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  • Writer's pictureEmily Foster

How to Style a Coffee Table: Let’s Ask an Expert

Emily Foster, owner of Emily Foster Interiors is a well known interior designer here in Albuquerque and we wanted to ask her how she styles coffee tables for her clients.

Q: Emily, can you share with our readers easy ways to style their coffee tables at home?

A: Sure! Coffee tables are often, even unintentionally, the focal point of a living room, so getting the styling just right is a must for me. I realize clients want to have a beautiful space, but also need to have a practical space. Usually designers lean on the rule of three. I style with one bold statement piece – this could be a vase full of blooms, a decorative piece or a stack of books, but it needs to be the largest and tallest item. Then, I have a smaller display of something else – a stack of books with a paperweight or a scented candle on it for example. I try to stick with three items. Let me explain and show you the three go-to’s I use.

How to style using a tray

This is great for the client who uses his or her coffee table regularly for work or their kid’s homework and needs to spread out. I make sure I know how the room “lives.” Limiting coffee table styling with a tray that you can easily move on and off is an excellent idea. It is also helpful to corral items and a great way to focus the styling to one area. Simplicity is best and I pick a tray that matches the same shape as the coffee table and about half its size. I make sure the tray is big enough for my rule of three to be placed in.

How to style with books or magazines

I love using books when I style. I start with the largest book on the bottom for stability, then add another two to four books on top. I always like to add a decorative piece on top of the books like a candle or small bowl to play with height and scale. I usually take off the jacket cover of a book and just use the book itself to display. The spines of the books are softer and more visually appealing. I also try to use the same color palette when displaying books. For example, I’ll pair all shades of white books together or all black-spined books together for a more cohesive look.

How to style with a floral arrangement

Introducing greenery or a floral arrangement is not only beautiful, but very good Feng Shui. Faux arrangements are ok, but the real deal is always best. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve a beautiful rich look. A small arrangement from Trader Joe’s will suffice. Heck, flowers and greenery themselves symbolize good luck and abundance. Who doesn’t want more of that?! I try to always treat myself to what I call “Flower Friday.” I buy some flowers from a grocery store just for ME. They bring me and my home joy. I use a beautiful vase too. Scale is important here though. You don’t want your arrangement too tall. Experts try to stick to the tallest object on a coffee table to be a third of the height of the coffee table itself. However, like I mentioned, if you use this table a lot, then you want to use a smaller arrangement so it doesn’t bug the person watching tv or the guest that comes over and can’t hold a conversation with you without staring into a large Chrysanthemum.

Q: Emily, a beautiful arrangement is fun and all, but practicality is very important don’t you think?

A: I know I know, I totally get it. So just treat yourself every once in a while or when you are about to host guests. However, I encourage readers to start using Flower Friday in their weekly routine. You won’t believe how it will boost your mood and the moods of others using the space.

Bottom line, we want to make sure there is enough space to put everyday things down like a cup of coffee, a reading book or to put your feet up on. I make sure when I’m styling it feels relaxed rather than untouchable. I buy new pieces for my clients, but I also include pieces that they use and love. Simple is key, but simple doesn’t need to be boring.


Q: I hate all my husband’s remotes for the TV. How can I stylishly display them on our coffee table in the TV room?

A: We all have that problem, don’t we!? I too have all the remotes. My go-to when I style my clients’ homes and my own home is to buy a beautiful box that suits the aesthetic of the space. A decorative wood box to corral all the non-pretty things is an excellent way keep the coffee table stylish, but functional.


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