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How to Style a Coffee Table

Modern transitional office living room of Houston residential interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.

Have you ever flipped through your favorite design magazines, wondering how to get your coffee table to look casually curated, functional yet beautiful? We thought we would dive into how we style different sized tables, and how we like to layer objects with scale and beauty in mind! Keep reading to see how Nancy, our principal designer, walks you through her favorite flow for styling a coffee table.


Yes, if you're humming that song by Meghan Trainor in your head right now, you'll know that's where my head was too when I came up with a way to explain my first tip for styling a great coffee's all about the base. While I'm not saying you absolutely need a new coffee table, I will say that investing in one with the right scale and shape plus a great look can be a simple and affordable way to change up your room without breaking the bank.


To start styling, break down the area of your coffee table into sections. For me, it comes down to the shape of your coffee table.

For a round table, I usually start with 1-2 groupings. For instance, use a stack of books and a small decorative object on top to add height as well plus a medium size candle or small potted plant or vase. For a square table, we'll start with 3-4 groupings while rectangular tables often garner 3-6 groupings (you read that right...I've done up to six on a really large table).

Glimpse of large rectangular coffee table styled to perfection in a modern traditional living room by Houston residential interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.


One tip from the practical side of my brain: try not to use collectible, dainty things for the coffee table. Placing breakable or heirloom pieces on shelves out of reach of energetic kids or animals is always a good rule of thumb.

I always love to start with a big stack of coffee table books - they are great for volume and adding height underneath objects, but also give you a chance, as the homeowner, to showcase your personality, your humor, and your interests. Then add objects like bowls, candles, or live plants next to or on top of the books to build height and scale as needed. Chess sets or other games like dominoes in an attractive decorative box or bowl are other NLI favs.

Don't be afraid to take a tip from your kitchen and use a tray. Yes, it's true. I love using decorative trays on coffee tables. They help define a grouping, especially when you are using multiple stacks of books. For clients who have multiple remote controls and gadgets galore, I'll use a tray and/or decorative box with a lid to keep them contained and easily found. How's that for clutter control?

Another layering love is to use smaller frames, in either 4"x 6" or 5"x 7"sizes, of more candid family shots that jog a fond memory on the coffee table. I like to lean one up against a vase or stack of books (if the scale is right) instead of having it stand on its own for an unexpected styling moment. You're more likely to catch a glimpse of that photo on a regular basis than you might of a photo up on a shelf, so make it a special memory you can smile about every time you see it!

Another favorite styling item that has really caught on and wooden beads. They are awesome for adding color and texture while also breaking up the shapes we've already discussed above!


The photo below is a great example of utilizing the space underneath a very large coffee table for a styling moment. In this space, the coffee table is large enough to function as a game table, so it made sense to take a collection of leather poufs and store them underneath!

Otherwise, you can use under-table space to store boxes or baskets filled games to play or keep kids toys close but contained. You could even use this often underutilized space to store extra blankets and pillows in baskets!

Modern twist on traditional in this Houston area family room by residential interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.

If you need a kickstart to your own coffee table styling, have a look at the collection below for inspiration items you can buy to implement the tips above. Then send over a photo via Instagram to show off your new coffee table top!! I'd love to see it!

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