How to Style a Coffee Table



Much has been written about the topic of how to style a coffee table. It’s generally the largest flat piece of furniture in the room. We find a table that we like and we get it home and all of a sudden there’s this large expanse of brown, or white or glass or something and now what? So, don’t panic.! Staging a table is a bit like picking out just the right jewelry to go with the dress that you’re wearing to your second husband’s niece’s wedding on the other side of the family. But fortunately, there have been many who have paved the way for us… so, let’s start with one of the masters of interior design, Phoebe Howard. Phoebe did an article for Southern Living Mag a couple of years ago and her advice is exceptionally good, I think.

how to style a coffee table

 Below is a room that I did last year and actually, it wasn’t quite finished yet, when I took this, but I wanted to enter the World’s away contest again as this is one of their coffee tables. The art work is now up and the last couple of pieces of furniture will be coming soon. The items on the table were a combo of some things I brought and items the client had. And yeah… the orchid is from Home Goods! I love the way this one turned out. My client wanted the yellow box, but unfortunately, the vendor, Bungalow 5 doesn’t make them any longer.

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Pound Ridge Living Room



Here is a fun, young, modern vignette by the very lovely and talented Emily Henderson who beat out a bunch of other people on HGTV for her styling talents, and very well-deserved! She has her own very cool blog which you can find here.


I don’t know who did this and I can’t say that I’m a fan of the table and I HAD to crop out the [hideous] base, but I wanted to show at least one example of a round table and well-styled round tables are not easy to find! Round tables are a bit trickier in that they are well… round. However, the basic principles hold true. But one more thing. I think that round tables need to have incorporated other round things; not everything, but there needs to be some roundness and that is very well done in this vignette, above. BTW… It’s not easy finding a wonderful round table!

Bedford Living Room

Bedford Living Room

The table above is also from World’s away and  from a living room that I did a couple of years ago. You can read more about that here. (if you’re bored. haha!) The client purchased the ming ginger jar from me and I brought over my gold lotus votives to stage the table.


I have long been a fan of Ruthie Sommers who did the room above. She is known for her Hollywood Regency influenced interiors with touches of Boho and classical elements mixed in. She loves to play with color in daring ways. I admire that a lot.


Books. Hydrangeas and a glass sphere. perfect!


Steven Gambrel perfection. His coffee tables are sublime as are all his designs.

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Another room from my portfolio. I usually show up for my photo shoots with some things, but this wonderful client has lots of great stuff and I knew that she’d have lots to work with. She also helped me use my camera for the first time! Thank you Peggy!



This is the family room from the same home as above. I love how this photo turned out. Beginners luck!



via pinterest

Lots of my clients love ottomans instead of a coffee table (but not usually white!) and of course, they use trays when they want to put things on the ottoman.


I’m kinda in love with this huge but low tufted ottoman. Great room by John Minshaw!


See? Sometimes all one needs is a great pair of antique gold coffee tables, a fabulous bouquet of fresh flowers and gorgeous books! And that someone is Lee Radziwill.



Mark Sikes who I believe coined the term “new traditional.”  Very stylish, chic and classic. LOVE!


I saved the best for last. I didn’t put two and three together until recently, but my wonderful friend, Loi Thai actually played a  part in designing this room which was principally done by the amazing Frank Babb Randolph.

The photo above, however, is Loi’s and you can read more about it in this wonderful blog post from last June and see how it all ties together. There are many, many gorgeous images from this incredibly beautiful room! Those screens. Those screens!!! However, the styling of the coffee table is absolutely sublime. Remember that you cannot go wrong with like with like and tone on tone!


And here is the original cover shot from Veranda Magazine with a variation on the table scheme which I also love. I’m a sucker for hydrangeas. Notice how many of these images have them! :]

And there it is…


5th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2018 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Christina - November 27, 2016 - 9:08 PM

    I get that putting lots of stuff on coffee tables is de rigeur but what if your coffee table is a hand-carved antique opium table from China? Is it then all right to leave 90% of it clear so the carving is visible?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 27, 2016 - 9:32 PM

      Hi Christina,

      Sounds fabulous. I agree. I wouldn’t put a lot of stuff on it. I’d maybe put one large gorgeous vase on it. There’s a photo in my portfolio with a large opium table. (not carved) The client had the glass vase. I think it looks so nice there. But it could be a chinoiserie vase too.


  • Judith Ford - May 25, 2016 - 2:46 PM

    Beautiful, practical suggestions. Looking forward to more ideas about decorating with books!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - November 5, 2015 - 5:11 PM

    Hi there,

    The first coffee table photographed for this post (3 in thick white stone top with rosewood-looking parson base and silver feet) is super chic. Could you pls share who makes it?

    Thank you!

  • Christine - July 19, 2015 - 3:08 AM

    Ok all lovely but with the exception of a very few, not many of these could be incorporated into a house with young children. The table I love with the no longer produced Yellow box was my favorite because i could use that box or something similar to catalog the spiraling collection of xbox games. I have ottomans everywhere because we like sit sit watch a movie, or even read in a horribly slouched position with feet up that would have Emily Post pirouetting in her grave.

    What do you think of the idea of a two tiered table where real living items exist above or below the artistic pieces as shown in your post?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 19, 2015 - 10:01 AM

      Oh Christine,
      I feel for you. We had great success by chaining our two little beasts to the sofa. haha. No seriously. We didn’t even have a coffee table until they were 11 and 7!

      I’ve done many two tiered coffee tables. You do whatever you need to do to maintain equilibrium. That comes above all else. What is a pretty home if its inhabitants are miserable? Enjoy these days. It goes so fast.ReplyCancel

  • Loi Thai Tone on Tone - January 25, 2014 - 12:53 PM

    Laurel you are spoiling me 🙂 Merci!!! Love your coffee tablescapes!!! Can’t go wrong with books.
    Stay warm – it is frigid here in DC.ReplyCancel