I’m sharing the best designer tips for styling your coffee table like a pro!

designer tips for styling your coffee table


All of those living room magazine spreads you swoon over, they all have one thing in common, don’t they?  A fabulously stylish coffee table as the focal point of the space.  And, they all used the same designer tips for styling your coffee table that I’m sharing with you today.

decorative tray with a pitcher of feathers and candlesticks on coffee tableYou know what’s even more fabulous?  It’s doesn’t have to costs a lot of money to get that same high style and panache.

Learning how to style your coffee table like a pro is a skill that you’ll use over and over, for every surface in your house!  I’ve applied the same tips and methods for my catered event spaces for decades too.  

There’s a definite science to creating a stunning tablescape.  But the real magic is supplied by an artful mix of greenery, trays, stacked books and unexpected objects you choose.

It’s hard to go wrong once you start using the pro tips and secrets I’ve culled from the experts over the years. They’re the best of the best and I’m sharing them with you today. 


HOW TO DECORATE WITH TRAYS – Learning the “Still-Life” Method of Decorating with Trays

In a previous Design Lesson, I taught you how to decorate with trays and coffee table decor.  I’ve developed the “Still-why and how to decorate with traysLife” Method of building decorative trays, from the bottom up.  

And, you don’t even really need to use an actual tray!  Later in this article, you’ll see a fabulous natural slab from a tree that was used instead of a tray.  Your imagination is the only limit here, you can really get creative with your choices.

Before you start choosing any items to use in your coffee table composition, you need to read this article first.  Today’s post builds on the “Still-Life” Method for decorating with trays, and it will be helpful in understanding the design concepts discussed today.


CLICK HERE TO READ THE POST:  Design Lesson – Why and How to Decorate with Trays



Get all the professional tips I’ve used over the years to style coffee tables and other home surfaces to achieve a desired impact.   

I’ve got 10 designer tips for styling your coffee table, so let’s jump right in!


Maintain Balance and a Sense of Scale

Clutter happens fast… Keep your chosen items balanced in terms of size, color and scale.  A mishmash of smaller objects and knick-knacks just looks messy, not stylish.  Alternatively, using only one large item on a table that’s too small will be completely out-of-balance.  To keep your coffee table balanced, vary the scale of your items and stack or group like-objects together.


pro tips for styling a coffee table

The “Rule of 3’s” 

The age-old rule of 3’s is a precept that can be crucial when styling your coffee table.  By dividing your tabletop into three “separate sections”, you can figure out where each item will look best.

This is especially true for long, rectangular-shaped tables.  No, the sections don’t need to be equal either, as shown in the examples in the above graphic.

If you can’t “see” your sections in your head, try using painter’s tape to create your designated areas.  Then, you can try your chosen pieces in different positions and arrangements before deciding on the final display. 

designer tips for styling your coffee table


Choose Items of Varying Heights

When all your items are at the same eye level, nothing will get noticed.  To create a more eye-catching vignette, vary the height and scale of your coffee table’s decorative objects.

You’ll create interest and give your tablescape the depth it needs to lend drama to your living space.

Think about using candle holders in various heights.  Low bowls combined with a vase and feathery greenery.  A heavy, low sculpture on a stack of books with a live floral arrangement in a colored-glass vase.  That’s what I’m talking about!


Trays Can Help Corral Your “Stuff” or Add Drama

A tray can serve both a practical and stylish purpose by showcasing your special treasures, and keeping them from becoming a mess.   Trays also make everything easy to sweep off when company is coming. 

You’ll want to choose your tray carefully, as it will set the tone of your tablescape.  Also keep that in mind when choosing the objects to be placed inside the tray.  Don’t forget, this will be the “anchor” of your coffee table’s composition.

antique mirror breakfast in bed tray

Can you see this antiqued mirror tray on your coffee table? It’s holding a curated selection of pieces that add drama and panache to your’s room’s decor. You see it now, don’t you? 

And if you’re working with a free-form shaped coffee table, like a slab of wood, a tray lends structure and symmetry to the display. 

