How to Style A Functional Coffee Table

A quick Pinterest search on coffee table styling yields endless images of exactly how to construct the perfect living room vignette. Stacks of books, a couple succulents, a few scented candles. We all know the drill.

But, do we keep in mind that the coffee table should also continue to serve its namesake purpose…to hold a cup of coffee? I’m all about a perfectly styled coffee table, maybe even one that changes with the seasons, but I’m also all about functionality in my home. So today I’m walking through my tips on how to achieve a coffee table look that’s as practical as it is chic.



Every good coffee table has an arrangement of coffee table books, and you’ll want to make sure these represent your personality, not just the same books you’ve seen on every blogger’s Instagram feed. Of course there are some classics that live up to their popularity. Two of those are on my coffee table — Gray Malin’s Beaches and domino’s The Book of Decorating — but I’ve also added in a few that speak to me personally — a graphic design book from a grad school class, The New Paris, and Florida Modern, a book about mid-century architecture.

A few scented candles add a bit of warmth to your table. Some of my favorites include this bluebonnet soy candle, a classic from Voluspa, and this quintessentially DC candle.

Assuming you’ll actually be enjoying drinks on your coffee table, a set of coasters is a practical must have. You can find geode coasters like I have below at almost every price point on Etsy or splurge for a set from Bergdorf Goodman.

Matchbooks rounded up in a ceramic bowl are a nice way to remember meals and travels. I’m not one for souvenirs, but these provide the perfect little walk back in time. A few little knick knacks, including an elephant teapot and a ceramic sugar skull,  provide just enough personality without seeming cluttered.



First things first, you’ll need a tray to round up your items so that they’ll look visually contained. In the past, when I tried to style my coffee table without some sort of visual separation, the items began to creep past their designated spots. A lucite tray is a perfect option to keep things looking light and airy while still providing borders. No surprise, a gold tray also found its way on to my coffee table.

I like to keep my coffee table book stacks limited to two or three books — anything beyond that starts to render the stack too high to actually pull the backs out and flip through them. No one wants to unstack 10 books. When choosing which books to stack, consider size and color. The light green of the domino book complements the beach umbrellas on the cover of Beaches, and since it’s so much smaller, you see a good amount of each.

Keep functional items close to where you’ll actually use them. The coasters are close to my favorite spot to sit on the sofa, a gold sea urchin that hides a few lighters sits right next to the candles. Everything should be within inches of where you need them.



Lastly, my coffee table is 42″ square so I have room for two large trays while still having half of the surface area of the table free. This leaves plenty of space for drinks, a cheese plate, a book, a computer — whatever I’m using at the moment. If you’re coffee table is smaller, maybe you only do one tray or maybe you forget the tray and limit it to three coffee table books and a candle with a matchbook or two. You want it to look stylish, but above all else, keep it liveable.


1 Comment

  1. Unknown
    February 4, 2018 / 1:54 pm

    I always wonder if bloggers (not you, of course!) actually look through their coffee table books or if they’re just for show 🤔

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