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In a quandary about what to put on your new coffee table?

The following are points to consider before you accessorize:

  • Is your room formal or casual? Choosing decorative accessories is not that different from choosing the accessories you wear. Would you wear the same accessories with a cocktail dress that you would put on with jeans and a sweater?
  • Are you devoted to a particular look or style? While eclecticism is always welcome, discretion is advised. An Acoma pot from New Mexico would look uncomfortable on a dainty Queen Anne tea table. That same pot could look wonderful, though on a streamlined, contemporary coffee table.
  • Do you have a passionate interest or hobby, or are you an avid sports enthusiast? Your room should tell the story of who you are. Two or three books on your favorite subject(s) are ideal coffee table accessories. You'll have handy access to them, and visitors will learn more about you by having them visible.
  • Is there a TV in this room? Will it be viewed from behind the coffee table?  If so, avoid tall objects, which will obstruct the view.
  • Is your coffee table large or small? The size of the table will determine the number of items, and/or the scale of the objects which would work best.

There is no set formula for accessorizing a coffee table, nor should there be. Your choices will be as unique as you are. That being said, a coffee table with nothing placed on it will create a cold, austere, unfinished feeling in a room. Not friendly. And one which is cluttered with a jumble of un-related odds and ends will give the room a chaotic, nervous feel.

EXPERIMENT! These guidelines will assist you in finding just the right balance and scale for your table, as well as for the entire room:

Keep it simple. An average size rectangular table (approx. 48" X 28") doesn't require more than three items to create a balance which is pleasing to the eye.

Stay with "odd" numbers. Three is more pleasing than four. Five is more pleasing than six.

Choose variety in heights. Think low, medium, high. Avoid choosing objects of only one height. Get as dramatic as you like. But always consider whether the height of an item might create a visibility problem such as viewing TV, or the guest sitting on the other side of the coffee table. If you have to lean to the left or right to see the object of your interest, it's a no-go.

If you are a collector and would like to place a grouping of, let's say, your Limoges boxes, on your coffee table, no problem. Just treat that "block" of tiny boxes as one item. Now add, for example, a chunky pillar candle in a low candleholder, beside a pot of lovely Cyclamen. Done.

To sum up, trust your eye to know when the combo is working. Timidity won't cut it. Keep it bold but uncomplicated.

And, most importantly, make sure it's you!

- Karen Saloomey


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