Learn How to Style a Coffee Table Like a Pro
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How to Style a Coffee Table Like a Designer

November 16, 2020

Tired of staring at a pile of remotes, toys, or takeout containers while you watch TV or kick back with a good book? You’re in luck. We’ve made it our mission to save coffee tables across America!

When your home becomes a backdrop for your social media posts, even the coffee table is a chance to showcase your fabulous, high-brow taste.

But the question remains: How can you style a coffee table that looks as amazing as the ones you see on Instagram and Pinterest? It all starts with knowing a few key design principles. Check out our tips for how to style a coffee table and soon you’ll be feeling like her majesty, Queen Joanna Gaines herself.

Coffee Table Design Principles

Take a seat, because it’s time for design class to begin. Don’t worry—there won’t be a pop quiz, but you will want to take these tips to heart—because once you learn the principles of design, you’ll be able to throw something together as effortlessly as a pro.

Rule of Three

The rule of three is a long-standing principle that can be applied to just about any decorative design. According to the rule, three is the most aesthetically pleasing number when grouping items together. This applies to throw pillows on a bed, frames on a wall, decorative objects on a dresser, and whatever you’re putting on your coffee table. While fewer items may seem like the right choice—some people still believe in “less is more,” y’know?—three items is usually better because it feels less contrived.

You can apply the rule of three to any grouping of objects on your coffee table, even if they’re not all the same type of item. Try grouping a small vase, candle, and decorative ball together for a balanced and eye-catching look.

Balance and Proportions

The rule of three is just one way to achieve balance in design. But there are other considerations to bear in mind, too. For instance, you don’t want to place a small vase on a large coffee table or a giant candle on top of a small book. It’s important to consider the proportions of everything you place on the table and make sure they match up.

Likewise, you’ll want to avoid overwhelming the coffee table with several items of the same size. If you choose a large vase for your large coffee table, you can balance that by grouping it with a midsize object and smaller object. Think about scale and height, too: Tall or long items should be balanced with shorter items. Just make like Simone Biles and aim for balance, okay?

Less Is More

Wait! Before your coffee table ends up looking like the downtown flea market, remember every designer’s best tool: edit, edit, and edit some more. Experienced designers always take a moment to pare back the look and ask if anything could be removed to create a more pleasing, calming presentation. 

Editing certainly doesn’t come easy to everyone, but you can practice this skill by asking yourself: What is the purpose of each item on the coffee table? Could we do without this object? Do I feel subtly stressed or overwhelmed when I look at this design? Just remember that lil’ Junior is not an object, no matter how much he might crawl over your coffee table. You love the rugrat. Just keep reminding yourself of that.

What to Display on a Coffee Table

It’s the moment of truth. What will you display on your coffee table? A bowl of chips and salsa and a pile of mail may be the regulars, but the times are a-changin’. Here are a few ways to class up your standard decor.

1. Plants

For a bright crisp look choose centerpieces that emphasize the accent colors in the room.

Plants are always the answer to your design woes. Make a statement with an oversized vase and greenery from your backyard. Try your hand at keeping a succulent alive (props if you make it more than a month!), or pick a more merciful potted plant. Or go the traditional route and buy a bouquet at the florist. You don’t have to keep the vase full of fresh flowers all the time, but it will be fun to splurge a bit for special occasions.

2. Candles

Take your coffee table from drab to fab by adding a little light where it counts most

We know what you’re thinking—but we’re not even going there. These days, there are about a million candle options outside of the ubiquitous Bath & Body Works three-wick candle. So step outside your comfort zone and start sniffing. Modern candles are complex, earthy, and as much of a design statement as a nice smell for your living room.

Shop for candles that match the color scheme of your space and add some height to your design. You might even consider adding some candlesticks for an ultra-fancy look.

3. Bowls

Add interest to your space with bowls of your favorite candy, nuts or dried flowers

Bowls are a genius item to put on a coffee table. They look great and are an ideal place to store items that might otherwise look messy thrown across the table. Fill them with decorative balls, display festive holiday decor, or simply use them to hide the TV remote. You can even use bowls for a more obvious purpose and serve up snacks when you have guests over. (Just make sure they’re pretty! The snacks. We’re sure the guests are just lovely.)

4. Books

Avid readers will love the extra storage of this stylish table

Coffee table books make seem like a superfluous investment, but they’re a great conversation starter whenever you have company over. If you don’t want to spring for a collection of brand-new coffee table books, shop for them at thrift stores, used book stores, or from secondhand stores online. 

5. Decorative Objects

You know that random metal object you saw at the home decor store? The one that looks cool, but you have no idea what it’s for? Put it on your coffee table. Sure, it doesn’t really do anything, but it’s unique and stylish and is the perfect filler for that spot you’re not sure what to do with. Think of these coffee table accessories as affordable sculpture art for your home.

6. Trays

With a nice tray you can have all the tools needed to start your morning right at your fingertips

Like bowls, coffee table decor trays are a great way to corral items that you need to keep around, but don’t look very aesthetically pleasing on their own. Choose from modern acrylic to classic wood—there’s a decorative tray for any home decor style.

7. Collectibles

It’s your time to shine! Whether you’re into stamps or coins or taxidermy or vintage busts, the coffee table is the perfect place to showcase your quirky collection. Place one or two items on top of a stack of books to add interest and height, or display the whole shebang with a special box or tray.

8. Unexpected Objects

Even if you don’t have a collection, your coffee table can still be a great place to show off your quirks and interests. Place unexpected objects on your coffee table to kick off a conversation with guests and create a space that’s uniquely yours.

Choosing a Coffee Table

Phew. We’ve gone deep on how to style a coffee table, so now there’s only one thing missing—how to choose the coffee table itself. If you’re in the market for one, here are some things to think about.


This iconic coffee table is a perfect to emphasize a variety of casual and professional spaces

Coffee table options go well beyond squares and rectangles. Feel free to think outside the box (pun absolutely intended) and choose a round coffee table, oval coffee table, or table made with a natural, curved piece of wood. Just make sure your other furniture fits well with the shape you choose.


From wood to iron to acrylic, there are dozens of coffee table materials to choose from. If your space is lacking warmth and texture, wood is an ideal choice. But if you’re looking for something more formal, gold metal will really amp up the look. Likewise, acrylic can add an unexpected and modern touch to any room.


Circular tables can add a sense of calm to your space and they don't have any sharp corners, making them child-friendly as well

Coffee table placement is crucial, so don’t neglect this consideration before you buy. It’s best to place your coffee table within about 6-12 inches of all seating in the room—any farther away, and it will look like it’s awkwardly floating in the middle of the room. Any closer, and you won’t have the space to easily walk around it.

Find Your Perfect Coffee Table

Well, you’re basically an interior designer now, so go forth with confidence as you decorate your coffee table! RST Brands is here to walk you through every step of the way. Check out our selection of high-quality coffee tables and side tables for every style.

Whether you’re aiming for modern, classic, or any other design preference, we have the piece that’ll stand up to years of kicking your feet up, spilling your drink, and all the other unavoidable realities of life in a normal household. When you buy our durable and stylish furniture, you won’t bat an eye. Shop RST Brands coffee tables and side tables today.