best ofInteriorssneak peeks

10 Fantastically Styled Coffee Tables

by Amy Azzarito

Lately, my coffee table has been bugging me. (I know. Design blogger problems.) But seriously, I had the requisite stacks of design books, a small John Derian tray, and some random vintage objects. It took me a minute to realize that what I needed was a large tray to corral everything on the table. I just ordered this lucite tray from CB2, which will hopefully take care of coffee table woes. As I searched through our sneak peek archives for some coffee table done right, I noted some lessons behind what makes a well-styled coffee table. Check over my list and let me know, if I missed any of your favorite coffee table styling tips. –Amy

Coffee Table Styling Lessons

  • Use natural objects for a sculptural element
  • Play with the height of the objects – bring in vases or candles
  • Use stacks of books!
  • Use a tray to corral all the objects on the table

Image above: Editor of Real Living Magazine, Deborah Bibby , uses her large, square timber coffee table to display items from her travels.  The coral was purchased at Lord Howe Island, Australia, the hide drink coasters from Africa, a smooth stone collected from a riverbed in Kangaroo Valley, Australia, and some favorite books books — African Visions by Mirella Ricciardi; Peter Lindbergh’s photography, and Flair by Fleur Cowles. See all the photos of Deborah’s eclectic home here.

Image above: Jon and Nina Hans use their coffee to display items that are a reflection of their shared interests. Neat stacks of books always make for a great visual display. See all the photos of their LA home here.

See more stylish coffee tables right here.

Image above: Roséline Lohr, founder and editor in chief of This is Glamorous, fills her home in Edinburgh, Scotland frequently highlights her coffee table display with flowers are from her favorite flower shop. See all the photos of her home right here.

Image above: Morgane of Les Composantes uses a silver candelabra to add some height to collection of photography books. See all the photos of her Paris home here.

Image above: Amy and Erich McVey use natural element to add color to their coffee table display. The postcards on the table were used in lieu of a guestbook on their wedding day and are filled with messages from their family and friends. The couple built this coffee table using wood they found in a barn on Amy’s grandparent’s hazelnut farm. See all the photos from their Salem, Oregon home here.

Image above: A mix of natural elements, favorite magazines and books on the coffee table in this Catskills vacation home. See all the images from this modern vacation get-away here.

Image above: Favorite objects, flowers and books add visual interests to Naomi Stein’s glass coffee table. See all the photos from her modern bohemian glamour home here.

Image above: The collection of vintage pool balls on the ottoman coffee table adds some visual height to the display. See all the photos from this Santa Cruz home here.

Image above: Silver trays keep the objects on this living room ottoman organized. See all the photos of this sophisticated San Francisco home here.

Image above: Natural objects hightlight the rustic wood coffee table in Jennifer Sarkilahit of Odette’s home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. See all the photos here.

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  • So beautiful! A great collection of advice and images. A delight, as always, to read!

    I am distracted, however, by the book cover on the table in the first image. Without further inspection or research, the “African Visions” book cover is embedded with exploitative/colonial/racialized, imagery. To me it is disturbing, and distracts from the beauty of that coffee table, and the wonderful post in general.

    Upon further research, I understand more of the book and the photographer whose image we see on this book cover, BUT I love your blog, own your book, and am a huge fan…and felt I had to express my first reaction to the photo.

    Please think about it, and please do not consider this an attack on the owner of the book. Only an initial reaction to the image of the book cover itself.

    Thank you for listening, Design*Sponge!

  • That’s why the expression, “You can’t tell a book by it’s cover” exists. Always best to reserve judgment, especially on something as personal as book collections.
    As always, a delightful assemblage of ideas!

  • Lovely photographs as always, but I, like Shoshana above, was so annoyed by the “African Visions” book cover that I couldn’t really focus on the post.

  • My comment is more of a question, actually. (I’d like to hear some thoughts from members of the DS community.): how do you style a coffee table so that it’s simultaneously functional/practical AND aesthetically pleasing? Do you just have accept that your coffee table no longer can be a place for magazines or coasters or tissues? Admittedly, that useful stuff ain’t so pretty, so maybe it needs to be tucked away in a drawer anyway.

    • Hi Jenny! I keep my coffee table fairly styled and then when I need to use it as a place for an impromptu meal, I just clear everything off. I think this is one of the reasons that I love the tray organizing method – it makes it easier to take everything off. I do have some beautiful coasters on my coffee table that I keep out. I usually only leave magazines on the coffee table for a short time. I learned from Grace to be a fairly ruthless magazine reader – I rip out any photos or articles that I like and then recycle the magazine and I don’t keep tissues out unless I’m sick. :) But I do keep a little space clear so that I can put my feet up when I’m working – like right now! xoAmy

  • I agree with the Wise Hummingbird comment — for the last several years we have been living with a completely bare coffee table, (un)decorated in the style we like to call Toddler Minimalism. Someday . . . !

  • I so appreciate posts like this- I love to apply styling tips to events that I work on (like bridal showers and small weddings), and thus far I’ve had difficulty finding any “Prop Styling 101” books…
    On another note, I would also like to hear people’s thoughts on styling for function- I’m desperately trying to sell our bistro table so that we can make a switch to a tulip table that can serve as part coffee table, dining table, and desk in our tiny apartment. I’d probably have to trace shapes on the table so that my husband remembers where is laptop is allowed to be placed… #ocd.

  • Funny how none of these have coffee on them! My coffee table is very small, circular G plan, originally from a nest of tables, just space for two cups on a straw mat.

  • I’m with Amy Azzarito. The ‘tray’ organising method. I have a medan bench similar to the Nelson Bench, long and narrow and I wanted something decorative to reflect the rest of the room but still allowed for it to function as a coffee table (it can also be used as a bench for additional seating). The tray option is perfect, I can have a few of my fav little bits on it, and when lazy it stores the remotes yet it’s all easily moved out the way if needed. There are some great looking trays about and even if you can’t find the one you want or to match perfectly, it gives you a nice creative project to do, making or decorating your own.

  • @Sarina V, I know it’s such a struggle. We were sans coffee table for 2 years. I have this great mid century modern wooden table. We brought it back up from the basement about 9 months ago, and covered it with a table cloth (for fear the kids would rough house and knock their heads on the corner.) Now, I have begun to claim back my living room. I set out my Kosta Boda bowls and a few photography art books. We’ll see what happens. Thanks for the inspiration Design Sponge!

  • We actually use our coffee table every single day, so personally I think styling it like a shelter mag photog is going to walk in your house at any second of any day is a waste of time. We do have a large round tray that holds remotes, magazines or books, (anything that’s on the table) and a little basket on the tray for small items like guitar picks. I will style the coffee table when having guests and I want the place to look nice, but it’s just not practical for our personal every day use. My husband likes to plop down on the floor and use it as his desk most of the time. Though I do enjoy looking at these nicely styled coffee tables.

  • GREAT post- my husband hates when I style our coffee table- he wants to put his feet on it and knocks things over- philistine!!
    Is there a similar post about fireplace mantles?

    • Hi Erin –
      I’ll do a post on fireplace mantles as soon as we get a wee bit closer to fireplace weather (for which, I can’t wait!) xoAmy

  • These coffee tables look pretty, sure, but they are a tad too “styled.” Function is the fashion and form follows.

  • I always have the same problem with (the majority of) interior design – looks great. Looks beyond great, it look breathtaking, but… I imagine myself living in those spaces and UGH. They’re not exactly cluttered as much as… Not designed for living.

  • i love the fact that a coffee can be an ever changing arrangement of things you love, be it books, flowers, collections or seasonal displays.