If you’ve ever shopped for a coffee table, then you know that selecting a table is only half of the equation. Just as important? Curating the objects that sit atop your coffee table. If you’ve ever spied one of those enviably-styled tables and wondered how to pull one off yourself, designer Joan Patryce of J PATRYCE DESIGN has the answers. “Even the most ordinary coffee tables can become quite extraordinary with a good vignette,” says Joan. Ahead, land Joan’s best tricks for teeing up a table that inspires!

RELATED READ: Introducing Your Coffee Table Style Guide

coffee table decorating featuring books and plants
Photo by Christian Harder

Pick Your Players

The best laid vignettes begin with options — make that lots of options. Before attempting any arrangement, gather a group of potential decor to incorporate into your vignette. “I vary between books, trays, pottery, florals, sculpture, and candlesticks,” says Joan. Books make fantastic building blocks, while trays can help corral smaller objects and keep everything looking tidy. The latter items on the list —pottery, florals, sculpture, and candlesticks — lean more artful, making them ideal for adding visual interest to a table top. 

Book It

When asked what her first step in any decorating project is, Joan says “I  typically combine a small stack of books — slightly worn if  possible — with a unique selection of objects.” Joan’s fond of books’ ability to ground other objects and assume some of a table’s negative space. Trays function similarly, and if desired, they can easily be used in lieu of books.

Coffee table with pottery vase and aged candelsticks
Photo by Christian Harder

Elect a Focal Point

Once you’ve assembled a foundation with books, Joan recommends selecting a focal point. Sculptures, including pieces of studio pottery, are usually Joan’s go-to, but she encourages something sentimental “— an old box or objects that tell a  story from your travels or family history — ” if you have something that fits the bill. By default, your focal point is likely to be your tallest item as well.

Embrace Variation

Similar to how you want to incorporate a dynamic mix of texture and scale into a room, the same rings true for coffee table vignettes. “A mix of height, scale, and finish are critical to making any combination work,” says Joan. Among her favorite formulas? “An interesting piece of pottery, mixed with aged candlesticks, and freshly cut branches from the garden.”   

coffee table decorating featuring book and a wire sculpture
Photo by Christian Harder

Honor Negative Space

While you want your coffee table surface to feel full, you’ll want to avoid a coffee table gridlocked with decor. “It’s important to leave a bit of negative space and vary heights so everything is not sitting on a single visual plane,” explains Joan. If a fragile tabletop surface has you wanting to cover up more than you should, consider a large tray or weighty coasters

Experiment Freely

Coffee table books often get a bad rap as stagnant dust collectors. Consider that motivation to shake up your coffee table vignette frequently. “Don’t be afraid to rearrange every so often,” says Joan. “Think of your coffee table as a revolving vignette to showcase some of your favorite things and enjoy!”

Photo by Tim Lenz

Pro Tip: One way to make your coffee table infinitely easier to style? Opt for a low design, says Joan. Not only are low coffee tables more comfortable for putting your feet up, they visually provide a more inviting surface for styling. 

All photos courtesy of J. PATRYCE DESIGN / Lead image photo by Christian Harder


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October 1, 2022

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