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coffee table books

Modsy Designers On: Our Favorite Coffee Table Books and How to Style Them

Styling your coffee table is one of those finishing touches that helps pull together the style of your living room. But actually styling your coffee table can prove to be quite the challenge. Where to begin? What objects and home decor to include?

One of our favorite items for coffee table styling is using coffee table books. A small stack of these, paired with a decorative object, candle, or tray can pull your whole look together in no time.

To help you out, we polled our Modsy designers on how they style coffee table books and rounded up some of their best coffee table styling ideas! Bonus: They’re also sharing their favorite and best coffee table books! (Coffee table books make a perfect holiday gift for the design-lover in your life!) Keep reading for all of their best surface styling tips.

coffee table books

Step 1: Choosing Your Books

When styling your coffee table with coffee table books, you’ll want to start by carefully selecting which books you want on display. Are you going for a purely aesthetic look? Look for books that have visually stunning covers. (And don’t be afraid to remove the paper book cover if what’s underneath works better with your color scheme!) And if you’ll have a small stack of books rather than a single book, make sure the colors of the covers work well together.

However, you could also choose books based on your personal interests—whether that’s home decor, gardening, travel, or anything else that piques your interest! This will definitely make you more apt to actually sit down and read your coffee table books rather than simply using them for display.

Of course, you don’t have to stick with the same stack of books all year round. You can switch them out seasonally (or whenever you get a great new book!), with topics or color schemes that suit the mood or decor of your space!

Here’s how some of our designers are bringing these tips to life…coffee table books

Removing Your Book Covers

“I always remove the paper sleeves of the books to reveal the hardcovers, which are normally textured and solid, in turn creating a cleaner look. Organizing them in a tray is also great for achieving a tidy look!” –Valentina.

Valentina’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love anything that has to do with travel! I feel most inspired to create unique home designs after immersing myself in another culture’s design habits. One of my favorites is New York Times’ 36 Hours: World.”

Opting for Books With Solid-Colored Covers

“My coffee table books are always solid colors, so they pair well with accessories. I currently have Homebody by Joanna Gaines on my table, which underneath the paper cover (which I always throw away) is a gorgeous faded blue linen. On top, I place a mini globe and I angle the book slightly diagonally, lining the remote upside down with the diagonal line of the book.” –Sam K.

Sam’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love the History of Interior Design by John Pile and Judith Gura, and the Interior Design Master Class. Under the paper covers, they both have beautiful sagey green/blue solid-colored covers. And I love that they’re not just beautiful but also very informative!”

Rotating Books Throughout the Year

“You don’t have to have the same books out on your coffee table year-round. Rotate them throughout the seasons, and remember to crack them open occasionally!” –Natalie B.

Natalie’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I’ve recently loved displaying pretty cookbooks like Cherry Bombe!”

coffee table books

Step 2: Styling With Other Objects

Once you have your coffee table books selected, you’ll want to start thinking about how to arrange them. You can certainly just style your coffee table with one or two stacks of books—but it’s always nice to add some other objects and decor for visual interest.

Two things that go perfectly with books, every time? Plants and candles. You can’t go wrong by layering one or both of these objects on top of or alongside your coffee table books. We also love integrating personal objects, for a more custom look.

When styling, you want to think about visual balance. We recommend choosing objects with varying heights—or using your stack of books as a foundation to add height to one object, while another sits directly on the coffee table. When layering in different books and decor, think about contrast—both in color and texture. This will add visual interest to your vignette. Another good rule of thumb when styling your coffee table? Work in pairs if you want a more symmetrical look, and work in trios of objects if you want a more organic look.

But don’t layer in too many objects. Ultimately, your coffee table is about function, so a simple arrangement is better.

Here’s how some of our designers are bringing these tips to life…

coffee table books

Creating Some Visual Drama

“I love the look of beads or a chain draped over a thick stack of books. It gives the whole arrangement a dramatic flair. A small decorative box placed on or beside some coffee table books is a sleek way to tidy up your table.” –Gracie H.

Gracie’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

Neutra: Complete Works has an amazing collection of his work and a very cool wood cover. I also love Old and New—it has some amazing reuse projects!”

Incorporating a Variety of Heights, Textures, and Colors

“I recommend keeping the coffee table styling simple by using stacked books with either a decorative object or a small plant on top. They should be functional by incorporating a decorative box to hide TV remotes as well. There is also the opportunity to use a variety of heights, textures, and color.” –Brookes M.

Brookes’ Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“Some of my favorite coffee table books include Christian Dior: History and Modernity, 1947 – 1957; The Big Book of Chic; Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life; and Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color.”

Adding a Personal Touch

“Coffee tables should be a representation of comfort and a reflection of a family’s needs and how they use the space. And I ALWAYS add a personal touch to coffee table designs!” –Karen G.

Karen’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love looking at architectural books from around the world to inspire me to think outside the box.”

