• How to Decorate  • How to Style a Coffee Table: 18 Tips for all Table Shapes
coco republic round coffee tables in white room with fireplace

How to Style a Coffee Table: 18 Tips for all Table Shapes

Today I’m sharing my 18 insider tips on how to style a coffee table. It’s a topic design clients and blog readers are always asking for help with, so I figure now is as good a time as any to jump into this style challenge.

The thing to keep in mind with this topic is that different coffee table shapes will all be styled differently. They have to be because the table top will have different parameters you have to work within. So below I want to outline my general rules when it comes to coffee table styling, and then I’ll get more specific around individual table shapes after that.

By the end of this post I hope to have you feeling super confident when it comes to decorating your coffee table. You might even come to understand there are some things you’ve been doing wrong that can be made right. Let’s get started!

gold crab on white book coffee table styling coco republic

Universal Rules for Styling a Coffee Table

These 18 tips apply to all coffee table sizes, shapes and colours. They’re the universal rules you can follow to make sure your decorated coffee table looks amazing. Once you’ve absorbed these general guidelines we can get stuck into some more individual ideas for your particular coffee table shape further down.

I should point out before we go any further that all of the images in this post come via Coco Republic. I’ve been on their website lately specifying furniture for clients and I’m blown away by how chic their styling is. I’m sure you’ll get ideas here on how to style a coffee table, but I bet you’ll get some additional inspo from their living room shots too!


1. Ensure the Styling Reflects your Theme

No home should feel overly themed, but you should have a cohesive vibe going on. Is it a calm and soothing space that gives a nod to a Hamptons style, or a coastal/boho vibe, for example? Whatever it is, ensure the objects on your coffee table tap into that scheme.

2. Make Sure Your Personality Shines

Brand new store-bought decor is lovely, but your coffee table styling should also reflect your individuality. I’ve told you before why you need more weird stuff in your home, and your coffee table is the perfect place to showcase those wacky keepsakes and travel mementoes.

round marble coffee table with minimal coffee table styling flowers and books

3. Use Objects of Different Heights

There should be a number of objects at different heights on your coffee table. You want the eye to go on a visual journey; up and down the ornaments on the table to create a sense of interest. Don’t have them so high that you can’t see over them when seated on your sofa, but do explore different levels.

4. Showcase a Medley of Textures

Texture is super important. All too often you’ll see coffee tables with objects of the same material. Like a glossy vase beside a glossy bird ornament on a glossy tray. That’s too much of the one finish. Ideally you don’t repeat the same finish at all. Instead, explore tactile materials that look and feel different.

coco republic dark brown timber coffee table with stack of books

5. Explore Depth of Field

What I mean by this is, don’t have all the objects in a line. Have tall objects at the back of your coffee table arrangement, and then shorter ones in front. Think of it like a family photo; you want everyone to be seen. Instead of a row, though, think of the arrangement as a cluster or items, with some closer and some further away.

6. A Flower or Plant is Essential

A flower arrangement or plant is an essential ingredient when styling a coffee table. And you can go fake here if you need to (I do it all the time in client homes). A plant or flower brings life and softness to the scene, and can break up the potential monotony of too many hard-items.

Here’s my list of top fake plant suppliers if you’re a black thumb like me.

white marble and gold coasters coco republic coffee table styling

7. Think Beyond Just Looks

The look of your coffee table styling is vital, but you have to think of the other senses. We’ve covered having tactile items you want to touch, but also consider scent. A fragrance candle is the easiest way to do this. I include a candle in most of my client’s coffee table styling scenes. It also introduces a nice circular shape to the scene.

Here’s my top 18 Aussie candle brands here if you need some ideas.

8. Use Larger Items Over Trinkets

You want to have just the right amount of pieces on your table. We’ll explore your individual coffee table shape further down, but as a general rule larger items look better than loads of little trinkets. Lots of small items can make the scene feel messy. Larger items mean you can enjoy more visual impact without the cluttered feel.

coco republic white round coral coffee table with pink flowers

9. Contain Items with a Tray

If you have a larger table and want to showcase a number of items, a tray is a great way to contain all of the pieces. On a larger table, you can house an array of items in a tray and then still have room to pop books beside the tray. Just ensure the tray is not the same material as your coffee table top.

Here’s 20 of the best coffee table trays for your place in an array of design styles.

10. Think About the Table from All Angles

When thinking about how to style a coffee table it’s important you remember that this is a scene you view from all directions. So don’t style with the front of your pieces all facing the same way. Of course, when it comes to books the spine is going to face a certain way by design, but other objects can be pointed in different directions.

coco republic sinclair coffee table styling with stack of books and coral ornament

11. Book Stacks are Your Friend

Stack like you’ve never stacked before when it comes to books on your coffee table. I mentioned earlier that varying heights in objects is really important, and a book is a great way to elevate an ornament. Stack three books and pop an odd-shaped ornament on top and it becomes the hero of the scene.

