How To Style A Coffee Table and How Not To



Hi Everyone,

We’re taking a break from the kitchen and bath show to discuss how to style a coffee table.

However, if you missed the first two parts of the kitchen and bath show KBIS 2019, please click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

Before we get into how to style a coffee table, I think it would make sense to discuss THE coffee table a little, first. Just a little review.

Here is one of my favorite posts that pairs about 20 coffee tables and sofas.


Of course, when we are talking about how to style a coffee table, we need to consider its shape.

There are Six basic shapes of coffee tables.


  • Square – Square coffee tables are great for larger rooms
  • Round – Round tables are great for a conversational grouping
  • Rectangular – the most common can go anywhere, what the variable is, is the size
  • Hexagonal or Octagonal – pretty much interchangeable with round
  • Oval – With the exception of Barbara Barry, mid-century modern, and some neo-classical versions, oval coffee tables are not my cup of Darjeeling. Most of the time, they are ersatz Victorian; meaning full of frills.
  • Amorphous or other shapes –  Amorphous could be a piece of driftwood and other shapes could be a classic mid-century boomerang.


What is the difference between a cocktail table and a coffee table, Laurel?


Well, one you sit around drinking cocktails and the other you sit around drinking coffee.

Oh, I don’t know. haha. I believe the terms are interchangeable like side table and end table. But, please correct me if I’m wrong.

If pressed, perhaps a coffee table is hunkier than a more formal, refined cocktail table?

And, then, there are tea tables; they are different.


Is it because they are for sitting around and drinking tea, Laurel?

haha. touché !

A tea-table is different from a coffee table in that it’s taller than its coffee table cousin, but not as tall as a dining table which is usually around 30″.

Coffee tables generally run between 15″-20″ high.  However, I have seen some as tall as 22″ and as low as 12.”

However, a tea height table is usually around 24″-26″


Darryl Carter pale living room with tea tableDarryl Carter living room with what looks like a Queen Anne tea-table. Quite frankly, while I ADORE DARRYL’S work, this room doesn’t look finished.

Yes, Darryl’s designs are carefully edited; however, this to me, looks like “What do you mean the furniture hasn’t arrived yet? I have a camera crew and stylist waiting outside in a van and the meter is ticking! AND, it’s for Architectural Digest, so you better come up with something!”


But still, I love the architecture and the direction this room is going in.


And, I might be totally off the beam. It’s just that I don’t think I’d put a Gustavian bench in the middle of my seating area. It looks like it should be against the wall and maybe in a foyer.


rod-collins-furlow-gatewood- white ceiling fan

photo: Rod Collins

Another tea-table in an oft-seen room by Furlow Gatewood. The best designer no one’s ever heard of. (Well, many more have by now.) For much more of Furlow, click here.

via veranda mag-tea table styling-Furlow-Gatewood-living-roomThis is the room from the other direction via Veranda Mag


traditional living room designed by LBI - 2000 - tea tables - Brunschwig and Fils

Above are two tea tables used in a room I designed in 2000! It was in the December 2004 issue of Better Homes & Gardens. This is not my styling! But, I like what they did. There’s more of this home here.

I’ve probably said this before, but tea tables if small enough are often interchangeable with end or side tables.

Let’s begin with the basic principles of how to style a coffee table.


Phoebe did an article for Southern Living Mag a while back and her advice is exceptionally good, I think.


how to style a coffee tablePhoebe Howard. Below is a better image of the table.

how to style a coffee table - via southernliving.com_Phoebe Howard - coffee table styling

This is a perfectly styled rectangular table. Phoebe uses the rule of thirds and she has a balanced symmetry flanking the center plant.



This is from the Bronxville home I did 5-6 years ago. I think I’m a little off in the composition. At least from this angle.


Before we move on, let’s go over a few things not to do when styling a coffee table


not good coffee table styling

Well, just about everything in this room is what not to do– starting with the tacky polyester cheesy looking curtains. The table is neither here nor there in its styling. Please don’t call it transitional. Or if it is, hopefully it’s transitioning into firewood. Sorry, but it’s a clunky mess, IMO.


Here’s what’s wrong with the coffee table styling.


the composition is lacking, plunked in the center and there’s the stack of books on an angle.

