How To
Style Your Coffee Table
4 simple steps toward a scene-stealing coffee table.

Check out the fifth installment of “HomeWork with TRNK” – our weekly column for GQ.

The coffee table is often the first thing you see when you walk into a living room – but when it comes to decorating our own homes, we often overlook this scene-stealing centerpiece. Contrary to common practice, this living room staple isn’t merely a glorified footrest — in fact, a thoughtful coffee table display truly sets the tone for the entire space. We’ve identified four simple steps for curating your coffee table. By hitting these key components, you can quickly turn a lackluster living room into a well-appointed space.

1. Coffee Table Literature

While you’re busy playing bartender, your guests need something to keep themselves entertained. Embrace the opportunity to flaunt your cultural prowess, and always have a few compelling pieces of literature handy at the table. Hardcover art books are always a great option, but we also recommend independent quarterlies, vintage magazines and artzines.

Keep in mind that the literature is also part of a display. Look for well-designed covers with strong imagery and graphic typography. We recommend stacking three or four books of varying dimensions, and depending on the size of the table, one or two stacks at a time. Be sure not to overdo it – it should be a sampling, not a library.

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2. Sculptural Objects

Much like any mantle or bookshelf, your coffee table display will benefit from a few sculptural objects folded into the mix. Look for round forms that offset the linear stack of literature, and varied heights for added dimension.

For a clean, minimal look, include a series of like objects made from the same material – like a small array of ceramic vessels or a set of candle holders. For a more eclectic look, mix-and-match a few conversation pieces that convey a bit of your personality – anything from a wood carving you picked up in Peru, to a set of mini succulents. Two or three objects is all you need – anything more will start to look like clutter.

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3. A Set of Coasters

A handsome set of coasters will keep your table free from water-rings, while adding another stylish touch to the overall display.

A simple set of brass coasters are great for any space, modern or traditional, and will patina nicely with age.

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4. The Serving Tray

The last step towards mastering the art of coffee table display is by equipping yourself with a serving tray. The piece adds another layer of dimension to your flat surface, while keeping all of your new contents contained and organized. We recommend placing your coasters, sculptural objects and those wandering remote controls inside the tray; that way they’ll be kept more discrete, but you’ll always know where to find them).

A sleek design made from solid wood will look good in any space, but a metal tray can add a bit of luster if you’re the flashier type. Remember though: keep it simple, and let the other styling objects run the show.

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