How To Decorate A Tray On A Coffee Table

Decorating or styling a coffee table takes a bit of practice, but with my basic guidelines, you can create. beautiful and practical vignette on your coffee table.

Today I’m also joining 4 of my friends as part of our monthly, Simply Home Series. We are all sharing our favorite tips for styling and sources for coffee table decor. Be sure to check them out at the bottom of this post!

Artfully decorating a coffee table elevates the style and feel of a living space. It adds layers and textures to a room in a small scale, but really makes a room look ‘put together’ and intentional.

There are many ways all kinds of designers will style a coffee table, but over the years I have learned combinations and a ‘method’ to the madness that works for me.

The first thing you want to do is gather all the smaller decor items that could possibly work to decorate your coffee table. Pictured above is items I pulled around my house so I could look at everything in one place. Anything that wasn’t in the color palette of the room I was working in, I excluded.

1. Choose a Tray

Wood round tray, White round tray (similar), Blue woven round tray (similar), Mirror square tray (similar), wood rectangular tray, Gold hex tray (similar), Brass square tray, Black basket

I love having items corralled on a tray because it makes things easier when trying to clear the coffee table for whatever activity our family might need it for- games, toys, etc.

See more of this room here

When selecting a tray, go for a larger size (about 18″+ across allows you to fit more than a couple items on it), and pick a material or finish that is different than your coffee table. For example, my coffee table is a medium stained wood, so I’m not going to use a stained wood tray. You want contrast between the tray and the coffee table.

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You also want to choose a material that isn’t going to damage your surface.

Mother-of-Pearl Tray similar, See more of this room here

I have collected some trays for awhile, but I don’t have any two of the same color/material.

Basic coffee table styling can be broken down into 1 main idea: varied heights. I like to stick to groupings of 3 heights— tall, short, and mid-height. Odd numbers are pleasing to the eye, as well as objects hitting different visual planes.

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2. Select Tall Object

Black teardrop vase (similar), glass vase, White ceramic vase (similar), Woven vase (similar), Blue pottery vase

Select a taller object that corresponds well in size of the coffee table. If using a vase for your tallest object, a small table requires a small vase, larger table, larger vase. There is a bit more freedom for placement when not using a tray, but if you are using a tray, you want to use a vase that has a narrow base. Put fresh branches or stems in larger vases to add some life to the vignette, or tuck in a small potted plant if the mouth of the vase has room.

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3. Pick Short Object

Candle, woven round lidded box (similar), Silver oval box, Marble decor bowl, White lidded box, Brass cricket box

After placing the tallest object on the tray or coffee table, move onto the shortest or lowest object. This can be stacked books, a marble bowl, dish, lidded box, or a short candle.

The reason to go from tallest to shortest object when styling a coffee table is because it allows you to balance the placement of those two objects before adding anything else. They typically take up the most “real estate” on the tray or table, and it really gives you direction to what you will select next- you can decide to layer or stack another object on top of the shortest object or not, and what space is left will determine what your mid-height object will be.

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4. Add Greenery

A no-fail rule with coffee table styling includes greenery in some way. If you didn’t use greenery for your tallest object, then adding a small potted plant is a perfect mid-height object. This is usually where I play around with placement and determine if I’m ‘married’ to the object I selected as my tallest. A potted plant stacked on top of some books can end up being my tallest object, which is no problem, because the next element of coffee table styling can serve as the mid-height object:

5. Add Sculptural Object

Brass candlestick holders, Metallic asterisk, Metallic orb, Limestone rings (restocked online periodically), Deer antler, Wood beads, Sea glass beads, Faceted bone beads

A sculptural object is the element that adds an artistic flair to coffee table styling. Typically this is something that is visually light, but there is texture of surface (bumpy, smooth, rough, pointy, etc). and material (metallic, glass, stone, wood, bone, etc).

If you layer one of these larger sculptural objects on top of stacked books, then that can serve as your mid-height object. A smaller object, like beads, layered on top of books won’t add much height, but provides that necessary texture.

How to Style a Round Tray on a Coffee Table

Here are 2 examples of how I styled a round tray on a coffee table, and the process so you can see what I added first and determined placement.

In this example I used a round blue woven tray:

Animated GIF of the steps:

Here is another example using a large white round tray:

Animated GIF of the steps:

Both trays are about 20″ across so there is plenty of room for objects.

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How to Style a Square Tray on a Coffee Table

Likewise, here are demonstrations of how I styled a square tray on a coffee table, 2 different ways.

In this example I used a square black mirror tray:

Animated GIF of the steps:

In all of these examples you will see me using 4 to 5 objects but always with 3 heights.

Coffee table, Rug, Sofa (Ikea Ekorp), Blue wide stripe pillow, Blue small stripe pillow, White and black strip pillow

Again, using the same tray, but with different objects:

Hopefully you can start to see the process with these GIFs!

Styling a Coffee Table with No Tray

With round coffee tables, it sometimes can be easier to not use a tray. This allows you to still have room to use the coffee table without being restricted with the perimeter of a tray.

Chandelier (similar), Couch (similar), rug, coffee table, Blue stripe pillow, Lumbar block print pillow, Terracotta pillow, Black and white floral pillow

Notice I use objects that repeat colors that already exist with the other decor in the room. This repetition of color is a fundamental principle of interior design. Think of it as every color needs a friend, somewhere in the room.

Notice, I use the same elements and principles as I did when I used a tray, but now my placement can be relaxed and spaced out a little. I like to keep 3 groupings for a round table so it feels balanced.

See more of this room here

To recap: gather all your decor items for table styling in one place, focus on having 3 different heights of your objects, choose a tray with a different material than your coffee table, select a tall object, pick a short object, add greenery, and finally add a sculptural object. With this no-fail method you will have a beautifully styled coffee table!

To learn how to style console tables, check out this post.

To see my favorite kid-friendly coffee tables, check out this post.

Now check out my friends’ posts below and see how they style their coffee tables!

Maison de Cinq: How to Style a Coffee Table

Seeking Lavender Lane: Coffee Table Styling 101

Shades of Blue: The Basics of Coffee Table Styling

So Much Better with Age: Easy Formula for Coffee Table Styling

Thistlewood Farms: How to Decorate a Coffee Table