I know. I know… Lots of you do it. It’s just like the artwork that’s placed on the diagonal. You will never see an A or even a B, C, D list interior designer put art on the diagonal or books, boxes and other objects on an angle. That is unless it’s an open book meant to look like someone just set it down quickly and went to go make a sandwich or something.

To rescue this I would take the two taller books on the bottom shelf and set them on the other side of the bowl of whatever that is. Then, I would get something sculptural to set on top of the books.

Then, I would straighten out the books on the right and center the basket on the bottom shelf.

Coffee Tables : Beautiful Inspiration 6 Boho Chic Living Room for Boho Coffee Tables -

Menter Architects

This one is nice, I think except it seems that it’s a little off-center. I could be wrong, however. It is possible that the image is a little distorted. We’ll just say that it is, for now.


family room - how to style a coffee table - design LBIIt’s not that easy. My room that I did ten years ago! And it bugs me so much that the fruit bowl should be more in the corner. Oh well. Nothing is perfect. And over-all, I love how this family room turned out.


This is the sunroom from the home above that we did in 2010. The coffee table isn’t really warped. It’s just lens distortion from the camera, which I could fix but well… I’m trying to loosen up a little. lol!!! Here, I just used whatever my client had. We had fun putting it all together.


Mark D Sikes, handsome den with black or navy walls and persepolis fabric on sofa

Mark D Sikes above and below always gets it just right.


Above is for his Southern Living Showhouse. To see more of this gorgeous room click here.


Another beauty by Mark D. Sikes. I recommend checking out his portfolio. His work is always exquisite!


However, if you love the MDS look, but don’t have the funds–


please check out this post about how to get the look for less.


Below is a room that I did in 2013. The items on the table were a combo of some things I brought over and items the client had. The faux 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.


LBI - living room - coffee table style - walls - Benjamin Moore Cotton Balls



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.


William McLure - instagram - perfect coffee table styling - how to style a coffee table

Another beauty I swiped off William McLure’s instagram. He did the painting too. His home is an ever changing gallery of awesome design. Amazing talent and he’s only in his early 30s! For more William, click here.


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!


Georgie-Abay - photo - Jacqui Turk - the interiors attic blog - how to style a round coffee table

Georgie-Abay – photo – Jacqui Turk – the interiors attic blog

Nicely styled round table.


via Laura Trevey - home tour - Angela Elliot Interiors - Round Coffee-Table-Styling-Ideas

via Laura Trevey – home tour – Angela Elliot Interiors – Excellent job of styling a round coffee table.

I realize that some of you don’t like books on coffee tables. That’s fine. But please don’t make the rest of us feel badly. I’m mad about books on tables. I think that they are the basis for all great styling for most tables.


Many people have asked me about this coffee table. Sorry, I don’t know where it’s from and I don’t know the original source, either. Elle Decor republished it giving me credit. I did not correct them. haha.  Looking closely, I think it could use a couple of books in the middle on the left, but over-all I love it. I adore trays on coffee tables.


Here is a room I did a few years ago. (link below to the rest of the house) I brought over the tray and the glass vase. The dried hydrangeas were in the client’s house in another vase, so I swapped them out for the photo. They’re a little tall and big. I think that a beautiful orchid would’ve been better.


This is the small family room from the same home. You can see the rest of it here. I love how the club chairs turned out. They were quite ratty and brown and I had them reupholstered in that wonderful stripe. We reupholstered the sofa too.


chappaqua-family-room-laurel-bern-interiors-how to style a coffee table

please pin to your pinterest boards for reference.

Actually, I believe it’s more like 25, but better to over-deliver, I always say!



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.


coffee table styling via One Kings Lane - ottoman coffee table styling

Another favorite room found on One Kings Lane. I love everything about it!


original source unknown - how to style a coffee table

Books. Hydrangeas and a glass sphere. perfect coffee table styling!


Sorry, I don’t know the original source. If you do, please let me know and I’ll add it in.

By the way, a lot of the items used for styling are the same ones we use for the fireplace mantel decor that we recently saw in this post.

And, there are a lot of great ideas for styling in this post about colorful vignettes.



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



Another beautiful coffee table vignette by Mark D Sikes  from his first book, I believe.



 Loi Thai collaborated with  Frank Babb Randolph for a room of sublime beauty.

The photo above, however, is Loi’s and you can read more about it in this wonderful blog post from a while back 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 also sublime. 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! :]

I hope that you enjoyed all of these examples of great coffee table styling and some that’s lacking. Most of mine are, a little. But, I think I would do a better job now.

