The coffee table is the unsung hero of your living room; a style anchor. The ultimate in furniture multi-tasking, its job is to unify the room visually, whilst acting as a footstool, dining table, display surface and storage centre.
It follows that choosing the right one for your living room is not a task to be underestimated. If you’re stuck for coffee table styling ideas, take cues from its age, material, size and springboard other decorating details from there – get the style right and everything else will follow.
Want more inspiration? We’ve called in the experts to give their best coffee table styling tips to take your coffee table from zero to the hero of your living room.
The perfect coffee table size
Coffee table styling starts with a great base so before you begin, consider the perfect coffee table size for your space. “While the styling items are important, the coffee table itself should be the feature in the room not what is on top of it,” says Alice McMullin, Founder & Creative Director at McMullin & co. “Take time to search for a quality, seasonless and contemporary design. It’s always worth the investment.”
It’s all about the right proportions. “Your coffee table has the potential to really finish off a living room so it should make sense in the space, practically and stylistically,” says Don Garvan, Founder of Totem Road. “A good rule of thumb is to choose a table roughly two-thirds of your sofa’s width. A table too small can get lost, while something too big can overpower the other elements of the room.”
“It’s also important to take note of the height of the table, there’s nothing more awkward than one that’s too high or low,” Alice suggests.
The best shape for your coffee table
If you’re trying to work out why your living room design is not what it should be, start with your coffee table shape. “Rectangle coffee tables are a great choice if you have a narrow space with minimal walk-around clearance and are best paired with standard or L-shape sofas,” says Don. “Round Coffee Tables are the most popular choice for family living areas given they don’t have sharp edges.”
“Round coffee tables soften your space and create a gentle flow,” says Ty Symonds, Head Of Design at Country Road. “However you can lose essential surface area depending on how much you actively use your coffee table. Rectangle coffee tables create more usable surface area and often have great storage capacity too, but they are not great for small spaces.”
Where to place your coffee table
Consider your living room layout – how your move around your living room is vital when choosing your coffee table shape. “Make sure to lead with functionality and then decorate with this in mind to ensure you get the most out of your coffee table,” says Ty. “Storage, ease of cleaning and usable surface area play an important role in how you will live with your coffee table and get the most out of it.
“If your area allows for a sofa to be placed across from two chairs, opt for a Square Coffee Table as this creates a symmetrical focal point in the room,” says Don. “Due to the larger surface area, square styles are great if you’re wanting to style further with coffee table books and still have room for your daily necessities.”
The must-have items for coffee table styling
Where to start when styling your coffee table? “Coffee tables can be a small window into your personality; taste; and interests,” says Alice. “While there’s no doubt they’ve become a regular feature in our Instagram, they can be over-styled. They should strike the balance of feeling uncluttered and filled with no more than three – or four – styling pieces.”
Essential coffee table items
“Decorative vases are the must-have item for styling your coffee table,” says Ty. “A vase that looks just as good as a decorative object with or without flowers is best. We’re talking vases that aren’t hidden in the cupboard when not in use!”
Coffee table books
“A must for styling most spaces, but especially a coffee table,” says Fiona Gould, Interior stylist and founder of Chelon Design. “They help to ground your other accessories and add varying layers of heights to your styling, but also I like to think of books as art for the table – they’re a great way to introduce certain character and colour to your table.”
“Stack your favourite coffee table books, layer on a vase, a candle and a decorative dish,” Ty suggests. “Try to group in odd numbers like 3 and allow for varying heights for a harmonious vignette. Avoid decorative objects that become dust collectors and try to be as purposeful and functional with the items you choose.”
How much space should styling take up?
Don’t get carried away with your coffee table styling – remember to allow room for practical use and consider all members of your household when choosing objects. “As a general rule, make sure the shapes are bottom-weighted, coffee tables are notorious for being knocked and bumped so ensure items aren’t top-heavy,” says Ty. “They are definitely not the spot to have your most precious belongings.”
“I find that covering no more than 1/3 of the table is a good balance for me,” says Fiona. “But there are absolutely no rules. If you love a more layered look in your home then go for it – using a couple of trays and books to ground your pieces will help if going with a more is more look.”
How to work with colour on your coffee table
Here’s where the fun begins. Accent with pops of bright colour or keep things nice and neutral – either way, there are a few key tricks to remember. “Keep colour simple. Pick up the base colours in your environment and don’t be afraid to layer with different textures, materials and finishes,” says Ty. “Allow a highlight colour, but remember less is more and if you have a vase, using flowers to change up colour to your mood is a great way to play with the highlight colour.”
Of course, the need for a coffee table is not always paramount to your living room – functionality has a part to play.
If neutral is your thing, don’t feel you need to go overboard with colour. “Less is always more,” says Alice. “I would lean towards a muted or neutral colour pallet that doesn’t command the attention of the room but compliments its surroundings. Look for a coffee table that has a light wood grain or a simple dark stain and try to subtly contrast with styling items.”
Shape and form of your coffee table vignette
Use a mixture of shapes and sizes of objects for your coffee table and when in doubt, stick to the magic number. “You can never go wrong with the rule of threes when styling your table,” says Fiona. “Three objects, at varying heights, ideally in varying materials to keep it interesting. I love to place 1-2 coffee table books under 1 or 2 of the smaller objects to help ground the look – you could also do this with a tray.”
“Remember the role of the coffee table, make sure to not over decorate and allow enough surface space for daily use such as serving morning and afternoon tea, resting a novel or a notebook,” says Ty.