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THE COFFEE TABLE: A Place for Whimsy and the Unexpected

THE COFFEE TABLE: A Place for Whimsy and the Unexpected

Design Ideas For Your Coffee Table

Here's the reality - most coffee tables on any given day look like the one below. It's the catch all for everything - the junk drawer that's not in a drawer. But that's every day living. We're talking about for all the other times - the "company's coming" look. Rather than wait until the last minute, plan out a few different tablescapes that you can pull together in a jiffy when necessary. The tips below will help you create a well balanced and interesting coffee table vignette in a snap.

A Place for Whimsy and the Unexpected

The goal for a coffee table vignette is to tell a story, to stimulate the eye and conversation. The tablescape is an opportunity to share with your guests details of your individuality as you gather around it. The overall mis-en-scene is meant to catch their eye, from a distance. And then as they move closer in, moments of discovery unfold in the details.


While the table above is not cluttered, it is not visually inviting nor interesting. And, is that a plastic water bottle vase? What's missing? Interestingly, there are items better suited for the table top right there on the shelf!

Here's THE key to a successful tablescape: Scale & Height are EVERYTHING - You can have the most exceptional and extraordinary objects on the table, but if scale and height aren't balanced and in harmony it won't look it's best. Vary the heights so that each object is just a little bit shorter than the next tallest item. This keeps items from feeling disjointed.

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Make it personal - give folks something to talk about, something to stimulate conversation, something that has a story. Whether they be collectibles, travel finds, interesting books, or beautiful flowers - have a personal connection to them, a story that makes them special to you.

Coffee table decorating tablescaping home living room

Overcrowding: Leave plenty of room on the table for actually using the surface for something other than display. If you don’t leave room for a coffee cup, the table will appear awkward and will not be useful to you. Make table tops pretty & useful!


A Place for Whimsy and the Unexpected: unusual pieces or a piece that is in stark contrast to the other objects on the table. Try opposites: pair smooth with rough, shiny with dull, old with new, round with square, organic with man-made.


I think the vignette above is the perfect example and serves as a handy reference guide. It's got height, rough & smooth, neutral and colorful, visual interest and creates a classicly themed story. Trays are a great way to frame a tablescape and here the table itself does the job quite nicely.

  • Go around the house and collect a dozen or so objects that you love, making sure they are of varying textures, colors and sizes (both tall & wide).
  • Start with the tallest object and place it off center.
  • Now add the next tallest, then the next and so on. Play around with it. Make sure the pieces relate to each other thematically (your travels, a color, books of interest...). Does it tell a story?
  • Through this process you will eliminate several pieces, winding up with 3, 5, or 7 objects clustered artfully.
  • After it is set, say after your third or fourth go through, leave and go for a walk or do something else in another room of the house. Come back an hour later. Now stop and look at it from far away, from the room's entry point. Are you drawn in? What catches your eye first? Whichever object you notice first serves as a focal point. It is best if everything in the story relates to the focal point object, but they do not necessarily have to relate to each other. There's where the magic happens.
  • Now move in closer. Make sure your tablescape looks good from all angles. Sit in every seat around the table. Make adjustments as necessary, including editing.
  • Serve cocktails.
coffee table