How to Style a Coffee Table for Real Life Function

How your home looks is great, but how it works for you is even more important. Let’s talk about how to style a coffee table for real life function. These tips can also be useful in decorating any table top surface.

What decor goes on a coffee table?

In any family room or living space, I’m sure everyone would agree the coffee table offers a mini focal point moment. Many times, the coffee table is the centerpiece of your living room.

Adding coffee table decor is a great way to add personal style to your room. But rather than just think of it as a place to add decor items, look at it as an opportunity to add function and tell a bit of your story.

how to style a coffee table rectangle table

Identify your coffee table’s main function

First, let’s consider your coffee tables main function and the practical daily use of the space. Are you an avid reader and love to have books around? Is the table often used for playing games or other activities? Will people want to put their feet up on the table? Do you have small children or large pets that might disturb it?

The perfect coffee table decor may add visual interest, but must make sense for your everyday life. Up north at our cottage, I once had a wicker tray with glass bottles on the coffee table. Once the grandchildren began to arrive, I could see that we were entering a different season. That display is now tucked safely on a top shelf in my closet, waiting for when it might make its debut again.

how to style a coffee table or not

But for now, the coffee table is completely empty, while the kids are little. They lay on it, jump from it, and everyone puts their feet up on it. Sometimes it may need to be part of a fort, so no decorative items are currently found.

Once you know your limitations, and how you live in the space, you can make smart choices for coffee table decor. And yes, like us at the cottage, your coffee table decor may be non-existent for awhile.

Considering different table shapes

We all have different shapes and coffee table styles. Yours most likely depends on the space you have in your room and around your seating. Let’s take a quick look at the shape of the coffee table and the best way for them to be styled, as a general rule.

how to style a coffee table round table
  • round coffee table – a round table is best styled with one larger item in the center, or multiple items that flow in the triangle pattern
  • square coffee table – square coffee tables, especially larger sizes, are best styled in a grid pattern.
  • rectangular coffee table – this most popular shape is best suited to a linear styling grid
  • small oval coffee table – style with a singular item in the center or the same as the rectangle
how to style a coffee table square table
how to style a coffee table rectangle

Coffee table styling essentials

No two people are alike, therefore, your coffee table style shouldn’t be like everyone else’s. You may see many a curated coffee table display that include large coffee table books, but if that is not your thing, then it will be out of place in your space.

Your perfect decorative pieces should come from what you love, and what your functional needs are. SO don’t skip that most important first step of identifying your tables function. Here are some popular elements that can be a starting point if they fit your decor narrative. 

how to style a coffee table
  • flowers or plants – whether fresh flowers or a potted plant, floral arrangements and natural materials are always a good idea
  • candles – in a variety of containers or on candle holders, these can provide different heights for visual interest
  • trays – these are the perfect place to corral smaller items so everything is seen as one large object on the table
  • books – whether stacks of books or one large item, make sure the cover of a book is part of your color story
  • boxes – a great place to hide all the remote controls and playing cards
  • natural elements – whether touches of green or other textural neutrals, these simple things add warmth and character
  • decorative objects – whatever you choose, this should bring a personal touch to your decorative accents
  • bowls, vessels or baskets – various heights and different sizes, these can add a layered look to your styling
how to style a coffee table
anatomy of a coffee table

Our Table with Meaning

  • Wood box purchased on a trip to Canada | holds remotes
  • Copper tray acts as a giant coaster | can be moved when I put my feet up
  • Wicker demijohns | collected on various trips and adventures
  • Basket tray holds vintage glass floats | beach driftwood and items added from vacations we have taken. I am constantly adding to it.

How many items should be on a coffee table?

How many items you use to style your coffee table will depend upon the size of it, along with your decorating style. A modern look will look best with a minimum of well curated objects, while a French country style can be more cluttered.

A good rule of thumb for the average size table and a bit larger is 3-5 items. Of course, if you use a decorative tray as one of your elements, this can house many items, where the collection is viewed as one.

how to style a coffee table how many items

Practical tips for everyday use

If you will be using your coffee table frequently to play games or do projects, style it so it can be cleared the easy way. Either, use one large decorative object that can be moved in one motion, or use a coffee table tray for multiple items that can also be easily removed.

how to style a coffee table

If your coffee table will double as a foot rest, style your surface to accommodate for that closest to the seating area. When placed close to your living room furniture, you know someone will want to prop their feet up. Even if that is not your ideal, account a little bit of space for toe-touching, and don’t style anything fragile or breakable in this area.

Create coffee table displays that can easily be put back together if disturbed. I personally love the look of layers and like to use wood boards as a base. The entire setup can be easily moved in one motion.

how to style a coffee table

If your living space includes a television, make sure your coffee table decor doesn’t contain a tall object that would block your view while sitting on the couch. Same goes for an area set up for conversation. Keep your decorative items lower to the table so guests can easily see over them. 

Coasters are always the best idea to have handy for your drinks. Your coffee table was named for just that, a table for a cup of coffee or another drink. Coasters come in a variety of beautiful designs and can add to the overall style of your objects.

What about the bottom shelf?

If your coffee table has a bottom shelf, this should be considered with a careful eye. If you have a glass-topped coffee table, where you can see the items through the top, you will need to consider both layers when styling your table.

For a larger coffee table, baskets could be a great option to store items as needed on the bottom shelf, so they can easily be pulled out and put back. You can also leave it blank. Don’t ever feel like you have to fill every surface.

The key is to be able to see and reach the items placed on a bottom shelf easily so they don’t just end up collecting dust.

how to style a coffee table seasonal

Style a coffee table for the season

The change of seasons and holidays is a great time to highlight your beautifully styled coffee tables. Whether you are switching out some smaller elements, or temporarily clearing away everything for a new look, follow your same design principles.

A change of color palette is the easiest way to add seasonal touches to your items. 

how to style a coffee table at Christmas

How can I make my coffee table look better?

The key to making your coffee table styling look good is scale and balance. Follow the general rules of layout for your coffee table shapes for balance. Varying heights, and mixing shapes and textures will also help to balance your design.

Too many smaller items can make it look cluttered, while larger items may overpower it. Find the proper balance for your table and room, and your tablescape will immediately look better. Don’t be afraid to play around with a variety of objects, including those that will provide function and style to the area.

how to style a coffee table glass top

Tips for a variety of table tops

The top of the coffee table isn’t the only place that needs artistic coffee table designs. Consider the rules and items we have discussed for these table tops as well:

  • side table – always consider function for where a drink can be placed when styling this smaller surface
  • console tables – longer and thinner but still use the rule of thumb for the rectangle
  • dining table – style the center for that horizontal space, keeping in mind the heights of objects and the ease to remove items daily, if needed
  • half moon entry tables – this smaller item will benefit from the ‘less is more’ concept due to surface size
  • ottomans – can be styled as coffee tables with the help of a rectangular or round tray to provide a firm surface for some items
how to style a coffee table

Experiment and get creative

There are many different ways that your coffee table can be styled. In this small space, it is a great way to have some creative play and try new things. Experiment with a variety of object sizes.

Try more of something, like a collection, or less for a cleaner look. As your needs change, so should your coffee table items. If you hate to dust, make your display easy to clean. If you are having a party, switch up your items to include treats for your guests.

how to style a coffee table

Your coffee table decor should always be changing as your life does. It will then provide you with that ease of living and real life function that makes a house a well-loved and used home.

Follow along with me as I gather and share more ideas. 

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