Originally Published on June 27, 2017. Last Updated on October 24, 2023.
Just because it’s outdoors doesn’t mean your living area has to be boring. You can, and should, dress up your outdoor space with accessories and knick-knacks to make it more inviting. And one of the places you should start? Your coffee table.
That versatile piece of furniture serves as the focal point of an outdoor living space, and there are plenty of ways to add character to the table.
Here are a few design tricks to style any coffee table, indoors or out.
- Serve up your morning coffee or evening cocktails on a tray atop the coffee table.
- Add candles of different heights to the tabletop.
- Line the center of the table with small pots of succulents.
- Add a pitcher full of freshly cut flowers from your yard.
- Personalize the table with accessories such as a terrarium, cast-iron statue, or a wooden bird feeder.
Employ the Rule of Thirds
In photography, the rule of thirds challenges the photographer to visually break an image down into horizontal and vertical thirds, so you have a nine-part grid. It’s a way to frame an image and make it more balanced and interesting.
On your coffee table, imagine a similar grid so you can compartmentalize your accessories in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. Position items within a “grid box” or boxes. For instance, a teapot positioned at the bottom left side or a tray placed to the right side of the coffee table adds more visual interest than if it were placed smack-dab at the table’s center.
All good decor trends feature layering, whether it’s objects, textures, and colors. Layering makes a space seem richer and more lived-in. As in the last example, books are a great way to add layers and color to a coffee table. Plants and candles in different colors, heights, and sizes are also great for layering.
Our go-to is a colorful napkin underneath a tray:
Swap Things Out
Since we’re focusing on outdoor decor, you obviously don’t want to leave coffee table books outside too long. Whether you’re keeping accessories on your patio coffee table for an evening, or you keep things out on an enclosed porch for several months, let your coffee table reflect the seasons.
Add a rich green fern to the table during the height of summer, or a vase filled with seashells from your last beach vacation. Decorate your tabletop with gourds, corn, and pumpkins in the fall. And add a pop of deep red amaryllis in winter.
Your home should reflect who you are. For example, if you love the beach, books, music, and vintage items you could keep music-themed books stacked, topped with a shallow bowl filled with rocks and seashells from a recent vacation to the beach. To complete that look, an antique magnifying glass could also sit on the table.
So, even outdoors, be creative and inject a little of yourself into your space.
Varying heights work well on a coffee table—and any table, really. Add a rustic galvanized bucket filled with eucalyptus boughs to the center of the table. Balance it out with small tea lights in clear holders to add scale and interest to the coffee table.
The Harbour Slatted Coffee Table shown below showcases varying heights and a lovely color combination of warm copper and cooler blue-colored glasses.
For those of us who like personalization, there is a danger of adding too many items to a coffee table. Use restraint when choosing what goes on a coffee table. Minimalism is okay — one small objet d’art or one plant. Once you decorate your coffee table, cast a critical eye on it and make sure guests still have a place to prop their feet or set down their drinking glasses.
So go ahead! Don’t be afraid to decorate that outdoor space. Look to your home and your yard for inspiration.