How to Style Your Coffee Table: Inspirational Tips From a Designer

For the past two months, I’ve been looking at my barren coffee table that sits squarely in my living room.

I can hear it saying, “Help! Decorate me!” So for fun one day I tried placing a stack of books and a vase on top of it and – it looked very sad and unfinished. I knew I needed help. I had no idea how to style my coffee table.

Thankfully my favorite designer and dear friend, Michael Van Nort (also known as MVN), had a trip planned to visit us here in LA this week. On the second day of his visit, I watched him seemingly effortlessly decorate the table. I said “Wait!! Let’s document this so that other people might be able to try to stylishly decorate their own coffee tables at home.”

Michael agreed!  And he also agreed to answer questions and provide tips that might help you to create your own unique and personalized coffee table decor at home.

Items gathered and curated for the coffee table:

A collection of books.

RCG: Michael how do you know what types of books to purchase to style a coffee table?

MVN: Make it personal!  Shop for items and book titles that interest you.  Often I see the same coffee table book in various magazines – don’t be fooled into thinking you need a book if the subject matter does not interest you, just because you saw it in a magazine or home decorating TV show.

In addition to the book’s subject matter, consider size and color.  This becomes important when you start stacking books – it may sound obvious, however, I recommend placing larger books at the bottom of the stack and layering smaller books on top.  Think of the stacks as pyramids.
Don’t be afraid to remove the dust jacket of a book cover if you find it distracting.  Often the original linen cover of the book can be a welcome pop of color.  I also only recommend hardcover books when creating the tablescape.
RCG: Great advice! Thank you! I love that your use using The Book of Flowers by Taschen.

Collect accessories made from different materials for added interest.

RCG: How do you choose the accessories to style your coffee table?
MVN: Mix your materials, starting with the cocktail table itself.  If your table is wood, shop for accessories that are metal, marble, or glass.  If your cocktail table is marble, shop for items that are wood, metal, ceramic, or glass.  I generally avoid items that are the same material as the cocktail table, although rules can always be broken, especially if the item has sentimental appeal!
RCG: Okay, great!

Choose an odd number of items:

MVN: For a more eclectic look, odd numbers seem to always work best – for a larger table, this could be three stacks of books with an interesting bowl, sculpture, or collection of shaped vases. For a smaller table, this could be a single stack of books with an object and a taller vase.
I love to layer small items on the top of a stack of books too – maybe a glass paperweight you received as a birthday present or a small silver bowl that once belonged to your grandmother.
RCG: Great advice!
two swans set to style a coffee table

One final tip – shop vintage!

MVN: If possible try to shop vintage!  While I love to source items from popular retailers such as West Elm, HomeGoods, and Crate & Barrel, I think the best way to find even more interesting items is to shop at flea markets, independent designer boutiques, and vintage consignment shops.  Items with patina and history often add more personality than a brand new object will.
RCG: Thank you for these tips! You make it look so easy to style a coffee table. I’m thrilled with the way the table looks. Thanks again!
Michael Van Nort of MVN Design is an interior designer based in NYC. He is also the owner of a home furnishing shop, MVN, located in the Hudson Valley. Reach him directly if you are looking for a consultation. Follow him on Instagram here.
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