Happy March! Can’t wait for spring, but it’s still very much winter in the northeast.



PS: Please check out the newly updated and curated hot sales!


  • Jane - March 18, 2019 - 4:27 AM

    Thank you Laurel, that or custom build I guess…ReplyCancel

  • Deirdre - March 15, 2019 - 8:47 PM

    Hi Laurel, thank you for all of your work on the blog, it is such a great resource! I am wondering about styling a coffee table with books. None of the pictures you used seemed to follow a pattern. Some books are facing one way, while others are facing a different direction, all on the same table. Do you know of a good rule of thumb for that? Thank you so much!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 16, 2019 - 1:14 PM

      Hi Deirdre,

      At the moment, I can’t think of a good rule of thumb for which direction the books should face. I guess it’s a matter of artistic license and what one finds most pleasing.ReplyCancel

  • Bee Healthy - March 8, 2019 - 5:33 PM

    I am always late to the party. Sorry. I saw several comments asking what to do about space for drinks/snacks when company comes. After years of laboriously moving all the ‘styling’ out of the way, here’s what I do now: our coffee table is two tier with the bottom tier a cast iron grid. On top of the table are two trays with books, candles, etc.. I don’t normally store anything on the bottom tier so that I can easily move the trays from the top to the bottom tier when necessary. Even though one of the ‘rules’ is to have something tall on the table, I’ve found that interferes with conversation so there is nothing on top of the table that won’t fit under it. I create height differences in other ways. Another rule I break (sacrilege, I know!) is to never put something on top of the stack of books because they’re there to be perused and I want them easy to access.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 8, 2019 - 6:23 PM

      Actually, Bee, my rule is that “there are no rules.” Well, no hard-fast rule. But I like they way you think. As for putting a little box or shell or something on top of a book, I think it’s a lot like leaning paintings against the wall. You either like it or you don’t. And I also think that things shouldn’t feel so precious that folks are afraid to touch anything. I think sometimes we do stuff more for show than anything. It depends on the room and how it’s used and how often.ReplyCancel

  • Jane - March 6, 2019 - 11:20 AM

    Hello Laurel,
    Great post as always. I have a question about tea tables. Most of the ones I can find are more classic looking. Would you be able to recommend some suppliers of contemporary tea tables?
    Thank you,

    • Laurel Bern - March 6, 2019 - 2:01 PM

      Hi Jane,

      You know, that’s a good question. I think that they are more rare. But you could do two square minimal end tables.ReplyCancel

  • Mary E - March 5, 2019 - 8:19 PM

    Great post, Laurel! I love seeing how things are styled.
    I’m glad you included Emily Henderson. She has the best eye & is so talented.
    I currently have a vintage trunk as my coffee table. The raised wooden straps(?) make it difficult to style. I’m restricted to just the small spaces between them. Having less items on it does make it easier to dust, I gotta say.

    • Laurel Bern - March 6, 2019 - 12:52 PM

      Thanks so much Mary! I’ve been a big fan of Emily’s for many years.ReplyCancel

  • Travis - March 5, 2019 - 4:31 PM

    Thanks again for the inspiration Laurel. For those people, like myself, who want a bit of space for feet, coffee, etc. on the coffee table what do you think about using a large tray that is 30% to 50% of the surface of the coffee table top and putting a few books, your tall centerpiece and then your favorite personal item all in the tray and arranging it in the same fashion but then the tray keeps it snug and tidy and you can push it with your feet when you need a little more room and then back after you are done watching TV?

    It has worked well for me and I still was able to incorporate your examples and have the room to spare for snacks, laptops etc.

    When you do your next post on sofa and end tables can you think about recommendations if you don’t want table lamps (the cords would have to go across the floor to reach the outlets) and all the lamps that are on end tables that aren’t against the wall seem to usually have the cords photoshopped out.