Varying the Heights of Decorative Objects

“I like making piles with my books and adding other accessories on top of them to create an arrangement with varying heights across the table.” –Karen D.

Karen’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I’m a big fan of all the Kelly Wearstler books!”

Considering Scale and Proportion

“I like books paired with similar-sized items—like a basket for remotes, a decorative game board, or a tray for smaller items—or flanked by two smaller items.” –Erin K.

Erin’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I find Architects’ Houses really inspiring.”

Creating a Lived-In Look

I love to pair books with candles and magazines to give it the lived-in look. Having a small decorative bowl on the table also helps to store things like remotes on the coffee table while not detracting from the decor.” –Rachel S.

Rachel’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

She: Muses, Visionaries and Madcap Heroines by Kate Spade New York is such a cute one. I also enjoy The Finer Things from Pottery Barn.”

coffee table books

Including Some Snacks

“Plants and snacks are my go-to coffee table decor to pair with books. I like to keep something to munch on in a beautiful bowl or glass next to my stack of books!” –Ayah O.

Ayah’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love Vogue collections and any country-specific landscape books.”

Using Books to Create Height

“When you group items together, it makes a bigger statement. I love to use coffee table books to add height to a small object!” –Morgan W.

Morgan’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love A Tree in the House: Flowers for Your Home, Special Occasions and Every Day; Live Beautiful; and Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating.”

coffee table books

Creating a Collection

“I love a collection of things on a coffee table—like a few books or magazines with candles and potted plants. A good way to hide a remote is to have a small bowl or tray where you can set remotes—adding beauty to the arrangement without taking away the functionality.” –Katelin S.

Katelin’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love home magazines and catalogs—anything from Taste of Home to Pottery Barn. Just something that has a warm and cozy feel to it.”

Working in Layers

“Like my design style, I like blending old and new, as well as colorful with subdued, and blending in different interests, like gardening and cooking. I like to layer the tallest stacks in the back or middle, and shorter stacks in the front, placing some decorative boxes, candles, photos, plants, or bowls on top of some of the books, but not all. Decorative boxes make a great place to stash remotes or a book or matches.” –Brielle M.

Brielle’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I love anything Tricia Guild for her gorgeous patterns and anything Bobby McAlpine for his amazing architectural style. I also love vintage books on patterns, furniture, and architecture. And when I’m looking for some classic inspiration, I turn to Mark Hampton and Mario Buatta.”coffee table books

Step 3: Incorporating Storage + Organization

As we just mentioned, a coffee table is ultimately about function. It’s the surface you use for beverages, snacks, laptops, phones, and whatever else you have nearby when on your sofa. So, you don’t want too cluttered of a surface. And it also helps to incorporate some storage and organization.

This can start with a storage coffee table if you want larger amounts of hidden storage. But you can also integrate good-looking (albeit smaller) storage options right within your styled surface. That’s where trays, boxes, and bowls come in. Trays are an excellent way to corral all of the styled objects on your coffee table and give the arrangement an added look of intentionality. (They also make it easy to clear off your coffee table for a game night or movie night dinner!)

Bowls make great catchalls for a match collection or anything you want to keep handy. But if you prefer hidden storage, a decorative storage box is going to be your best friend! They offer the perfect place to stash remotes when they’re not in use, or to tuck a pad of paper and pen for when you’re struck with a brilliant idea!

Ultimately, it’s all about incorporating storage and organization in a way that works for your needs.

Here’s how some of our designers are bringing these tips to life…coffee table books

Embracing the Catch-All

“I love having some sort of catch-all for remotes and game controllers on my coffee table that is functional but still looks great! Right now, I’m using a gorgeous bamboo and lacquer bowl but I’ve used decorative boxes, small baskets, and trays for this, too!” –Mackenzie R.

Mackenzie’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“To me, the best coffee table books are conversation starters! I like to display books that feature my favorite artists. (I currently have quite a few Frida Kahlo and Banksy books!) It’s so fun when people come over and start to flip through the pages. They always land on a piece that speaks to them and it usually sparks some fun conversations about their favorite artists!”

Utilizing Hidden Storage

“I love a good coffee table with hidden storage—that way you can keep the less pretty items hidden and make the surface of your table beautiful without losing the important function of the room. (Because let’s face it, we’re all bingeing everything these days, and we need those remotes!) Pairing a book or two with a candle, small succulent, or leafy plant and a funky vase is perfect for a simple yet intriguing vignette.” –Becky S.

Becky’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“Vintage interior design books are amazing! It’s so fun to look back on what was trendy (and sometimes still trendy!), and they make much more interesting talking pieces than any old design book you can find on Amazon.”coffee table books

Corralling Objects With a Tray

“Using a beautiful tray on your coffee table helps hide your remotes. All you see at a glance are the books and greenery.” –Kelly W.

