Coffee tables. What’s on yours? Is it beautifully organised or a mix of books, tattered magazines, used teacups and possibly a stray toy or two? Do you even have one? (Question: if not, where do you put your coffee cup? Or your books? Your supper (on lazy occasion)? Or even your feet? Ahem.)
I came late-ish to coffee table styling. Yes, I’ve always had a coffee table of some sort, graduating from Ikea basics to a vintage glass number, which has now been displaced (to my regret and my husband’s not-so-secret joy) by a Scandi-style wooden one with – crucially – a shelf for magazines and books below, and rounded edges.
1. First, select your style
Having been a reluctant adopter of this style, I am now completely sold. The pale wood won’t impose itself upon your space – so it’s great for smaller rooms; the clean lines; the retro yet thoroughly modern aesthetic. Works surprisingly well within a period interior, too – gives a room that Lonny feel: not too contrived but also not predictable – I like the flash of modernity it brings to my Victorian house.
2. Country retreat
I would love one of these. If you hanker after that cosy, country, perhaps even cottage-y feel, this is the table for you. What you’re looking for her is less sleek, more sturdy. Not in a pit pony kind of way – more that solid, reliable, British craftsmanship. A wooden top and painted legs immediately signals country, as do visible panels, drawers with brass knobs and dear little chunky feet.
3. A little bit Downton
Obviously, I don’t mean slavishly copy the period style (unless that is what your heart desires – in which case, far be it from us to stand between you and your dream). But something darker, a classic piece that looks like you might have inherited it, will always lend substance and style to your room. A nicely-turned leg (you know, one with curves – goodness, this is getting very Carry On) is a good thing, here. And dark wood adds gravitas – it speaks of books, real fires, and afternoon tea.
4. Sleek modern
Glass – or perspex if you are clumsy/have kids. Or an unexpected shape (who says your coffee table has to be rectangular?). The huge bonus of a clear table is that it seems to take up no room in your living room. So if you have a teeny weeny space, it’ll all but disappear – like this table in this lovely but tiny Swedish flat.
I’ve seen this same table styled with magazines stacked underneath – which looked very effective.
Right, take your coffee table. Looks a bit bare, no? (Or perhaps not bare enough?) It needs to be dressed. I would say that at an absolute minimum you need a vase (or jug) of flowers and a lowish pile of books (hey, there’s a reason they’re called ‘coffee table books’) and/or magazines. Not the tatty ones; the nice ones. Even a nice cookbook or two. Whatever you might pick up when Downton Abbey‘s plotlines veer into insanity (Uncle Julian, what are you on?) – or simply really love the look of. I do not judge you for using a stack of books to pick up the colours of the cushions on your sofa or that picture on your wall. If flowers are anathema, then try something like a sturdy candlestick or two plus an ornamental vase in a similar hue (objets tend to look best grouped in threes).
I love the juxtaposition of the country-style table and the ornamental urn, here. It adds a quirky note. Do also note the candles. Candles are, in my opinion, always a good thing. They’re either ornamental (here they’re lending height and interest) or ornamental and they smell lovely. Diptyque are the absolute classics, with their white labels and black lettering, but I also love True Grace for beautiful glassware and subtle scents and Neom for their organic, divinely-scented, generously-sized candles.
Note also the tray. Trays are indispensable. By simply putting two things together on a tray you are grouping them and styling them. Mark my words, that urn/potpourri dish combo would be singularly less effective were they just plonked on the table together. The tray groups them with zero effort on your behalf.
This coffee table [above] works so well because it is considered without being cluttered. Each element has been chosen, arranged (without undue clutter) and there is proportion: the ornament topping the books; the witty gold deer.
Even very modern can take a bit of decoration…. (It’s this table, by the way – should you be saving for a serious investment piece.)
The joy of a perspex table is that it provides a nice counterbalance to pretty much any type of furniture. Here, it works in a very formal room (love the shape and royal blue hue of the sofa and the regimental cushions)
Although a perspex table also lends itself to the ‘pile it high’ philosophy. This table works because the rest of the room is so pared-back – and that charcoal wall so dramatic. I do like the idea of having cream and what looks like (but may not be) a bonbon dish to hand (although the latter would be dangerous in my house). That tray means it can be whisked away, leaving those two careful piles of books, should the space be required, or whim dictate.
Don’t be afraid to layer your styling. Glass or perspex means you can do just that. Try playing with textures – below there’s glass-on-glass, a flash of metallic softened by those pink peonies; art tomes and, yep, magazines under the table (I knew I’d seen it somewhere).
Dark wood tables are extremely effective at showcasing your favourite pieces. The white blooms and the red apples are displayed to splendid effect on this gorgeous table. It might be a bit country, but it’s incredibly chic.
Right, I’m off to find myself the perfect tray, a metallic vase and perhaps some hydrangeas. You?
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