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How To Style Your Coffee Table: Our Super Easy 3-Step Formula

Imagine it’s Halloween night. You’re sitting at home and all of a sudden you hear a ring of your doorbell and a knock on your door. Tiny voices are outside giggling – the time is now. You get up, grab your bowl of candy, and head for the door. As it swings open you hear those little child voices scream “TRICK OR TREAT” and you know what they came here for. As you reach into the bowl they see something horrifying behind you: AN EMPTY COFFEE TABLE. They scream and run away with fright. It’s the third time this has happened tonight. I’m so glad you all came here today so you can prevent this from happening this weekend…

Okay while that might have been a bit dramatic of a story – trying to style your coffee table well might just actually be the most daunting and scariest thing you’ll do all week…and we get it. It’s an awkwardly shaped surface that needs to be functional, not overstyled, but not understyled. So how can it be done? You guys. It can be easy as pie if you just follow our simple shake and bake recipe. We have used this super-secret Krabby Patty formula for years and we’re gonna show u how to do it well every single time no matter the coffee table shape or size – you heard me – size does not matter here today! Let’s begin.

design by ginny macdonald | photo by zeke ruelas | from: ginny’s living room reveal

The Formula: Tall, Sculptural Plant Or A Vase + Books Or A Tray + Short Stack Of Coasters Or A Candle

If you need help picking a coffee table you can head to this post, but today we’re just chatting how to style it. There are 3 categories of items we use to style a coffee table: a plant (usually tall branches or florals in a sculptural vase), books (either a stack of books or 1 single open book), and a candle AND/OR a stack of coasters.

Now, each category has 2 items in it – you can either choose 1 item from each category OR you can go for more depending on your style (so yes, you have permission to add in coasters AND candles if you so choose) just make sure you have 1 tall object, 1 medium object and one short object – trust us – you want varying heights. Playing with levels will be your best friend in making your space look inviting 🙂

design by velinda hellen design | styled by emily bowser | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: velinda’s first freelance client reveal part ii: her 7 expert tips on mixing a lot of the styles

Plants And Vases

Let’s get into each category so we can really break down what’s important since every space is different. So, when it comes to plants and vases this is typically going to be your ‘tall object’ on your coffee table. Now because it’s your tall object, be wary when it comes to HOW tall. If you reach 12 inches plus it will probably look AWESOME in a photo, but might block your view if you have someone coming over or if you are trying to chat with family in everyday life across the room. We typically will forage branches to style with (pretty much every single shoot actually) because they look so cool. So if you want to take a cool photo or impress someone in a more ‘formal’ living room where you might not have a lot of conversation and hang out it, then the taller & more sculptural the better. Why not go for a little drama?

If you’re trying to make it more functional, think of going with just a taller, more sculptural vase that can stand on its own and be pretty without branches or florals in it. That way you’ll have your tall item, but you’re not peeking through a forest trying to talk to your friend 🙂

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a modern and organic living room makeover
design and styling by emily henderson and samantha gluck | photo by zeke ruelas | from: oh joy’s studio: The ‘living room’

Now here are just a few of our favorites on the internet right now if you’re feeling shopping-inspired:

1. Ficus Audrey Plant| 2. ZZ Plant | 3. Purple Waffle Plant| 4. H&M Green Large Vase | 5. Ceramic Totem Vase | 6. Jungalow Ceramic Vase

Trays and Books

Okay, this category might say ‘Trays and Books’ but it really should read ‘TRAYS and books.’ The tray has a level of importance that books and plants don’t quite have – especially if you’re styling for everyday functionality. Think of it as the rug of your coffee table, the heartbeat of your decor pieces. It is that thing that corrals everything together so you lose your TV remote less frequently. The place where you can put even more decorative & fun objects that aren’t even on this list but are personal to you. Heck, you could even put a book in there if you wanted to. Trays are multi-functional and are super important if you’re looking for functionalism over minimalism.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: our modern english tudor living room

Now let’s get into the book section and our one insanely easy and super-secret EHD styling hack…