    I have two completely bare end tables because I am never happy due to the lack of symmetry. I have thought about getting lamps and cutting the cords off just for the look and eliminate the tripping hazard but it seems impractical to do that and isn’t most good design based on some practicality? I know you can’t solve that issue just throwing it out there just in case you do write about it or have a voila moment in a future post. Thanks again for some great pictures and much appreciated advice!ReplyCancel

  • Charlotte - March 5, 2019 - 4:12 PM

    Dear Laurel,

    This is so helpful! My 3 coffee tables (in living room, family room, and sunroom) always look a bit “off” to me and now I know why. I was not applying the rule of thirds — I was only 2/3 of the way there. Also, the family room coffee table is the favorite homework/hangout place for my 8th-grade son, so he leaves his books, papers, chess set, calculator, etc. all over the place. I’ve given him a designated cabinet in the family room for his things, but…. obviously I need to get back to his training!
    Thank you so much.


    • Laurel Bern - March 5, 2019 - 7:40 PM

      Hi Charlotte,

      Ahh… brings back memories that seem like only yesterday. Please enjoy your son while you still have him at home. You will miss these days and before you know it.ReplyCancel

  • Ramona - March 4, 2019 - 8:51 PM

    I really like this post. I love tea tables but when for a rectangular bench I fell in love with. I have a tray on it, but do not want to fill all the space as I want room for feet to go up as an ottoman would work.

    Also, despite the beauty of these examples, there is little room for drinks.ReplyCancel

  • Mary - March 4, 2019 - 5:14 PM

    My mother always said that too, which was very confusing since she would take everything off the table and have you stand on it to pin hems when she was sewing. It was an octagon dining table with a sturdy pedestal that had been cut down to coffee table height. Nothing we kids did to it showed on it, at all.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 5:32 PM

      Thanks Mary! I’m not following “my mother always said that too,” however. ReplyCancel

  • Sheree L - March 4, 2019 - 2:46 PM

    Thank you for all the styling inspiration, Laurel! I thought I’d mention that when I click the link to Emily Henderson’s website, I get a “Not found” message from your website. But I did find her blog by Googling her!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 3:50 PM

      Hi Sheree,

      Oh, thanks for letting me know. That’s interesting. That was one of the images that was from the original post from Januay 2014. I didn’t think to check the link. I’ve fixed it, but the problem is actually on her end. Undoubtedly, they’ve made changes to their website in the last five years and like most of us have gotten an SSL certificate, so the url is an https instead of http, however, her developer, should have made it so that if someone clicks on the old URL, which is what you did, it gets redirected to the new URL.

      It’s also possible that it does redirect, but that they removed the page I was linking to. But that too, is supposed to redirect.ReplyCancel

  • Lily - March 4, 2019 - 2:24 PM

    There seem to be lots of questions about ovals. I think it’s all of us with stupid long sofas but not sectionals in longer-than-deep living rooms who want to keep our shins and toes in working condition.

    Maybe you could discuss the idea of two smaller round tables and when that might work well.

    I am desperately in love with the hex or octagon tables, but I require something longer than wide. I might have to build something.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 3:44 PM

      Well, if you don’t need the table as a real table on a regular basis, maybe a long ottoman would work? You can put a tray down if you need a hard surface.ReplyCancel

  • Kristine Lewis - March 4, 2019 - 10:54 AM

    Laurel great post! Where Oh Where can I get that wicker coffee table or something similar in the first Mark Sikes image?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 11:50 AM

      Hi Kristine,

      I love that piece too. Unfortunately, I don’t know where it’s from.ReplyCancel

  • Sherry - March 4, 2019 - 10:20 AM

    A timely post for me as I just went from a brass based glass top oval coffee table (that I loved but am changing from more “traditional” to a more mid-century/contemporary decor) to a rectangular plexiglass one. I love the look of fresh flowers or plants but my two cats would have them all over the floor in two minutes! I’ve tried dried flowers before which suffered the same fate. Maybe an faux orchid would work. I hope this doesn’t sound snarky (I sure don’t mean it that way) but I love and value books for themselves so much that the thought of using one as a coaster makes me shudder!
    As always a great post. Thanks, SherryReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 11:48 AM

      No disrespect to books intended and sorry to make you shudder, Sherry. That makes me feel badly. How about putting a coaster on top of the book? Or is that a bad idea too? My idea was to placate those who are complaining that they have no idea where to put down their mug of coffee. Although, the table shouldn’t be so tightly packed that there isn’t a few inches for that, anyway.

      Please, let’s not make this such a big deal.

