Coffee table decor ideas – 10 expert tips to quickly and easily re-style your living room

Pared-back or trinket heaven? Here's the lowdown on coffee table decor ideas and advice from interior designers on styling your space

a small living room with nested coffee tables
(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

After some coffee table decor ideas? You've come to the right place. From wooden and marble designs to ottomans with hidden storage and how to style your coffee table correctly, we've chatted to the experts to find out what coffee table works best in which setting and what really is the best way to display trinkets, if any at all?

There are so many living room furniture ideas out there it can be hard to focus on what might work in your space. When it comes to picking a coffee table, we say go with what you really love and makes you happy rather than what you think might work in your space, as mixing and matching different styles is a great look anyway. If you're after something slick and sleek, then perhaps a mirrored or metal design with slim legs might appeal, otherwise a chunky velvet ottoman or natural stone design might suit a more curated looked, topped with treasures discovered on travels.

Read on to discover our top 10 tips for all things coffee table-related.

10 coffee table decor ideas for the design experts 

First things first - how do you pick the right coffee table? In terms of practical considerations, consider the proportions of the coffee table in relation to your sofa and chairs. 

'Generally, your coffee table should be between 1/2 to 2/3 of the length of your sofa for the most aesthetically pleasing look,' says Anne Haimes, design director and founder of Anne Haimes Interiors. 

'The height of a coffee table and its decor plays an important role in both appearance and practicality – too high will end up blocking your view once you begin to style it, and too low will look and feel uncomfortable when sitting. Aim for the coffee table to be in line with the height of the seat cushions, give or take a few inches.'

1. Don't be put off by lack of space

a ottoman coffee table with a tray and books

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

If your living room is on the smaller side, don't let put you off getting your coffee table of dreams because even in the tiniest of spaces, a coffee table brings a certain je ne sais quoi to a space. Plus, they're pretty handy, too!  Make the most of your limited square footage with the right small living room furniture ideas.

'Have you ever seen those videos where somebody sets up an obstacle course down a hallway for a cat? A maze of Lego or dominoes which a cat manages to walk though without knocking over a single piece? Such agile creature’s cats. Do you know that a human can do that too? We only need a gap of about 40cm to manoeuvre around a sitting room,' explains interior designer Christian Bense. 'To forego a coffee table because it will “block your thoroughfare” is the same as expecting that Lego maze to deter a cat.'

'I appreciate that you might have kids and may need the room for activities, in which case get a coffee table or ottoman with wheels which can be easily moved,' he adds. 'However, don’t choose to not have a coffee table because of an apparent lack of space.'

an eclectic living room with a ottoman footstool

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

'To the average person, the height of a coffee table and the height of a sofa, matches (more or less) to the height of your knee,' explains Christian Bense. 'If anything is knee level or below, it is amazing how little we pay attention when it comes to walking around it. It’s more of an obstacle in our minds than it is in reality. It’s when pieces of furniture start getting to mid-thigh or hip height that we start to notice the pinch.' 

2. Keep it minimal for a happy home

Coffee table ideas and modern living room ideas

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

In this seriously serene semi, interior designer Natasha Jones showcases her love of luminous interiors and opted for a standout coffee table by Bailey & Jones. Natasha subscribes to the biophilic design approach, which recognizes that people feel happier surrounded by natural (and sustainable) materials, and uses neutral color palettes to enhance the feeling of light and space.

‘I aim to create homes that have a connection to nature,' she says. 'Really think about who is using the home and what they are doing. Make it pretty, make it yours and make sure it brings you joy to elevate your day. If you don’t love it, lose it – clutter literally clutters your mind and brings down your energy.'

See the rest of this South West London house and be inspired by the calm and pared-back interiors and if you're tempted by the marble coffee table - it looks great, right? 

3. Layer your scheme with two coffee tables

a modern nesting coffee table

(Image credit: King Living)

Nesting coffee tables or even a couple of different style coffee tables at varying heights can offer a really great aesthetic. The layering adds interest and provides extra surface space for things like mugs, candles, flowers and books. Jamie Watkins, co-founder of Divine Savages suggests to 'fill your living room with all the color and pattern you love so that it's bursting with the layers of your personality.' 

If you are decorating a round coffee table, remember to place objects in such a way that they are visible from all angles. Don't crowd the tabletop; leave some breathing room for mugs and books.

If you're after luxury living room ideas, one stylish option is adding a reclaimed oak bench with long legs over the top of a fabric ottoman. More surface space is achieved and the layering and mix of materials add a chic finish. Jessica Lagrange, principal designer and founder of Jessica Lagrange Interiors, says art and sculptural pieces are important factors in creating a luxurious space. She comments:  'Adding art pieces into a space can elevate a room by creating interesting focal points. In the living room this could be smaller sculptures on coffee or side tables.'

