Kathy Kuo's 3 essential coffee table styling rules – for a truly chic display

A coffee table will always be a central design feature in a living room, learn how to style yours to perfection with Kathy Kuo's expert design advice

Kathy Kuo
(Image credit: Kathy Kuo)

A coffee table not only creates a practical storage space, it provides the perfect place to get creative with a whole host of decorative styling opportunities, making it one of the most important and versatile pieces of furniture in a living room.

To help you style your coffee table decor to create a beautiful display, Kathy Kuo, interior designer and founder of homeware brand, Kathy Kuo Home, has shared with us the three essential coffee table styling rules that she always follows in her designs. 

From the importance of coffee table books, to the versatility of decorative trays, follow Kathy's styling tips to ensure your coffee table is a beautiful, central focal point in your living room space.

kathy kuo home
Kathy Kuo

Kathy Kuo is a celebrated interior designer and international guru within the home and lifestyle space. She has 20+ years of experience in the design industry. 

1. Use decorative trays

Decorative trays are ideal for organizing the objects on your coffee table into one zoned area, and they can add another layer of texture, shape and color to your coffee table design. 

Kathy says, 'I love to use decorative trays when styling my coffee table. Trays are a great way to add visual interest and provide a nice structure to style a fun vignette inside of. With a two-piece coffee table, such as our Interlude Amerigo Mid Century Modern design shown below, I use two trays that are different sizes but have a coordinated look – I love that they look cohesive without being matchy-matchy.'

2. Style with coffee table books

'It goes without saying that coffee table books are a fun and versatile styling element for any coffee table – 'coffee table' is literally right there in the description! I like to play around with stacking coffee table books in different combinations to add height and pops of color. 

My favorite thing about using coffee table books to style a tabletop is that, aside from looking great, they're so interactive and they're a lovely way to infuse your interests and passions into your home decor,' says Kathy.

3. Incorporate a mix of design elements

From decorative trays and coffee table books, to candles and ornaments, the most interesting and unique of coffee table displays will always incorporate a range of different items, as Kathy explains.

'When styling a coffee table, it's important to aim for a mix of design elements that speak to practical concerns as well as aesthetic ones. Of course you'll want beautiful decorative objects and meaningful touchstones – I have framed photos of my kids and my treasured Simon Pearce singing bowl – but you'll also want have things like coasters, a little box or bowl for TV remotes, and space for luxe extras like the best candles, reed diffusers, and bud vases.'

Shop Kathy Kuo's coffee table look


How do you arrange things on a coffee table?

When arranging objects on a coffee table, the key is to find the perfect balance between and beauty and functionality.

Prioritize the essential items you want to keep on your table first, and then assess how much space you have to bring in other, more decorative pieces. Use a tray to organize your designs into one area, or spread things out across the surface in small groupings. As we have explored with Kathy's essential coffee table styling rules, incorporate a mix of different designs to create a visual interesting and stylish display – just ensure your coffee table doesn't get too cluttered.

If your coffee table is positioned near your living room seating, it is also worth considering what items you want to have close by when your sat relaxing, such as magazines and TV remotes.

If you're unsure on what items you should display on your coffee table, or your tabletop is feeling a little cluttered and overwhelmed, we explore the items never to store on a coffee table in our dedicated feature.

Zara Stacey
Managing Editor

Zara is the Managing Editor at Homes & Gardens. She joined the brand in February 2022 as an Interiors Content Editor, specializing in writing content on interior color trends, decorating ideas and design inspiration. After studying English Literature at University, she worked as an Ecommerce Website Editor, Content Writer and Buying Intern at multiple independent businesses within the luxury retail and lifestyle sectors. She enjoys nothing more than discovering new trends, brands and products, whether that be in fashion, interior design or lifestyle.