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In The Middle Of It
Cristin Priest
In The Middle Of It
Photo Credit: BHG
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Tucked between sofas and chairs, coffee tables help balance out a room. Although known as a staple in living or family rooms, coffee tables are also found in other areas of the home such as bedrooms, offices and sunrooms. Regardless of the location, styling a coffee table is an essential element in completing the room’s overall look.

It may seem simple, but artfully styling a coffee table takes careful consideration.  It’s easy to plop down some books, plants and a tray, but it may not be pleasing to the eye. When selecting items to decorate the surface, keep in mind basic principles of design including scale, balance, rhythm and harmony. Taking these design principles into consideration, here are some tips for decorating a coffee table:

Evaluate Scale. Take into consideration the scale or visual weight of your coffee table and the other furnishing that embody the space. The example above, by interior designer Palmer Weiss, incorporates a round glass coffee table, which has less visual weight than the surrounding furnishings. To complement the table’s scale, shape and material, Weiss selects three groups of items; a decorative plate, fresh flowers and a couple books – all heavier in visual weight than the coffee table itself. Notice the coral & white fresh flowers subtly pick up on the pillow’s hue – this is not an accident. The floral arrangement also adds height to the grouping without blocking the view of the TV, fireplace or guests’ faces. The round plate picks up on similar colors in the space, but more importantly repeats the circle patterns throughout the space. The magnifying glass placed on the coffee table books adds a touch of whimsy and that magical third element to the grouping. One design trick, which Weiss uses here, is to arrange accessories in a group of three.

Strike Visual Harmony. Designer, Hillary Thomas used a trio of compatible items to create a harmonious look on this square coffee table. Again, fresh flowers in various shades of pink and red pick up on pair of ikat pillows {keep plants. A small round tea light breaks up the straight lines of the table and adds a romantic touch. {If you have small children or pets, please be careful when lighting candles on a coffee table – for safety reasons candles should be kept out of reach.} This time a pair of coffee table books are grounded with Foo Dogs. The Asian figurines compliment in style, texture and color the garden stools placed in front of the sofa.

Achieve Balance. In the formal seating room above, designer Tobi Fairley creates a symmetrical balance by placing matching chairs, side tables and table lamps on either side of the sofa. The pair of books and glass art accessories selected to decorate the coffee table breaks the room’s formal symmetry, creating visual balance and interest.

Above designer, Hillary Thomas using a large square tufted ottoman as a coffee table in this family room. A contrasting black lacquer tray is the perfect accessory to unify and showcase other decorative items. The asymmetrical arrangement of the stone horse figurine, book and succulent plant creates a visual balance. This informal balance can be difficult to achieve for some and there are no set of rules as to what is right or wrong. Many times it requires patience and plenty of trial and error to get it right.

Create Rhythm.  Here designers, Hattie Wolfe and Abby Rizor place a large Indonesian bowl on a stout wooden coffee table. While some may argue the scale of the bowl is too large, it works not only because the repetition it provides in color & texture, but its contrasting round form creates rhythm in the space. I’m not sure how this bowl was acquired, but showcasing treasures from your travels is always a wonderful way to make a space personal and act as a great conversation starter.

What do you think are the most important design principles to keep in mind while styling a coffee table?

- Cristin

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