Design Room Swoon:

How I Style My Coffee Table

Words by Sacha Strebe.

How I Style My Coffee Table
How I Style My Coffee Table

As is the case for any room or space you design, the same rules apply: employ contrast and cohesion, pair opposing objects in different eras, unite soft and hard surfaces, and layer colors and patina. Of course, feel free to break the rules too, as long as you follow your gut and let your eye (and your heart) lead the way, you’ll never be led astray. But when it comes to coffee table décor, patience is a virtue.

Don’t feel rushed to finalize the design or you’ll make hasty decisions that often result in a composition that’s pretty but not entirely personal. The key is to exercise restraint, get clear on what you’re looking to achieve, and only purchase something that really speaks to you. Find joy in the hunt for pieces that excite you as you cultivate your inner vision

Still not sure where to begin? Watch the video above of Athena styling her coffee table in Amagansett and keep reading for our tips on how to decorate a coffee table—then shop some of our favorite pieces to craft your dream design. 

How I Style My Coffee Table
How I Style My Coffee Table

Create a Focal Point

Once you’ve curated a collection of coffee table décor that speaks to your space and style, now you can start to play around and arrange them on the surface. The first thing to consider is creating a focal point. This is typically the object in your grouping that is more of a statement piece. On Athena’s Brooklyn coffee table, it’s the striking female carving in green stone that sets the tone for everything else to follow. It also creates height and scale which we touch on below. 

Consider Scale and Negative Space 

Just as they do in a room, the vignettes on your coffee table should tell a story and form a narrative in their grouping. Object placement is key as is creating negative space between objects to provide breathing room that allows each piece to shine and feel additive to the overall arrangement. Recognize what can stand alone and what needs friends. You’ll quickly notice as you start to play around with your collection that some objects are happiest alone while others feel unmoored if they aren’t tethered to something.  

Group Objects of Varying Heights 

In addition to color, texture, age, form, and tonality, always offer vertical interest when styling your coffee table. Just like your furniture, you never want your objects to be on the same plane. The goal is to arrest the senses, to create visual appeal that draws your eyes around the table and beckons you to linger. By uniting pieces at different heights you set the stage for this reaction, drawing people in for a closer look. 

Don’t Forget Sentimentality

Every piece on your coffee table should garner an emotional response. If you don’t feel moved by objects you’ve curated, then the resulting look will render formulaic over personal. Seek out pieces with sentimental qualities that speak to your story, style, home. This will create a highly intimate and heartfelt space that has depth and soul.  

Edit, Edit, and Edit Again

When you’ve played around with different groupings and arrangements, and you feel happy with the overall look, stand back or even walk away from it, then return with fresh eyes. Where do your eyes land? Focus your gaze on the pieces you’ve chosen to display and record how you feel. It’s always a good idea to take a photo of the final setup to see how it translates through a lens. This helps you to make those micro-adjustments and tweaks to ensure a truly dreamy coffee table design. Your coffee table is in a continual state of evolution and will most likely change constantly as you rotate pieces in and out. So, don’t be afraid to edit, remove pieces, or rearrange them—this is all part of the process and the fun of decorating.

Shop Our Favorite Coffee Table Décor:

Add stylish verticality with unique vintage candlesticks.

Always have a match handy to light a candle or incense that sets the mood.

Infuse color and depth with artisanal objects.

Bowls look pretty but are practical too for storing things that are necessary but might look out of place on their own. 

If you invest in a stylish taper candleholder, it burns bright even without a candle. 

While practical, bowls can also be beautiful on their own. 

Natural materials are always at home on a coffee table. We can’t get enough of viola calacatta. 

A vintage vessel brings character along with a stylish home for one of our favorite styling tools: branches. 

Burn sacred palo santo in this beautiful handmade bowl to set the tone.

Black adds unexpected contrast in amongst neutrals.

Bring in a pop of color that creates juxtaposition but is still subdued enough to meld among the others. 

Differ the heights of your objects to create visual intrigue.

It looks beautiful when it’s not burning. Be sure to choose sustainably sourced varieties like this bundle from Peru that are made using ethically harvested Palo Santo and earth-friendly processes.

Always bring in pieces that add texture and depth to your arrangement. 

Candles are décor too, case in point, this beautiful vessel from Loewe.

You can’t go wrong with antiques, especially if they’re carved out of marble like this stunning mortar.

Add a sculptural quality with shapely pieces.

Put a candle or stylish bowl on top of your favorite design books.

This one is a classic coffee table tome. 

We couldn’t curate our favorite coffee table books without including Athena’s best-seller. 

Expand your design knowledge by investing in books by various interior designers and architects. 

Artists are a constant source of inspiration for designers and De Kooning is one of our favorite abstract expressionists who reinvented portraiture within abstraction.

Instead of one statement piece, opt for a trilogy that creates a unique stylish arrangement in your living room.

Marble never fails to inject visual beauty that draws in the eye. This one brings all the flavor.

This plinth-style coffee table makes a stylish statement in one of our favorite marble: Viola Calacatta. 

This timber beauty has been created from salvaged and repurposed materials. We love the organic lines and natural grain.

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