      The idea of the post is to give ideas, not an edict from the queen. lol If something doesn’t work, for some of you, then it doesn’t work. I’m fine either way.ReplyCancel

  • Holly Lewis - March 4, 2019 - 6:38 AM

    Great post, very helpful. I would to see some examples of oval coffee table styling also!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 11:38 AM

      Hi Holly,

      Well, it’s not easy to find good oval tables, but they’re a lot like round tables.ReplyCancel

  • Lorri - March 4, 2019 - 1:47 AM

    There are people who don’t like books on coffee tables? But why? It’s the perfect place to have books with lots of pictures to look through.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 11:37 AM

      I agree, but if others don’t see what we see, then so be it.ReplyCancel

  • Rose - March 4, 2019 - 12:31 AM

    What do designers say about stacking children’s books on the coffee table as decor? 😉 They are everywhere, I suspect they are multiplying over here!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 11:36 AM

      Hi Rose,

      I don’t know what other designers say, but when you have kids they pretty much rule much of the decor for a while.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - March 3, 2019 - 8:56 PM

    What a wonderful post. Funny how something that seems so simple can actually be quite challenging to get right! I also want to ask if you know anything about that gorgeous blue and white drapery fabric in the One Kings Lane photo with the yellow velvet sofa? \the entire room is outstanding but that fabric!!!!!I can’t stop thinking about it!!! Thanks Laurel!!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 4, 2019 - 11:35 AM

      Hi Kim,

      Well, you know, I am curious too, so I spent a good two hours looking for it. It looks very familiar but I couldn’t find it. It is a Jacobean print. Very beautiful. I love it too!ReplyCancel

  • susie - March 3, 2019 - 4:35 PM

    I’ve put that “One Man’s Folly” book on my Christmas wish list for 2019. Yes, like the “nothing matches” look.ReplyCancel

  • susie - March 3, 2019 - 4:19 PM

    Love the Furlow Gatewood room, reminds me of one of my favorite styles: Swedish Gustavian.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 8:20 PM

      Hi Susie,

      Yes! He incorporates a lot of Swedish Gustavian both in furnishings and palette. Love that too!ReplyCancel

  • Noél Emswiler - March 3, 2019 - 4:11 PM

    OMG I am an angler! I love to angle everything on a tabletop. My Mom did it and that must be why I do it. It must seem correct to my “eye”. HELP – how do I stop? Now every surface in my house is going to bug me. What really bugs me is a table that you approach from the side. Whatever is on the closest end of the table seems big. Laurel you must do a post to help us Anglers…maybe a support group? I’m only half kidding – now my table tops are going to annoy the h#$@ out of me!!!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 8:19 PM

      Hi Noél,

      I started laughing quite heartily @ HELP…? If it makes you feel better, it’s exceedingly common and it’s why I brought it up. But if you look closely, you will never see it done in any photo I post here or on pinterest. You won’t see it in house beautiful, elle decor, architectural digest, etc. either.

      And yes, you learned it from your mom.

      Now, if the item is too big for the table and that is why it’s on an angle, then that means it has to go.ReplyCancel

  • nancy keyes - March 3, 2019 - 2:47 PM

    Hi Laurel, Thanks for the mention! I love the way Maura styles everything! We so agree on the diagonal for piles, objects, and art. I had a client/friend who put everything on an angle including her lamps! It made me insane. I would straighten them and she would do it again. Oh, well…XOXOReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 3:14 PM

      Haha! At least half of my clients do that too and it also drives me b*tsh*t. xoxoReplyCancel

  • mrsben - March 3, 2019 - 2:15 PM

    Another informative post and never let it be said ‘that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. At least this one (me) as always learn so much from you, so thank you but I do have a quick question. Though I no longer have an oval coffee table (as a portion of its top was damaged beyond repair so I converted it into a wall hung mirror); I presume similar rules would also apply to that of dressing a round one by adding a few oval shapes? Yes/No?

