Here’s an easy, satisfying project that costs absolutely nothing: restyle your coffee table. For this challenge, I enlisted the help of my good friend Patty Myefski. She and her husband John just moved to Chicago’s Gold Coast from the North Shore (finally!) and is in the process of setting up her chic new abode. My own living room coffee table was in need of a refresh. The arrangement looked clunky and random. Especially in smaller spaces, a coffee table really becomes the focus of a room, so a thoughtfully designed table top makes a big impact. Read on to see our before and after pics and the principals we followed to achieve a pleasing look that still functions. Even with all the fussing, each table took less than 20 minutes to make over. Very fulfilling!
We agreed that we would only use items from our home. This challenge wasn’t an excuse to run to Pottery Barn for the perfect vase (even though I was tempted). We used a recent article from the New York Times for guidance—The Effortless Way to Style a Coffee Table by Tim McKeough. The tips were simple enough: play with proportion, use books, sculpture and collections, consider contrast, include a living element and make sure the table functions as needed for the space.
Patty’s beautiful new condo is spacious and full of light. She had two surfaces in need of decor—a rectangular table anchoring the living room seating area and a round pedestal table in the den/media room. Patty and her husband are both of Scandinavian descent, have traveled extensively through that region, and even lived in Denmark. Many of their belongings reflect their love of Scandinavian culture and design. After downsizing from a five bedroom home, Patty had plenty of plants and decorative objects to choose from. And as you can see, she loves the color blue.
Patty’s table anchoring the conversation area was pretty bare (swipe for before pic) to begin with, but not for long. She used a white marble tray to provide contrast to the brown wooden surface, which providsd a non-permeable surface for her Christmas cactus and is a perfect backdrop for her collection of blue baubles. The glass trinkets make for great conversation starters—some were created by her son in art class while others, like the little classic Italian Aalto vase, are souvenirs from the couple’s travels. The open book, The Hinterland—Cabins, Love Shacks and Other Hide-outs, adds color and interest. The simple ceramic bird adds balance and reflects the white of the tray. The arrangement is interesting and layered but not fussy, and the table still has plenty of space for drinks and nibbles.
Principals used: creative use of books, mixing materials, showcasing collections, a living plant, and combining different heights/proportions.
Patty moved confidently onto the second coffee table and created this pleasing arrangement on the round pedestal table within minutes. The books add height and allow the blue ceramic bowl to shine. The vintage Dala horse from Sweden is a fun accent, the coasters look cohesive and the blue and white vase with fresh greenery ties everything together. Patty is very happy with this design which complements both rooms (and doesn’t her condo have a great view?).
Principals used: books, mixing textures and proportions, items with personal meaning, living element.
My living room coffee table, which is actually two brass & shagreen square tables pushed together, needed help (swipe for before pic). After reading The NY Times story I knew exactly what was wrong with my arrangement—the pieces were all kind of the same size, it didn’t have enough contrast or layers, lacked a plant, and felt out of season. I love to burn candles in the winter, but don’t use them as much in July. I liked the big hurricane candle’s height so I kept that one, ditched the smaller one along with the metal bowl which was too close to the color of the table, added some colorful flowers in an earthenware pitcher, put my precious Star Liana York horse sculpture (the first piece of real art I ever purchased) on a light colored book to show it off better, and tied it all together with bamboo coasters and a whimsical little John Derian tray. The result is brighter, more textured and more… sophisticated, I hope? (Except I might sneak over to Pottery Barn for a new vase!)
Principals used: contrast, books, sculpture, mixed materials different heights.
The Satisfaction Continues
Since embarking on this coffee table challenge I’ve been paying attention to what my friends have on display. My friend Lisa O’Brien has this creation going on at her newly renovated Wisconsin lake house. Note the use of the tray, the stack of books to create levels, the variety of heights and materials, some eclectic objects and, bonus—both a plant and flowers. I give Lisa high marks, and she didn’t even read the guidelines!
The best thing about this quick little challenge is you can do it anytime you want to mix things up. A coffee table is like a blank canvas to showcase your treasures, celebrate the seasons, or simply express yourself. I’d love to share some of your creations with my readers. If you have a coffee table arrangement that’s bringing you joy, tag @Stylechallengers on Instagram and I’ll post it here or on the Style Challengers Instagram feed. Happy styling!