Items never to store on a coffee table – what to avoid to maintain a stylish display

7 items experts recommend you keep off your coffee table to prioritize orderliness and aesthetics

Coffee table
(Image credit: Nicole Franzen / Hypen & Co / Jared Kuzia)

As the center of your living room, your coffee table often is used to store items that you might decide to come back to later, but this is a surefire way to create a living room space that appears cluttered and disorganized. 

Before you style your coffee table with your favorite coffee table decor, it's important to know which items to avoid keeping out on your coffee table in order to maintain an aesthetic display.

Ideally, coffee tables should be kept well organized, with a purposeful and well-balanced display. To achieve this, there are certain items that you should never allow to remain on your coffee table.

Items never to store on a coffee table

Melissa Gugni, owner of Melissa Gugni Organizing says, 'I say you should never "store" anything on a coffee table! I like to choose intentional items that have meaning on a coffee table.

'The more my coffee table pleases my eye, the more likely I am to not let stray cups, mail and other junk linger there.' This means you should make sure to avoid cluttering your coffee table with items that do not enhance the aesthetics and atmosphere of relaxation that your living room should exude. 

Melissa Gugni professional organizer
Melissa Gugni

Melissa Gugni is the owner and lead organizer of Melissa Gugni Organizing, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also co-owner of Union Larder, an award-winning wine bar and Little Vine, a wine and cheese shop also in San Francisco.

1. Too small/large decorative items

Black and white coffee table, black lamp

(Image credit: Tim Waltman)

Curating a balanced coffee table is all about finding well-proportioned items that don't look underwhelming or overwhelming on your coffee table. Items displayed on your coffee table that are too small, such as petite tea lights on a larger table, can look out of place, whereas items that are too large will leave little room for any negative space.

If you are styling your coffee table for fall, it's likely that you're planning to display a vase with fall foliage, but be sure that both the decorative vase and plants you're using are in an appropriate ratio that suits the size of your coffee table and the other items you wish to fit on the display.

2. Mail

living room with white sofas and coffee table

(Image credit: Jared Kuzia)

It's easy to absent-mindedly leave mail on your coffee table or to think that having it in such a visible spot will force you to get around to sorting through it, but this is almost as bad as leaving trash lying around on your coffee table.

Although your coffee table can be used to keep certain items, these should be decorative and contribute to the overall atmosphere of your living room, which your mail undoubtedly will not do.

Try to give yourself a rule where every time you get up from the couch you need to tidy away your mail or any stray items to avoid leaving it there to pile up. 

'If you are a person who is affected by visual clutter, I recommend a nightly "reset" of the coffee table (and countertops) as a good habit. It is a wonderful thing to wake up to a tidy surface,' advises Melissa Gugni. This is key to keeping this area that is meant for relaxation stress-free. If mail is often left out on the coffee table, consider finding ways to better organize mail so the bills and letters are less likely to pile up.

3. Remote controls


(Image credit: Nicole Franzen)

Although it may be tempting to keep your remote controls on your coffee table, since it is practically the most convenient place to keep them and prevents them from getting lost in the abyss that is your couch cushions, they are an unattractive item that will make your coffee table look disorganized, especially if you have more than one remote control.

If you have nowhere else to store your remote controls, opt for stylish options that will keep them organized and contained to one space, such as this Poeland remote control holder from Amazon, ensuring they don't ruin your coffee table display.

4. Random books and magazines

Living room with large coffee table and round white sofa

(Image credit: Brian Wetzel)

For many, living rooms are the perfect place to curl up with their favorite book or magazine, making coffee tables the default place to store books and magazines, but this should only be done with those that enhance your coffee table display.

Decorating with books and magazines can bring character to your coffee table and is one of the latest coffee table display trends that designers love, but you should be very selective about what makes the cut. This may mean the book or magazine you're actually reading is not the one that you use to adorn your coffee table. 

When decorating your coffee table with books, make sure to stack smaller books on top of larger ones and find those that have muted designs that match your color scheme.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite magazines to display on my coffee table are a few choice Homes & Gardens ones. 

If you want to display your books but their covers don't pass the aesthetics check, you can find book covers to decorate your books with, such as these PerKoop Book Covers from Amazon. Alternatively, often when you peel off the plastic cover of hardbacks you'll find something more textural.

5. Everyday items

Coffee table styled with books

(Image credit: McGee & Co)

Items that are used on a regular basis, such as office supplies, makeup, cleaning products, glasses, kids' toys, laptops, and earphones, should not be stored on your coffee table. 

'While toys are a part of homes with little ones, they can throw off the serene vibe you're trying to set. Seek out chic ways to stash them and keep toys organized,' recommends Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight.

Your coffee table should only be used for a balance of decorative, functional items that stylish display. By keeping your coffee table clear of everyday items, you will prevent your living room from becoming a makeshift office, primping space, or playroom.

Adopt the 'a place for everything it is place' mindset to help you avoid adding clutter to your coffee table. 

'Briefly placing cleaning items on your table might give off an "always cleaning" vibe, which isn't ideal,' adds Artem Kropovinsky.

Artem Kropovinsky
Artem Kropovinsky

Based in New York, Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight, has a decade of extensive and considerable global design experience. Prioritizing minimalism, sustainability, and authenticity, Artem, alongside his team of professionals, works on projects in the US and worldwide.

6. Valuable items

Living room with large fireplace

(Image credit: Cortney Bishop)

As the center of all living room traffic and a place that is sometimes used as a footrest, it's a safe idea to avoid putting your most valued and delicate items on your coffee table. This doesn't mean you shouldn't display your favorite candle holders and vases on your coffee table, but keep in mind the potential risks of keeping something you feel you could never risk losing on your coffee table. 

7. Coffee mugs

Coffee table with candle

(Image credit: McGee & Co)

Despite what the name might suggest, a coffee table should not be used to keep coffee mugs, except when they are currently in use. 

Again, your coffee table shouldn't be an area of your home where you allow yourself to leave items such as glasses and mugs on until you do a big cleanup at the end of the week. You should only allow the dedicated decorations to remain on your coffee table for longer than a day.


What are some of the best decorations for coffee tables?

The magic combination of four coffee table decorations that we recommend is: 

1. a candle or candle holders with candles 

2. a vase of flowers or a potted plant 

3. a decorative bowl

4. books 

These can be used in combination or individually, depending on the size and proportions of your coffee table and selected items. Below we've listed some of our top picks from Anthropologie.

Remember, a coffee table with minimalist decor will be a more elegant display and will ensure that you don't let it become cluttered with random items that don't add to your living room, but rather create a clustered look.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.