4. Top with trinkets and treasures

a living room with a stylish coffee table

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

Seeing beauty in imperfection and simplicity, jewellery designer Rosh Mahtani ensured her Clerkenwell home is an oasis with select artisanal pieces displayed on shelves and am antique coffee table taking pride of place. The curves of the seating and the hints of gold bring just the right amount of embellishment to the pureness of the pared-back space. ‘I envisaged the space to be like a gallery, a super clean and modern palette for which to display all my artefacts and artwork,’ says Rosh.

As a young girl, she spent her childhood collecting ‘magical’ stones and imbuing them with meaning. Now, inspired by Dante Alighieri, Rosh sculpts modern heirlooms and fragmented talismans. ‘I wanted to celebrate the beauty in imperfection,’ she explains. ‘Alighieri jewellery balances ancient practices with a modern sensibility, so this space definitely speaks to the brand. You can see that same juxtaposition between the modern white walls and linear details and my old relics.’

5. Pick the right decor for the shape of your table

Coffee table ideas modern living room with glass coffee table and modern art

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Coffee tables are a must for almost every living room – not only are they practical for placing drinks and books while lounging, but they also help to complete a room by filling empty spaces and can make for a beautiful centerpiece when styled correctly. 

'The shape of a coffee table is a factor that also shouldn’t be overlooked,' says Anne Haimes, Design Director and Founder of Anne Haimes Interiors. 'The easiest way to make sure a coffee table will suit your space is to mimic the shape and style of your sofa. The curved sofa trend has been growing in popularity recently, but pairing these sofas with the harsh, straight lines of a rectangular coffee table will disrupt the flow created by the curvature and will be jarring to look at. Instead, a circular coffee table or one with curved edges will be more appropriate here.'

'You’ll also need to consider how your coffee table can fill negative space. If the length and width of your empty space are identical then a round or square coffee table will work best. Conversely, an oval or rectangular table will work best in spaces where sofas and furniture are longer on one side than the other,' the designer adds.

6. Decide between maximalist and minimalist

a neutral living room with a leather sofa and small coffee table

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

Travertine coffee tables are all the rage at the minute and it's easy to see why, they're beautifully elegant, robust and the natural material brings in a sense of calm and connection with nature. Keep the look simple and serene by keeping accessories to a minimum with a creamy color palette, or boost the look with vibrant tones and plenty of objects. Color psychology in interior design looks at how different hues affect the way you look and feel so it's important to think about what works for you!

Tiffany Duggan, founder and director of Studio Duggan – known for its skillfully crafted and dynamic work for high-end residential and boutique commercial projects – is often encouraging her clients to be brave with color.

'Color is key to our mood and how likely we are to feel connected with our homes. If you’re unsure, start by looking at your wardrobe as we’re usually better at expressing ourselves with fashion choices than our homes,' she says. 'Is it a riot of color and pattern? Then you’re probably something of a maximalist! Perhaps there is a more neutral base – jeans, linen shirts and loafers with the odd bright jumper or handbag? If so, this is the way you should approach color choices at home.'

7. Style up an ottoman

an ottoman coffee table with objects on it

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Ottomans are a fantastic solution when it comes to choosing a coffee table for small living rooms. They're soft and textured so will add warmth to a cozy living room, plus they're often nice and big, offering plenty of surface area to display your favorite things. Use a tray to house smaller objet and position chunky coffee table books directly on it. Another benefit is that many ottomans and poufs come with inbuilt storage - handy!

'Personally, I am more partial to an upholstered ottoman rather than a hard surface coffee table,' says Christian Bense. 'Throw a couple of trays down, an “eat, drink, nap” coffee table book, and the ottoman will function just as well as any flat-surfaced coffee table.'

8. Style your coffee table from all angles

Modern Living room coffee table ideas with ottoman

(Image credit: Simon Bevan)

'A well styled coffee table really becomes a focal point to a room, and it becomes some what of a conversation starter,' explains Christian Bense. 'Make sure you style the coffee table from all angles, not just from the site parallel with the sofa.'

'For example, facing the spines of coffee tables to the outside so that people can read what books are on the table, adding candles and trinkets, or even leaving a deck of cards for people to reach over and shuffle whilst you’re having a chat,' he adds. 'To continue the cat analogy, and coffee table is basically a human scratch post, so keep it interesting and varied.'

