Tables of Content

How to create tantalizing topography on your coffee table

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Is that table in front of your couch a flatland of remote controls, coasters, and magazines? Does it need hills and valleys? Wildlife? Life? We recently gathered some of the best-styled coffee tables we’ve shown in our magazine and talked to the people who made them look so good. A consensus seems to be that fresh flowers are a plus (though, as you see here, not required), unexpectedly large objects lend personality, and, generally speaking, it’s hard to go wrong with books (unless they are too small). Playing with heights and scale is encouraged. From there on out, it’s all about being true to yourself. Are you a minimalist in the rest of your house? If so, keep the coffee table spare, too. Love collections? Let’s see them front and center. And by all means, switch things up from time to time. All we ask is: Keep your remotes elsewhere.

1. When interior designer Bruce Fox of Heather Wells Ltd. arranges a coffee table, he keeps in mind the bird’s-eye view. That means tops of things—the cover of a book, the lid on a container, such as the Asian red-lacquered box shown here—should be beautiful. He also likes to play with scale; the water jug here might seem a little big, but as far as Fox is concerned, that’s the point. Like many other designers, he is a fan of low coffee tables. “Lower than seating height looks more modern,” he says.

2. These homeowners are avid collectors of ethnographic art, so Chicago Home + Garden stylist and decorator Arden Nelson (773-251-9510) made sure the coffee table showed the goods. Yet if you look closely, you will see that there are actually only three major objects on the table—the flower-filled vase and two sculptural pieces—plus some very cool old keys. “Just because you have a big table doesn’t mean you should cover it with stuff,” Nelson says. Instead, use a few objects that have lots of presence.

3. In keeping with the bold, modern feeling of the room, architect David Ries (a former Chicagoan now in New York) chose a cool palette—with a splash of red—for the objects on the table. Stacked books make an effective pedestal for other things; a gentle arrangement of white flowers balances the hard edges. Two see-through elements here—the sculpture and the glass tabletop.


Photography: (1,2) Kate Roth; (3) Nathan Kirkman