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 3:09 PM

      Hi Brenda,

      Well, I guess it depends what it is that’s oval. There are so many variables. But squares and rectangles mixed should be fine, as well.ReplyCancel

  • Roxanne - March 3, 2019 - 1:23 PM

    Really enjoyed this discussion! In the past 45 years of marriage, I went from a large rectangle and have permanent scars from running into the sharp edges! Switched to a large round, and you are right it is impossible to arrange but I didn’t have to curse every time I got near it. Now I have inherited my mother’s Century large oval…it is exquisite with beautiful burled wood and ebony edges, legs, and kang feet. Nothing fussy or granny about it. I love staging it, and did just sidle over to make sure nothing was angled! 😉
    Hope your weather is not too bad today. I was having a pedi the other day here in S.C. when we got a tornado warning and lightning galore. I thought…hmmm my feet in water in a lightning storm is not the brightest idea! Anyhow, I really enjoy your posts and appreciate the expertise you share with us mere mortals!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 3:07 PM

      Hi Roxanne,

      Believe me, I’m a mere mortal too! I’m in desperate need of a pedi! I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on oval tables. Many are quite gorgeous, but some don’t work for me. But then again, that goes for all shapes. Round is the most difficult to find the right style, size and height.ReplyCancel

  • Jo - March 3, 2019 - 1:21 PM

    The new update on Pinterest stops my pinning anything from your site. All sites. Driving me mad.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 3:03 PM

      Hi Jo,

      If you are on a desktop, then I recommend trying a different browser and/or clearing cookies and cache. It is possible that you also have a setting enabled that is preventing you from pinning anything. Everything is working fine on my end. Sorry for the problems, however. I fully understand. It’s my world!ReplyCancel

  • Sharon McGeeney - March 3, 2019 - 12:28 PM

    Hi Laurel:
    I have been looking for a new coffee table for the longest
    time, what would be your suggestion for finding a traditional glass top table, like the square one that you show in the first photo, with the brass finish and X strecher? Love your
    posts, very inspiring.!
    Thank YouReplyCancel

  • Linda - March 3, 2019 - 12:18 PM

    Your posts are so delightful; I love the interplay of knowledge and humor! With this post, you could have read my mind!! Great info for styling, as you said, multiple surfaces. I love to have a styled coffee table, and if I mess it up with all my junk, I simply put it back together when finished.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge with those of us who are less gifted!!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 2:33 PM

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you so much! It is only through study and practice that I’ve learned. And then seeing it done in a way that’s not classic. But, blogging has really caused me to think a lot about why things work and why they don’t.ReplyCancel

  • Amy S - March 3, 2019 - 11:56 AM

    Wow that quatrefoil planter with orchids! I will shamelessly copy it 🙂

    Also, so lovely to see Mark Sikes use the nesting tables. I am seeing them for sale everywhere but sort of at a loss for how to use them.

    Thanks for another great post!


    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 2:30 PM

      Hi Amy,

      Nesting tables have been around for a long time. I think that they are great if one needs to have some small occasional tables for a party and when there’s no party, they go back to the nest.:]ReplyCancel

  • Téa - March 3, 2019 - 11:24 AM

    Terrific post! I love a formula to follow! Is there a general rule for how large a coffee table should be in relation to the sofa? Asking for a friend 🙂 .ReplyCancel

  • Ann Chapman - March 3, 2019 - 10:47 AM

    Pretty selection of coffee tables, beautiful for photo shots, but most of them are too full of objects to use for…coffee, or other objects. From a point of usability as well as designed, I liked the Loi Thai example, which had a laptop on the table…decor is great, but you need to leave room for real life use of the furniture.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:49 AM

      Hi Ann,

      Like I said, this is not real life for many people. Always do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. And also, nothing is glued down. And besides, if there’s a cleaning lady, it’s guaranteed that everything is going to get moved anyway.ReplyCancel

  • Dawn Neal - March 3, 2019 - 10:28 AM

    Laurel, your suggestions for how to style a coffee table are very helpful. I’m one of the ignorant souls who always sets books at a diagonal, so thank God I now know how to do it. I especially liked the tone on tone decorating that actually left some room for a small laptop on the table, and maybe even a coffee cup or two. Or wine glasses and the whole wine bottle! Laurel, I enjoy your humorous blogs and try to read them every week. You have probably covered this topic, but what I need now is how to seasonally decorate my fireplace mantels. Since Spring is right around the corner, or so they say, I’m trying to think of really eye catching spring mantel decorations. Keep writing!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:47 AM

      That’s a great idea, Dawn. I’ll see what I can do. The great thing about mantels is that the styling can translate to console tables and/or mid-height or lower long bookshelves. At least to some extent.ReplyCancel

  • Parnassus - March 3, 2019 - 10:26 AM

    Hello Laurel, My problem is that my coffee table is in the middle of the “dust path” for my apartment, and it and anything on it get coated in Taipei’s trademark black, oily dust, so I have to leave it bare and polish it all the time. I do have a nice blue Northern Song-style bowl that I can put out when company comes, as well as dishes for nuts, etc.