A book can act like a tray and corral smaller objects (who doesn’t enjoy putting cute little trinkets or a candle on top of your books) but it’s also great because it can inject personality into a space and give a guest something to do and look at when they sit down. Books are inviting and totally fun – and there’s a whole category of books people refer to as ‘coffee table books’ because they work so fricken well on that lil table. But they’re pretty rectangular and if you’re already dealing with a lot of squares, rectangles, and all-around hard edges in a space, it might be time to soften up the table styling. INSERT THE OPEN BOOK HACK. Just open up your favorite book to a pretty page with a pretty picture, and it makes it looks sculptural and can add a little color if needed 🙂

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house reveal: our light-filled neutral & textural living room
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: portland project: the living room reveal

1. Wood Pedestal Coffee Tray Table | 2. Acacia Wood Serving Tray | 3. Burl Wood Tray | 4. Peter Lindbergh Book | 5. Andy Warhol Book | 6. Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves by Emily Henderson (how could we not throw that in)

Candles And Coasters

The last category is typically the shortest height-wise out of the three. Candles are awesome to have in a living room & coasters are super helpful to have on your coffee table, so these two items definitely get bonus points for functionality. You can find a spot for one or both of these items (especially if you have a larger coffee table) and they’re both very functional and look great.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: the design milk family room reveal

1. Opalhouse x Jungalow Candle | 2. Studio Mcgee Candle | 3. Totem Sculptural Candle | 4. Ceramic Coasters | 5. Hex Coasters|6. Glass Fused Coasters

That’s it for this post! Hope it was helpful and I’ll see ya in the comments 🙂

Opening Image Credits: Photo by David Tsay | From: Rustic Modern House Tour

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Christina
1 year ago

I’d love a similar post on how to style a coffee table when you have young kids and babies. Mine are empty currently and I’d love to style them, but….
Plants: nope
Ceramics: nope
Glass: nope

Perhaps some nice wooden toys or something, but my goal has always been to keep the toys away in their bins etc when not being used.

Our paw patrol tower is quite a statement piece (definitely has height lol), but I don’t think it’s the look I’m going for.

CW
1 year ago
Reply to  Christina

Hi! My current kid coffee table formula is simple and has worked for years. Two books that rotate, a fabulous wooden bowl and an inexpensive ceramic with faux stems. They get played with, moved and often stood on. My current ceramic pot I got at an antique store for probably $5. In the past I’ve used woven bowls, inexpensive ceramic bowls/vases or candles (again, less than $5-10 from somewhere) metal trays/plates, wood/woven trays, crystals, metal/stone/wood decor pieces… basically anything that could be dropped without getting broken (or me caring if it was broken because it was only $5).

Sarah
1 year ago

We have a Corgi. He took care of the styling question. Nothing! Besides shoes left out, it’s really the only thing he can reach so he is quick to pounce on any opportunity. Waiting for him to grow up so we can have stuff on coffee table but after five years all we have is a wood box that holds the remotes aka expensive chew toys.

Betsy
1 year ago
Reply to  Sarah

Ha! Ha! Have a lab and a goldendoodle. Their tails designed my coffee table. I have some coffee table books, and remotes on top. Their tails have yet to move the books. But they are bigger, heavier books, so this helps. I’ve tried to make it all pretty, but not gonna happen. Practicality wins out here. Note to self, my next dogs need to be much smaller.

Sona
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy

My dog isn’t the problem, it’s my very athletic cat who does zoomies from the dining room to the living room and back AND eats and plays with anything resembling plant material. He vaults from the couch to the coffee table to a swivel chair to the side table to the dining table and back! I look longingly at the flower section of my specialty grocery store as I used to love to buy fresh flowers occasionally. I have a stack of books with a small brass sculpture sitting on top of them. So far he hasn’t destroyed that. Although he did chew the ribbon book mark that hangs out of one of the books LOL! But I love him!

Ally
1 year ago

Thanks for the refresher! I bookmarked it. Started moving into a new house today that’s much different (more traditional) than any before. This helps remind me that a clean, unfussy look is good anywhere! 🙂

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