Kelly’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“The Fall season is all about Halloween for me, so I love bringing in my London’s Strangest Tales, Scottish Myths & Legends, and Scottish Folk Tales books.”

Creating Your Own Hiding Spot

“The oldest trick in the book (pun intended) is hiding remotes inside a coffee table book with a secret cut-out.” –Arlene H.

Arlene’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I’m currently loving Homebody by Joanna Gaines and Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs.”coffee table books

Including Useful Objects

“I love layering a small tray over a book and adding useful objects like a candle, coasters and a ceramic vessel for holding remotes in a stylish way.” –Lauren H.

Lauren’s Coffee Table Book Recommendations

“I really enjoy The Travel Book, The Outsiders, Humans of New York, Made to Order by Campion Platt, and Allure by Diana Vreeland.”

Need some other living room design ideas? We’ve got you covered with an endless feed of inspiration! And if you need help with other furniture and surfaces in your living room, check out our coffee table buying guide and our bookshelf styling ideas!

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coffee table ideas

No Coffee Table, No Problem – 7 Things You Can Use Instead

If you give a living room a sofa, it’ll want a coffee table to go with it. Or at least that’s what those traditional interior design rules say. And it’s true that sofas and coffee tables are generally the focal point of your living room.

With that, there are many things to consider when landing on the right coffee table for your space. You’ll want to consider the coffee table shape and size in relation to your sofa, as well as the coffee table material, to make sure it blends with your living room’s style. And then there are the lifestyle needs to consider—like if you need a kid-friendly coffee table or one that includes storage.

coffee table ideas

But just because they’re a key piece of furniture in your living room doesn’t mean you have to go for something traditional or expected. In fact, you can get pretty creative with coffee table ideas. There are actually quite a few coffee table alternatives out there to suit your interior design style and your preferences and lifestyle. So, if you’re interested in exploring some alternatives to coffee tables, keep reading for seven of our favorite ideas!

Whether you’re struggling to design a small space, or if you want your living room to be a bit more kid-proof, here are 8 coffee table alternatives that will work in any space.

coffee table ideas – ottoman

1. A Plush Ottoman

Ottomans are an awesome coffee table alternative because they can act as a table but are kid-proof. With soft edges, there are no corners for kids to bump into. And if you still want to style it, add a few of your favorite coffee table books or place a tray on top as a stable surface for drinks! Plus they double as extra seating options so your kids and guests have space to sit!

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coffee table ideas - 2 poufs

2. A Pair of Poufs

Similar to a plush ottoman, poufs are another kid-friendly favorite for living room areas. Two poufs can make a perfect replacement for a coffee table and are just right for smaller spaces and for people who like to entertain. We love that they can easily double as a footrest, side table, and extra seat!

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coffee table alternatives

3. A Bench

Not a fan of using a large table as your centerpiece? One of our favorite coffee table alternative ideas is to use a bench instead. Using an attractive wooden or upholstered bench as a coffee table can add surface space, extra seating, and even additional storage. Talk about a triple-threat!

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coffee table alternatives

4. A Cluster of Side Tables

A coffee table doesn’t always have to be one large table. In fact, one of our favorite coffee table styling ideas, when you want something out of the box, is using a cluster of side tables as a coffee table alternative. This allows you to easily move them when you are entertaining in order to give your guests an easy place to set their drinks.

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coffee table ideas

5. Side Tables With Varying Heights

Two small, mismatched side tables can also be a good alternative for smaller spaces that don’t have room for one large table. Make your space feel less cramped by opting for one short and one taller table. This is one of our favorite coffee table ideas for people who want to make their space feel more dynamic.

coffee table alternative

6. A Storage Ottoman

Need some extra storage? Opt for one of our favorite small apartment furniture ideas: A storage ottoman. It not only acts as a coffee table alternative but also an extra seat and hidden storage. Simply open up the lid in order to store things inside. It’s great for storing blankets, books, magazines or other things you want to keep handy but out of sight.

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coffee table ideas - c-side table

7. A C-Side Table

If you have no room at all, you can try a C-side table in order to maximize space in a small living room. C-tables are small and easy to move; and, because of their shape, they can snuggle up close to your sofa so they don’t take up much floor space. You can also use them as an impromptu desk when you don’t want to leave the sofa to work.

8. A Single Stool

Another coffee table alternative that’s great for small spaces? A single stool. It’s a great pairing with low-profile sofas, as the low height of the stool works well with the lower sofa seat. And speaking of seating—using a stool as a coffee table gives you an extra seating option, which is perfect for small or multipurpose spaces, like a studio apartment. It’s also more affordable than a traditional coffee table, which makes it a great budget-friendly coffee table alternative as well! And if you move and decide to upgrade to a larger coffee table, you can easily use a stool elsewhere in your home.

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These are just a few suggestions for you to use other pieces of furniture in lieu of a coffee table! What are your favorite coffee table ideas?

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