    Which reminds me. Some of these tables you illustrate (not just the small ones, although Georgina makes a good point) are so styled that there is no place to put down a cup of tea or coffee! Also, spills do occur, and for that reason I would hesitate to cover my coffee table with $80 art books.
    p.s. I like the new check-box to remember name, email, etc.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:44 AM

      Hi Jim,

      Well you know FL Wright always said, “Form follows function.” And, of course, they are especially styled for the photos. Do I think that most of these people live like this all of the time? Most do not. But, for some people, certain rooms, especially the living room often tend to be more decorative that useful except when company comes. That’s changed a lot though, in recent years. Most of my clients with young families created two family rooms. Or, as I fondly like to call them, rooms for living. That’s as opposed to dead rooms. Rooms that are never lived in.

      My developer genius worked very hard on restoring the check box. He traced it to a theme issue that got obliterated in the last update. So, every time that happens, he has to jimmy-rig it to make it work. We are working on a site update meaning I will be using a new theme and giving everything a little refresh. How long is that going to take? I’m hoping to have it up by summer if not before.ReplyCancel

  • Kristen - March 3, 2019 - 10:07 AM

    Hi Laurel, what’s your opinion on height of objects on the coffee/cocktail table? Particularly florals? I see sometimes they are very tall!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:37 AM

      That’s a good question Kristen. I think it depends what the flowers are. Tall branches are a great look and it helps to have a higher ceiling. But, as I believe it says in the Phoebe Howard graphic, there should be a variety of heights. And I always say, let your eye be the judge. If you stand back and it doesn’t look right, something probably needs to change. It takes practice!ReplyCancel

  • JUDITH GURNEY - March 3, 2019 - 9:40 AM

    Loved this post. Agree on Darryl Carter room. Could look at Furlow Gatewood and William McLure rooms all day long. One Kings Lane room knocks everyone’s out of the park. And Mark Sikes room with mantel and abstract print comes in a close second. Curious as to why you didn’t put anything on the bottom glass shelf of the table with glass top and bottom. I have this type table in a rectangle. I have 5 stacks of books on the bottom shelf. On top shelf I have an antique box on one end, stack of books on another end, candle with antlers and spring wreath in middle, and the height comes with a dog on marble pedestal atop the box. Sometimes the table looks cluttered, especially in Spring… I love the look in winter for some reason. There is an antique thread-bare red Persian Serapi rug in this room…huge. It can make the room look busy, but it’s going no where. Any suggestions on the table?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:35 AM

      Hi Judith,

      Well, maybe you’ve surmised, that styling isn’t my strongest area. It really is a separate skill set, but I’m better at it than I was five years ago. I did consider putting something on the bottom shelf, but first of all, probably didn’t have anything to put there. And also felt that it would be too busy for the photos. I needed to take the photos that day because of a contest, but shortly after it was taken, a lovely large art repro was hung over the sofa.

      I would’ve gone back, but they live quite far from me now.

      Really, I think for most coffee tables, William McLure has the right idea. Gorgeous fresh flowers (if possible), or else really GOOD faux, like a faux orchid. Some, I can’t tell the difference until I touch it. Some books. Trays are great. Maybe a vase and something sculptural if the table is large enough. It’s not really rocket science and nothing is glued down either.

      I can see how it would feel better in the winter to have more things and in the spring to want a lighter, airier feel.

      I didn’t say this, but there are undoubtedly 100s of posts that have great ideas for styling coffee tables. (and other tables too) I only listed a handful. Maura Endres and Nancy Keyes come to mind, every time.ReplyCancel

  • Ina - March 3, 2019 - 9:22 AM

    I have enjoyed looking at all the beautiful coffee tables, but they would be unusable for me in my present home. I need room for the coffee mugs; the partially read book; a dogs soft toy or half-eaten cookie; the TV remote; my new magazine, and an Iphone or two. They are all neatly arranged, though. I did take off the toy and cookie. Love your site.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:22 AM

      Hi Ina,

      Your comment made me chuckle. What kind of a cookie is it? I’m notorious for eating half of a cookie, as well. And please see below. I think that books make excellent coasters.ReplyCancel

