If your coffee table is looking a little lackluster, try some of these easy tips and ideas to refresh it.
Leaving a coffee table bare is a missed decorating opportunity. A coffee table is basically the centerpiece of the living room, but it can be tricky to know exactly how to style it. What do you put on it? How much should you put on it? And what's the sweet spot between curated and cluttered? Ultimately, you should always go with what’s practical in your household and what you like, not just what’s trendy. But it’s helpful to see how designers and decorators zhuzh up coffee tables in their spaces. So we rounded up some of our favorite coffee table decor ideas for tips and inspiration you can use in your own home.
Related: The 12 Best Coffee Tables of 2023
Keep it Simple with a Small Plant
This one might seem obvious, but it’s an idea people often overlook because it’s so simple. Make a small plant the star of your coffee table. This pared down approach is easy to maintain and it can breathe more life into your space. This look naturally fits into a minimalist aesthetic, as evidenced in the space above, but you can also consider this if you’re a maximalist. Contrasting a busy room with one simple focal point on the coffee table gives the eyes a place to rest.
Go Big with an Oversized Floral Bouquet
Instead of something leafy, you can opt for a beautiful bunch of flowers to make a gorgeous statement. Jesse Vickers of JLV Creative gave a coffee table this simple yet glamorous treatment in this sitting room. Note that while the bouquet is quite full, it’s not too tall—you shouldn’t have to crane your neck to see the person seated across from you. Understandably, replacing the flowers every few days is not exactly realistic, so no judgment if a faux arrangement is more your jam.
Fill a Vase with Branches
A third option in the botanical realm is placing some branches in an oversized vase. Julia Marcum of Chris Loves Julia placed a few leafy branches in a hefty jug, which added height and airiness to the center of her reading room, especially as it's paired with the solid, chunky coffee table. A tall arrangement works in this setting because it’s not obstructing any people or views. Silver dollar eucalyptus stems, olive branches, and even dried grasses are all excellent choices for an arrangement like this.
Stack Piles of Books
Bibliophiles can show off their prized possessions by stacking neat piles of their prettiest coffee table books. Really any kind of book works here—whether it's an art book destined for a spot on a coffee table or your favorite novel with a colorful cover, your selections can inject a little more personality into your space. Brittni Mehlhoff, founder of Paper & Stitch, did that here in her studio’s living room and incorporated a few Monstera leaf cuttings to break up the monotony. This is a good solution for those of us with overflow from stuffed bookshelves.
Use a Pretty Tray
Are you working with an ottoman that essentially doubles as your coffee table? That doesn’t mean you can’t decorate it! A tray is your best bet in this scenario because you can place items on top of that instead of the soft upholstery, where it’s likely to topple over. In the above example, designer Orlando Soria used a pretty copper tray for serving breakfast on this boucle piece. But you can place just about anything on your tray, such as a bud vase with a few sprigs, a small bowl of candies, a stack of mini books—the options and combinations are endless. Plus, a tray contains the clutter and it's easy to move out of the way when you want to stretch out your legs.
Set Out a Board Game
A board game that’s ready for guests or family members to play is an easy way to fill up space on a large coffee table. It’s also incredibly inviting. The backgammon game in this family room designed by Katie Rosenfield of Katie Rosenfield & Co. is especially clever because it folds up, so it's a fast fix if you need to make some room.
Set Up Two “Clusters” of Accessories.
If you’d prefer your tablescape take up less surface area, you can group your favorite items in two “clusters.” This will free up space for drinks, snacks, cell phones, etc. In her studio’s living room, Jenny Komenda of Juniper Print Shop set a stack of books on one side of a coffee table and a decor-filled tray on the other side. This duo creates a balanced symmetry (and, in Jenny’s case, nicely mirrors the art pairing on the walls).
Set Up a Triptych Display
Placing two groups of accessories on opposite ends of a table is a guaranteed way to create balance, but in design, the rule of threes (which states decor arranged in odd numbers are highly appealing to the eye) can achieve the same effect. If you don’t mind relinquishing a little more of your coffee table’s real estate, try arranging three neat “clusters” or stacks of items. Liz Bachman of Grey & Scout did just that in her living room and kept it tidy by making each cluster roughly the same size. (The books on either side have similar dimensions to the tray in the middle.)
Group Multiple Vases Together
Displaying vases in a variety of shapes and styles—like how architectural designer Mikel Irastoza did in this funky, eclectic room—can make use of the random vessels you’ve probably accumulated over the years. This collected look will give your space of character and a personal touch. Bonus: The vases are super easy to swap out when you want a quick refresh. Set out an odd number of vases, like five or seven, in honor of the rule of threes we mentioned earlier, to help the display feel abundant.
Bundle Up Some Candles
Displaying a bunch of pillar candles in multiple sizes is an inexpensive way to dress up a table. Place them on a tray or bowl to prevent melting wax from ruining the table surface, like how designer Kara Haren of Along Came Lennox did in this living room. Bonus: Scented candles can also function as room deodorizers. (Or, you can pick up some battery-operated alternatives for a long-lasting and mess-free option.)
Gather a Bunch of Glass Orbs
An array of glass orbs as your coffee table’s centerpiece can add a unique and unexpected element to a space. We love how Diane Rath of The Rath Project incorporated these spheres into her bright and colorful space—they add some sophistication, and because they’re translucent, they don’t compete with the bold shades throughout the room.
Add Something Curvy and Sculptural
If you’re struggling to create a more unique tablescape, a quirky, 3-D object can add depth when mixed in with more geometric shapes, like books, decorative boxes, or trays. Dabito, founder and creative director of Old Brand New, included this elephant-shaped planter in his home office and it really draws your eye to the center of the room. It’s also just plain fun.
Stick to a Corner
Things don’t always need to be in the middle of your coffee table! It’s okay to keep items corralled in a tray that’s tucked off in a corner, especially if you’d like to use the table as a work surface. This approach works well in spaces that aren’t quite symmetrical, as shown above in this space designed by Natalie Papier of Home Ec. The off-center tray still looks intentional because of the delicate plant and neatly stacked coasters inside. It’s also another example of the coffee table’s arrangement reflecting the wall art—and it proves that things don’t need to be perfectly centered to look good.
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