It helps “anchor” your tablescape pieces, which otherwise might feel like they’re floating.  That’s especially true when decorating a transparent glass coffee table.   


Make Seasonal Updatesfall season three tier tray display

As a living room focal point, updating your coffee table is a fabulous way to rotate seasonal elements.  You know that nothing screams Spring louder than a big bunch of pink tulips hanging their heads from a tall crystal vase!

If you live near the coast, a nautical or seaside display would be lovely.  Or if you’re in the mountains like me, I’m all about using the natural items like pine cones, moss and dried flowers I find around our home.

In the Fall, I love using gourds, mini-pumpkins and Indian corn in a tray or basket.  Isn’t this three-tiered display lovely?


Restraint + Simple Elegance = Chic Sophistication

Perhaps the hardest designer trick to perfect is restraint. Top designers know you don’t need to fill every inch of a coffee table with “stuff”.   

how to style your coffee table like a proInstead, strive to highlight only a few quality pieces.  Adding a vase with feathers, a statue from your travels, or some antique candlesticks makes a much bolder statement. 

BUT, if you’ve got a “showpiece” coffee table, that is in itself a work of art, by all means show it off!  Leave it completely naked, and always free of dust.


Stack ‘Em Up – Coffee Table Books

Here’s the pro designer’s best friend,  second only to using trays on coffee tables.   The kind of books designers use in their coffee table displays are after all, aptly named, coffee table books Sounds pretty logical, doesn’t it?

The appeal of a pile of coffee table books is that the spines create dimension on a flat surface.  And then, when you top the stack with a statement piece, flowers, or a tray, it’s designer magic.  Keep in mind you don’t need lots of books.  You can have just a few with matching spines, or perhaps one large tome that’s substantial enough to stand alone.  Needless to say, only hard cover books should be used!

designer tips for styling your coffee tableNAN’S TIP:  USE ONE COLOR OF BOOK SPINES FOR A CLEAN LOOK OR COMBINE YOUR ROOM’S COLOR PALETTE IN THE SPINES FOR A MORE ECLECTIC VIBE.  (I’ve actually scoured thrift book stores for the “perfect” color coffee table book spine for a display!)


Choose Pieces With Different Textures

One of my favorite designer tips for styling your coffee table is to combine different textures in the tablescapes.  If you want to create interest and depth, using contrasting textures is a sure way to do it.

Got a smooth colored glass vase? Fill it with feathery ferns or actual feathers!  Add a spiky green potted plant to a sleek stack of books.  Or place a sculptural stone piece inside a tray with smooth river rocks.  You get the picture, pine cones and moss, hammered metal with pebbled leather…  


Toss in an Unexpected Item for Fun

It’s so fun to add an element that evokes specific memories or warm feelings when viewedDo you have mementos from your travels, or perhaps a handcrafted game you received as a gift?  High quality souvenirs can be great conversation starters, and any game on a table is begging to be played.

Don’t forget, this is the part of your home where entertaining guests comes naturally, so don’t be afraid to add an item with a great “story”.


Mix Rustic Elements with Refined Pieces 

why and how to decorate with trays all around your homeThis designer tip for styling your coffee table goes hand-in-hand with adding different textures to your display.

If you’ve got a rustic pine “farmstyle” coffee table, think about adding at least one clean, modern” piece for high-contrast.  But keep the colors similar or coordinating to ensure they play nice with each other.  You want your tablescape to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye.  

On the other hand, if your coffee table is glass or a sleek marble-topped job, don’t hesitate to use something like a single gigantic pine cone as one of your elements.  As long as each item on your coffee table works with all the other pieces and fits with the total “vibe” you’re going for, then I say go for it!


I hope you learned a ton today about how to use these 10 designer tips for styling your coffee table.  Since it’s usually such an important piece of furniture, it should naturally be the focal point of most living spaces. 

Now my fab friends, go find your blue tape and get started giving your coffee table a fresh new look!


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