  • Janet Knowlton - March 3, 2019 - 9:21 AM

    I am at loss of how to style my coffee table. All these look way too cluttered for my taste. Nowhere to even put a coffee cup down. What do you suggest for something simple. I love your blog and usually pick something up! ThankReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:20 AM

      Hi Janet,

      I suggest that you use a book as a coaster. That’s what I do!ReplyCancel

  • Janet Lorusso - March 3, 2019 - 9:03 AM

    Happy Sunday, Laurel. I know it’s still winter here, but March should herald spring, in my mind! I Love all the hydrangeas, too! Lovely inspiration…and now I’m rethinking my coffee table…ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:19 AM

      It should herald spring. But some years, March is absolutely horrid with it’s stinging, sharp wind and freezing rain. But, you know, in southern Indiana, March definitely did herald spring. I remember that the leaves came out in earnest the first week in April, usually. Here it’s about the 3rd or 4th week in April. But some years, it’s a little earlier.

      There is nothing on this good earth that makes me headier than that first sign of chartreuse on a bare, nearly black tree!ReplyCancel

  • annel - March 3, 2019 - 8:45 AM

    Hi Laurel, I love all the coffee table designs, BUT, after a long day at work I see no room to put my feet up! Lol :))ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:15 AM

      Hi Annel,

      Didn’t your mother tell you not to put your feet up on the coffee table? ;] I’m sure that mine told me, but as for listening. Doubtful. haha.ReplyCancel

  • Anna - March 3, 2019 - 7:17 AM

    Good morning Laurel,
    An email from you is a great way to start a Sunday. The photos and your narrative are always so interesting.

    My initial reaction in looking at these photos and reading about styling a coffee/cocktail table is: don’t these tables ever actually get used? By that I mean, when I have guests over and serve them beverages and snacks, the only styling my table gets is: coasters, napkins, platter of snacks, small stack of individual plates.

    The decorations on the photographed tables seem to be only for ‘show’ and, if not for your guests, who are they being shown to and, when I have guests, I feed them.

    I hope I don’t sound snarky, I’m really genuinely interested.


    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:13 AM

      Hi Anna,

      No, that doesn’t sound at all snarky. I can show you snarky. lol It’s a reasonable question. And here’s what I say. If you live alone, you can do whatever you like. If you live with a drove of pigs, like I used to, you have to train them. But I started training my pigs well before they were out of diapers. So, if it’s later than that, it would be quite a challenge. ;]

      As for having guests over. Of course, whatever needs to go by the way-side will. Actually, (thinking out loud), it would be great if I could get fabulous Lotte Meister to comment on how she does it. Her home ALWAYS looks like it’s going to be photographed for a magazine. ALWAYS. I had some clients who were like that too.

      But, Lotte, I know also entertains a lot. You can review her home, if you’d like to see.ReplyCancel

  • Ani - March 3, 2019 - 6:52 AM

    Love the updated post. I had relied on the original post when trying to figure out some coffee tables. The “mistakes” to avoid are a huge plus. Especially the display of art books!

    One question….. can some of these concepts apply to styling night stands in guest bedrooms. I see so many beautifully styled ones on Instagram but haven’t figured out the formula for this one.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 10:04 AM

      Hi Ani,

      There is an end table post here somewhere that also needs updating. And it’s probably a little lame. Hang on, I’ll stop being lazy and go find it. Okay, sorry it took so long. I’m back. The post isn’t a little lame, it’s a lot lame. ;] There are a few images that I would keep and the rest can go to the trash heap. Here it is.ReplyCancel

  • Alison - March 3, 2019 - 4:48 AM

    I despair over my coffee table. Even though I style it every day I come home to find my decor items either on the floor or moved somewhere else and in their place are coffee cups, newspapers/magazines, iPads or laptop and a selection of dog treats! It frustrates me quite a lot.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 3, 2019 - 9:53 AM

      Ahh… real life interfering with your art. It’s not really fair. I would tell your dogs to move their treats, i-pads, the kitchen. ;]ReplyCancel

  • GEORGINA GUIZAR - March 3, 2019 - 2:37 AM

    You are right on point, but some of the small tables look a bit busy. I favor the rectangular shaped table with books flowers and something special in the center. A big coffee table
    is better for entertainment.ReplyCancel