12 Ways To Style A Coffee Table

A coffee table is many things: a place to set your drink, a footrest, somewhere to stash the remote and — of course — a beautiful decorative addition to your living room. Or, at least, it has the potential to be all of these things. Your coffee table can also become a cluttered mess if you aren’t careful, or a drab disappointment if you’re scared to get a little creative. To help you achieve style success, I’ve put together some helpful guidelines with specific situations so you can master the art of decorating a coffee table.

The Rule of 3

As in so many other areas of design, three is a powerful number for styling your coffee table. For any size or shape of table, a collection of three items is pretty much foolproof.

Keep in mind that this “rule” of three is really just a guide, not a strict policy. And sometimes what makes up those three items can be more complicated than it would seem to be.

In the example shown here, the vase is one item, the small covered dish another, and the pair of candlesticks can be considered the third. You could easily count this collection as four pieces (or more if you consider every blossom), but the items still feel like a grouping of three, and add up to an elegant look.

Here, three small clusters of items are spread over a medium-size table. Even though it is technically more than three items, the small groups are spaced out enough to be clear and distinct. This gives the overall table that magic touch: The look is not perfectly symmetrical but not too busy either.

How do you know what items to choose? Here are some great go-to items and tips that can help in any situation.

How to Incorporate the Rule of 3

1. Use books as a base. There are diverse items on this artfully styled coffee table, but the look is still neat and orderly. That’s because the items are given a sense of structure from their placement on stacks of books, once again creating that distinction between three individual groups.

Beautiful books (or other flat items like serving trays or even stylish magazines) are a great base for layering. For the easiest approach, start with three books of roughly the same size, and stack smaller and smaller items on each. You can even use the rule of three again in each subgrouping for more of that design magic.

2. Circles and squares. Books add smart structure, but if every piece is rectangular, the look can feel a little stuffy. This is where the circle comes in. Playing elegant curves against crisp rectangular corners mixes up the look for a classic combination. Try a circular vase, bowl, candle or paperweight either on or between squarer items to break up the lines and add visual interest.

3. Play with heights. Another way to add energy to your coffee table look is by playing with the heights of items. The rule of three can apply here as well. Try to achieve three different heights, using items of different sizes or by stacking them higher.