5 things stylists always do when styling a coffee table

The experts let us in on their design secrets....

White sofa and wooden coffee table with vases in front of white panelled wall
(Image credit: Future PLC)

We've all seen those perfectly designed flatlays on Instagram. But how do you get your coffee table decor to hit all the right notes, anyway? 

It's time to declutter this living room staple and give it the makeover it deserves. After all, you're going to be seeing and using it everyday so it might as well be as pretty as it is practical.

'The coffee table is always in an open space and will be exposed to a lot of prying eyes, so it’s best to keep that in mind when making your selection for styling,' says Samantha Wilson, Interior Designer and Founder, Collection Noir.

'For me, beautiful books, textured vessels, flowers, foliage, interesting and eye-catching objects and the occasional candle are all must-haves, and make for the perfectly styled coffee table.'

Remember, however, to not forget the practicalities. 'When styling a coffee table, the less is more concept is an important rule to follow,' points out Lou Petersen, Creative Director, dwell. 'Your table needs to make an aesthetic impact within the space, whilst also being functional, so leave plenty of room for necessities such as coasters and coffee cups.'

How to style coffee table decor like the experts

'When it comes to styling coffee tables, firstly, you should consider the overall style of your space,' advises Samantha from Collection Noir.

'If you’ve already adopted a certain aesthetic, for example a light, airy minimalist vibe, or modern living room ideas, then it’s best to maintain those with your coffee table decor.'

1. Placement makes a big difference

Blue living room with white sofa and styled coffee table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

It's not always about what your coffee table decor actually is, but where it is. Take time to work what exactly what's going to go where, and how much usable space you're actually leaving open.

'Placement is key and objects should appear in clusters towards the centre of the table,' says Samantha from Collection Noir. 'Leave space. Remember, your coffee table has a purpose of being functional, so avoid the urge to cram all your favourite possessions onto it, and leave a little space for the champagne glass!'

2. Keep it simple

Living room with styled coffee table, leather chairs and houseplants

(Image credit: Interior Fox)

Less can absolutely be more when it comes to coffee table decor - after all, it rhymes! Keep things chic but being strict with yourself about what's going on display. It's not the place to start leaving things for the sake of it, keep everyday ephemera tucked away in your living room storage ideas

'Our top tip; keep it simple,' agrees Jenna Choate, Co-Founder, Interior Fox. 'Introduce greenery, a favourite scented candle and a small stack of coffee table magazines for a look that feels both stylish and relaxed.'

3. Bring in the books

White living room with gallery wall, beige sofa and coffee table covered in books

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

There's rarely a time when we'd say not to include books as part of your scheme, and this is no different for coffee table decor. The big thing to bear in mind is the type and size of books.

'You should always, always, always include books,' says Samantha from Collection Noir. 'Choose a selection that varies in size, thickness and topic and stack them up. This will help add dimension to your coffee table and provide the base for that all important layering.'

'I'd avoid reading books, opting for beautiful coffee table books instead. These have really stylish covers and are designed to be displayed.'

4. Don't forget to mix it up

White sofa and wooden coffee table with vases in front of white panelled wall

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Don't just stick to one type of object on display if you can help it. A mix of shapes, heights and colours will take your coffee table decor from drab to designed.

'In terms of what to avoid, try not to use too many pieces in the same shape and texture,' says Samantha from Collection Noir. 'They can look quite jarring and make the styling feel heavy.' 

'Where possible, use the rule of three with your accessories,' adds Lou from dwell. 'This can be done by placing books, accessories and items together in groups of three, at varying heights and widths. Smaller details like this will result in an aesthetically pleasing, elevated final look.'

5. Work with a round table

White living room with yellow sofa, artwork, plant and coffee table

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Round and rectangular coffee tables have different needs when it comes to styling. 

'When it comes to styling a round or triangular coffee table decor, you should always start with a focal point of one or maybe two large pieces,' advises Samantha from Collection Noir. 'Vases, sculptural objects, floral arrangements and foliage all make for a great starting point.'

'I would advise against using a tray on a round table, and instead, utilise stacked books with coasters or candles layered on top. You can then place a large vessel next to this with some fresh flowers or foliage for the best effect.'

Thea Babington-Stitt
Assistant Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Assistant Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for nearly 10 years. 

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.