9. Give it a vintage twist 

a stylish living room with art and orange accent chairs

(Image credit: James Merrell)

'My go-to coffee tables are usually vintage - I love to see pre-loved items in the home as they bring a warmth and charm to a space - and they work just as well in modern homes as well as old,' says Brooke Copp-Barton, interior designer and founder of Brooke Copp-Barton. 'Alternatively I’m also a fan of an upholstered ottoman - they can look softer than a table and allow you to bring in more color and pattern. Simply add a tray for a hard surface to put down cups of tea or a glass of wine!'

10. Sneak in storage

a modern glass coffee table with storage underneath

(Image credit: King Living)

Who doesn't want more storage in their home? Coffee tables with hidden storage or even just a shelf underneath to house extra magazines, books and TV remotes offer a clever way to sneak in some extra space. It doesn't need to just be practical either, coffee tables with stylish storage ideas can be beautiful, too. Just don't overfill with too much clutter (unless it's hidden of course). 'Décor can quickly become clutter if it’s not properly organized on a coffee table,' says Anne Haimes, design director and founder of Anne Haimes Interiors.

'Trays and bowls are perfect solutions to making sure your coffee table looks neat. Simply confine your décor on a tray for a compact way to style tables,' she adds. 'Doing so not only looks smarter but also means you can be sure that you’ll always have enough space to place temporary items like drinks, books and remote controls without having to make room.'

'When it comes to styling a living room centerpiece, such as a focal point coffee table, you can run into the dilemma of balancing practicality with aesthetics. Start with a beautiful coffee table and opt for an item that is both architectural and sculptural while also being practical. This is a vital first step in creating a luxurious and functional space,' say the experts at KING Living. 'When sourcing decor, look for a variety of textures, including brushed ceramics, clear glass, and bursts of natural fibers like raffia or sculptural macramé to add interest.'

How can I make my coffee table look nice?

'I love adding height to a coffee table with a branching floral,' says interior designer Lane McNab, of Lane McNab Interiors. 'Typically coffee tables are in the center of a room which can be the perfect spot to layer in something taller to add interest.  But the key is not to add something too heavy or large.  I love curling willow which will last a month in a vase of water.'

'Also, if you add something like a sculpture or a vase of flowers to a coffee table, be sure to ground it with a tray or a stack of books,' she adds. 'Not only does it act as a pedestal to the object giving it more presence and height, but it also protects your table’s finish too!'

Modern coffee table decor ideas

(Image credit: Arteriors)

What should I keep on my coffee table?

'When it comes to trending designs and what’s been selling well in the coffee table department, we’ve seen a real lift in sales of items that hero delicate, refined detail. Whether marbling, mixed material finishes or carved wood – all of which make their own design statement. Each piece will elevate a living room space with distinctly unique detailing and crafted accents which bring style and character,' says Helen Pett, Design Ambassador, Arteriors London

'These pieces are best styled simply, we like starting with a nice low-rise sculpted centerpiece and a coffee table book stack for an everyday look,' she adds. 'Of course, when entertaining, the additional tablespace can be used for floral arrangements, beautiful china and glassware and serving platters while still sitting prettily as a key part of your décor.'

Coffee table ideas modern living room with black coffee table and white boucle accent chair

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

Stick to the rule of three according to Anne Haimes. 'This classic interior design note can be used when designing any room in your home, but it works perfectly when deciding how to style a coffee table. Grouping items into threes can help create a pleasing symmetry while allowing you to establish an intriguing focal point within the room. Whether that’s stacking books or placing vases, be sure to stick to the rule of three for the most balanced appearance.'

Rachel Christie

As the Houses Editor on Livingetc, Rachel has been obsessed with property ever since she was a kid. With a diploma in interior design and more than a decade working on interior magazines under her belt, she feels very at home sourcing the best contemporary houses the world has to offer for Livingetc. It's not just the day job either, she admits she's spent a scary amount of her own time researching schemes for her own renovations - scrolling Instagram, stalking Rightmove and Modern House, flicking through magazines and snooping in other peoples' windows - so she really does live and breathe houses on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Before Livingetc, Rachel had a stint finding homes for Ikea Family magazine where she was lucky enough to gallivant around the world on shoots meeting and interviewing interesting people, all with a very keen eye for blending high-end design with everyday items from Ikea. It inspired her to not be afraid of mixing new and old, expensive and affordable, vintage and modern and so Rachel's current Victorian terrace in north London is very much an updated, contemporary take on a period property; think open-plan modern kitchen with concrete floors, feature fireplaces and her grandmother’s paintings on the walls. Rachel is currently crushing on reeded glass, large gingham prints, squishy curved furniture; like Buchanan Studio’s Studio chair, and vintage wall sconces; she especially adores Retrouvius for sourcing antique finds and feels inspired by Lonika Chande, Beata Heuman and Matilda Goad and already can’t wait to start planning her next home, wherever that might be.