pinterest}

2. The Contained Grouping

Grouping together a collection of dissimilar items and placing them in a beautiful serving or decorative tray creates cohesion to the display. This type of approach is particularly good if your coffee table has an uneven surface (for example, like that of a tufted ottoman) or if your items don’t show well when placed directly on the surface of the coffee table.

3. Sweet & Simple

This is just as the name implies because sometimes, less is more. Simplicity of design allows us to focus on other elements in the room and also allows for a bit of breathing space.

Plus, depending on how you use your coffee table, this might be the most practical approach! In my home, my son likes to do his homework at the coffee table so I have to keep things simple in order to give him ample room for his papers, books and mounds of eraser dust.

French style family room with chalk painted coffee table with book press on top
via Tidbits&Twine
French country living room rustic coffee table with two flower arrangements on top

4. The Spice of Life

As with any vignette, variety helps to create interest, and styling the coffee table is no exception! A grouping of items with varying heights, textures, and shapes creates a beautiful display.

Tip: Try using something tall (like a vase of flowers), something short (a small sculpture or stack of books), something hard (like glass or ceramic), and something soft (plants, flowers, or another organic material).  When grouped together, the items take on a somewhat organic and undefined shape.

Contemporary white and gold coffee table with seashell lemons books and greenery
{via Pinterest}
Closeup of coffee table with a bowl of lemons stack of books and hydrangeas
{via Pinterest}

5. Long & Linear

Rectangular coffee tables in particular can be styled with beautiful symmetry using a repetition of objects that runs lengthwise. Look for a commonality among the objects used, such as shape or color, so that no one object competes with another.

Closeup of white coffee table with an air plant and small orchid on top
Industrial coffee table with basket centerpiece and pink roses
via Tidbits&Twine

6. The Center of Attention

This approach can be independent of the others or can build off of any of the five previous with the addition of one element that is larger and/or more colorful than the other items.  This item then becomes center of attention!  You can easily use any of the other five approaches for every day use and then add that something extra for holidays, special occasions, or even just because!

Industrial coffee table with urn holding seashell collection and two large candlesticks

Bonus: A Mixed Approach

You can of course mix and match the approaches above to create a unique look!  For example, you could use The Four Corners approach and combine it with The Contained Grouping by using a tray on one of the corners.  Or you could combine Long & Linear with The Center of Attention, as shown below.

Tips for Decorating a Coffee Table

Which approach you choose will depend on:

  • Your decorating style
  • The other elements in the room
  • The amount of functionality you need
  • The items you choose to display

Once you’ve gathered together the key decor items you want to display on your coffee table, decide which approach is best for you and then see if you need any other “filler” items, like books, candles, or small accessories.  And remember, an easy way to change up the look of a room and give it a fresh feel is to simply change out your coffee table decor!

Which approach do you use in your home?

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15 Comments

  1. Our coffee table is an ottoman that often have feet propped up or dogs napping on it! But we do have a antique French style card table in our main room where I put vignettes. I look forward to applying your lessons for fresh ideas to that table top!

  2. Linda Ann Lundy says:

    All great ideas but I have a round coffee table with a center glass insert and wood edging. Any suggestions for that?

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi! Sweet and Simple is perfect for a round table! One display (or circular grouping) right in the center.

      :)Kim

  3. Jacqueline Lange says:

    Can you provide a simple, organic display for a 3′ X 4′ metal coffee table. I want it to look clean.
    Thank you.

  4. Where is the coffee table in #3 Sweet and Simple from? I’ve been looking for one exactly like that.

  5. Great inspiration for coffee table styling, Kim. I like the Four Corner, but I always feel like it looks like I just put things down temporarily and forgot to come back for them! Also love the Sweet and Simple styling. That is the one I tend to go with.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Lol! I suppose the Four Corner does seem like a casual approach. :)

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Thank you! So glad you liked it!

  6. I really appreciated this post. I just bought a new coffee table, rectangular, and have been fiddling and tweaking! I like the one you’ve shown with the tray in the center and books on each side. I’ve noticed that the current trend seems to have things lined up and very straight…nothing on an angles unless in a tray. I really like that.

    Thank you so much!

    XO,
    Jane

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Jane! I like that photo, too! Enjoy fiddling and tweaking! :) Kim

  7. Although styling vignettes is my favorite thing to do, I always struggle with my square coffee table in our somewhat formal living room. Have lately just done sweet and simple with a huge pottery dish that we throw mail into. This helps a ton! Especially the four corners approach. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Suzi! I’m so glad you found this post helpful! Please be sure to let me know how it works out trying the four corners approach. :)

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