Make It Beautiful: How To Style the Perfect Coffee Table

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

Styling in home decor is – honestly – very subjective. What works for one person’s design aesthetic and lifestyle may not come even remotely close to what someone else might prefer. However, study a slew of shelter magazines, Instagram accounts and top-pinned images (some you’ve likely saved yourself), and you’ll start to see some similarities, which begin to unlock the secrets to fool-proof styling, no matter what the individual aesthetic. So, what makes up this magical key to creating a beautiful vignette? In this new series, we’re sharing our own “secret sauce” for putting together impeccable surfaces—night stands, console tables, bars—and today, we’re starting with the coffee table.

(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

The Formula:

Create varying heights.

Varying heights in any vignette will always tell a more interesting visual story, though for a coffee table, you want to be careful about how high you get (you don’t want to block your TV viewing abilities, after all!). Stacking coffee table books to display other decor is a great way to achieve this in a subtle way.

Use a tray to gather goodies.

I’m a firm believer that trays are decorating secret weapons. It’s easy for a handful of items on a counter or table to look like clutter, but artfully arrange them in a tray, and boom, all of a sudden you have a tidy design moment that feels purposeful. Trays are a great tool to bring to your coffee table styling, as well. Here, we gathered some books, coasters, personal trinkets and flowers in a compact acrylic tray to bring organization to the melange of items (plus, when you want to clear off the table top to use for eating, playing games or anything else, you only have to move one thing, rather than several).

(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

Bring in something living.

Bringing fresh flowers or plants into your decor instantly perks up your space and makes it feel…alive. Fresh cut flowers offer a beautiful, seasonal touch, but a hard-to-kill succulent or something equally sturdy would also work great.

Add in a bowl or dish.

Whether this lives on a tray or on its own, a wide bowl or dish (like the gold palm leaf one shown here) is perfect for beautifully corralling remote controls—considering you don’t have a dozen of them! They add a little more personality and texture, as well.

Light a candle for ambience.

Another “design secret weapon” is the humble candle. Throw a pretty candle into a vignette (on some books…in a tray!), and all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a designer vignette. But honestly, it also does wonders to set the ambience for some quite time at home or when entertaining. Kudos if your candle also doubles as a decorative object like the one used here from Anthropologie.

(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

Layer in personal, decorative objects.

With these is where you take a perfectly pretty set up (that could easily be in anyone’s home) and make it your pretty set up. The coffee table is a great place to show off little personal trinkets that tell your story. Try two to three items of varying sizes stacked atop some books or on a tray.

Prefer to keep it simple?

Beautiful doesn’t always mean highly styled. Though we love the look of the above tablescape we created, we think there’s also something to be said about restraint! If you’re looking for a more subtle look, strip away most of the decorative objects, but leave a plant for height and color, and a small tray or stack of books to showcase at least one pretty personal item like below!

(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

Shopping Resources

Coffee Table: West Elm

Gold Palm Leaf Dish: Anthropologie

Acrylic Tray: West Elm

Hexagonal Stone Coasters: West Elm

Candle: Anthropologie

“Vogue: The Covers” Book: Amazon

“Apartment Therapy Complete + Happy Home” Book: Amazon

Brass Pear: Anthropologie

*Styling by Stephanie L. Yeh in collaboration with Arlyn Hernandez; special thanks to Nicole Sauma for sharing your beautiful home with us for this shoot.