12. Ensure Books are Thick and Themed

A rookie error I do see some people make is having a stack of thin books on the table. That’s OK if it’s a collection of magazines on a tray, but for the most part you want the books to be thick. You also need to ensure they relate to the home and the room. You don’t want a cookbook on your living room coffee table, for example. Keep the book topics inspiring; something you can pick up and flick through.

round metallic coffee table coco republic with flowers and stack of books on top

13. A Colour Scheme is Key

The coffee table is a smaller reflection of what’s going on in the room overall. So, while the style of the objects is important, so is colour. You don’t want a colour on your tray that’s nowhere else in the room; it will just look odd. Instead, pull colours from places like cushions, rugs and artwork. It’ll make the whole scene feel really cohesive.

14. Think About Under the Table

Depending on your coffee table style, there might be room to decorate underneath it. I don’t necessarily mean with small objects (though you may have a shelf here for coffee table books), but with furniture like an ottoman or pouffe. You could also explore storage baskets under the table, which can hold remote controls and make the scene feel very resolved.

coffee table styling with gold crab ornament coco republic

15. House Practical Objects

People often ask me how to style a coffee table with practicality in mind. You know, how do you keep day-to-day items within reach and keep them looking nice? Storage boxes are a godsend for remote controls, but also ensure you get some great coasters that suit the coffee table theme you’re going for. Matches for candles can also be showcased in glass jars rather nicely.

16. Contrast Against your Coffee Table Top

You want to avoid styling your coffee table with items in the same finish as your table top. So avoid marble pieces on a marble table, black timber pieces on a black timber table, and so on. You want contrast in colour, sure, but contrast in material is far more important.

round coffee table styling with flowers and stack of books coco republic

17. Include some Odd-Shaped Items

Another rookie error people make when styling a coffee table is that they have too many circle-shaped objects. The scene ends up looking quite boring and flat. To remedy this, look to bizarre object shapes. I’m talking fluid shapes that don’t look clean. Think things like branches, coral, and even balls with spikes on them. They make a huge difference.

18. Leave Room for Pieces to Breathe

Lastly, scale is really important. You want to fill the coffee table up with your styled objects but still leave room for day-to-day activity like putting a drink down. You also don’t want plant leaves drooping into your drinks, so just keep an eye on that. Leave an adequate gap between your objects and the edge of the coffee table.

OK, we’ve covered off the general rules, now here are some quick-fire tips on how to style a coffee table that’s round, square, rectangle and oval.

brown leather sofa with white round marble coffee table styling with flowers

How to Style a Round Coffee Table

  • The rule of three is a great idea here. Three large objects at different heights works well
  • I tend to put a plant or flower as the tallest moment, then a candle, then a stack of books
  • You can add coasters on top of the books if you need them
  • I tend to avoid trays on round tables, but if you must, go for a round tray – square looks odd
  • Your objects should sit in a cluster on the centre of your table

coffee table styling with coral and stack of books coco pepublic

How to Style a Square Coffee Table

  • It’s wise to break up the table into a few sections; three main ‘scenes’ on the table works well
  • You want to have these objects for a rough triangle shape on the table top
  • Use a rectangular tray as one scene and then cluster items like flowers, a candle and a coaster on it
  • Beside the tray, look to a large object with a random shape like a round bowl or some coral
  • Your last item on the table, sitting beside the tray and odd-shaped object can then be a stack of books

coco republic rectangle dark brown coffee table styling with white flowers

How to Style a Rectangle Coffee Table

  • It’s wise to break the length of table up into three parts
  • However, don’t feel the need to space the three parts equally along the table
  • Create one large moment a little off-centre on the table top
  • Either side of your larger moment, create a collection of smaller vignettes (book stack, tray etc)
  • Keep depth of field in mind; have some objects closer to the front of the table, and some further back

oval coffee table styling feminine living room ideas coco republic

How to Style an Oval Coffee Table

  • Oval tables can go one of two ways; mirroring a round table or going for a formal option
  • The round table philosophy includes showcasing three moments at different heights in the centre of the table (flower, candle and set of coasters, for example)
  • The formal way to do it is to have one major moment in the centre (like a flower or plant) and then have two smaller moments of similar heights either side (like a book stack)

I hope this post has you all clued up on how to style a coffee table. If you have any questions for me please don’t hesitate to drop them below. I also have a members-only Facebook group you can join to get style advice from me and the TLC community. Post a pic and have us all weight in with some style advice. It’s fun and friendly, and you can join the Facebook group here.

Happy coffee table styling at your place!

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He's also spent time on TV, on Channel 10's Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7's Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you'd like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

  • joe



    30 April, 2020
  • Vilma


    Great tips Chris! Do you have a guide for dining tables?

    8 May, 2020
  • Shelly


    Could you tell me where that Floor Lamp is from in the feature image?

    11 May, 2020
  • W


    Form follows function. All this is dust collecting poser stuff for a Insta post?! Where is the coffee, iPad…. leave space/ table for living, otherwise get rid of the consumerism stuff that ends up in land fill.

    29 August, 2020
  • ANNA


    I agree with you Chris it needs to function but we need to feed the soul and our aesthetic sense also otherwise we may as well live in a sterile office or warehouse

    20 October, 2020

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.