How to Style a Side Table

Originally Published on June 2, 2022. Last Updated on June 18, 2024.

Side tables are among the most useful pieces of furniture you’ll ever add to your outdoor area. Their slight proportions mean they occupy minimal floor space and easily fit spots too snug for larger accent tables. And with sized-just-right tabletops that keep essentials within reach, outdoor side tables offer unmatched versatility and convenience.

Keep reading to see our outdoor side table style and decor ideas so you can make the most of this small but mighty accessory.

Invite Visual Appeal With the Rule of Three

The “rule of three” is a smart guideline to follow when figuring out how to style a side table. As the name suggests, this decorating rule means that objects look better in groups of three. For example, an outdoor table could hold your coffee, a book, and a tall potted plant. Adding anything else will lead to a cramped, cluttered outdoor space.

Simple Styling for circular side table

Brighten Your Outdoor Table With Lights

Enhance your patio’s atmosphere by adding subtle accent lighting atop side tables. Try positioning tables in the corners to surround your space in a warm ambiance, or have them bookend doorways and staircases to create a dramatic entrance.

For practicality, try solar-powered table lamps or flameless outdoor candles. They’re small and cordless—perfectly proportioned for small accent tables. Choose dimmable or color-changing options to create the ideal ambiance for any occasion.

Give Tables Height & Texture

Interior design pros employ the “up-and-down rule” to bring harmony and balance to a room. The idea is to draw the eye up, down, and around a space. You can apply this principle to side tables too:

  1. Begin with tall items, such as flower arrangements in a slender vase.
  2. Add low-profile objects, like broad, shallow bowls or short coffee cups.
  3. Finish the look with medium-height elements, like pitchers or lanterns.

Decorating Side Table with decor lanterns plants

Add Meaningful Outdoor Decor

While decorating your side table with on-trend items is fun and fashionable, at least one of your items should carry some sentimental value. This could be a ceramic sculpture you picked up while traveling or potted flower arrangements you received on your birthday.

Adding personal touches here and there will make your space more inviting. Plus, the next time you host a get-together, you’ll have a great conversation starter.

Bring Out Your Books

A stack of books is a creative and stylish way to display your interests and bring texture to your outdoor area. Place a few of your favorite novels on your side table, and remember to protect them with clear plastic covers. If your table has a secondary shelf, put your books there to make room for other accessories. 

Pro tip: We suggest trying this only if you have a sunroom or three-season living room. Books are sensitive to the elements, and the plastic covers alone may not be enough to protect them from sun and humidity.

Books for outdoor decor on side table

Use Baskets for Style & Storage

Baskets enhance outdoor settings from both a functional and decorative standpoint. Opt for an elegant all-weather wicker basket to keep small objects like coasters, remote controls, and playing cards tidy and easily accessible. Consider a multi-tier wire basket for added height and storage capacity if you have more items to hold.

How to Style a Side Table With Other Furniture

Now that you know how to decorate a side table, here are some ideas for styling it with other outdoor furniture elements.

Styling symmetry with multiple furniture pieces

Take Advantage of Symmetry

Many interior designers will tell you that the eye is naturally drawn to symmetry, so you can’t go wrong using it to design a space. (It’s especially effective in creating a minimalist aesthetic.) Here are a few style tips for employing symmetry on a porch or patio:

  • Outfit your outdoor space with a duo of coordinated side tables.
  • Flank a sofa or loveseat with identical end tables.
  • Coordinate similar plants, decor, or lighting for each table.
  • Treat tables as plant and lamp stands, lining them along garden pathways for a pretty and practical layout.

Try Asymmetrical Style

While symmetry provides a sense of order, asymmetry introduces an element of surprise and originality to your outdoor layout. Here’s how to incorporate asymmetry with accent tables:

  • Experiment with accent tables in varying styles, sizes, and materials.
  • Mix different seating and table styles to encourage a casual and inviting atmosphere for gathering and lounging.
  • Play with the number of accent tables on each side of your patio to achieve an eclectic look that feels relaxed yet curated.
  • Mix and match plants, lights, or decor for each table. Vary textures, colors, and heights for depth and character.
  • Layer textiles such as cushions, throws, and rugs that complement your side table’s color scheme to enhance visual interest.

Pick the Right Table Height

If you use a side or end table to keep drinks and snacks within reach, it should be no taller than the chair it’s sitting next to. Ideally, it should be about two to three inches shorter than the chair’s arm. To accommodate taller family members, pair counter and bar side tables with loftier seating to ensure everyone experiences the same level of comfort and convenience. Grab your tape measure, noting the length from the floor to the top of your chair’s arm, and remember that number when table shopping.

Picking the correct height side table for your furniture

Choose the Proper Distance

If your side table is next to your chair, it should be close enough that you can easily reach it without leaning over. Armspans vary from person to person, so place the table at a distance that fits your comfort level.

Styling Side Tables in Different Rooms

Browse these interesting ways to use your side tables in different areas of your home.

Bring Ambiance to Outdoor Dining Rooms

Incorporate functional side tables into your outdoor dining room to serve as spots for accent lighting or outdoor speakers. Arrange them around the area’s outskirts and adorn them with lamps casting a soft glow or wireless speakers playing chill music. Utilize two-shelf side tables by placing speakers on the bottom shelf and lamps on top, enhancing the ambiance and improving visibility for gathered guests. If you need extra serving space, simply clear off the top shelves to make space for food and drinks.

Outdoor dining ambiance with side tables

Add Life to an Outdoor Living Room

Treat end tables as plant stands. It’s a great way to bring color and calm vibes to your outdoor area. A large pot of zinnias and trailing petunias will look pretty sitting on your side table (and it will attract hummingbirds). But if you want to avoid dealing with the ongoing maintenance of natural plants, opting for outdoor-friendly faux flowers is fine.

Place Accent Tables Poolside

Enhance your swimming pool setting with side tables designed for functionality and durability. Opt for waterproof options with built-in storage compartments that keep pool essentials organized and within reach.

Side Table Solutions for Small Spaces

Choose multipurpose designs that serve as storage units, seating options, or even plant stands to maximize utility without sacrificing space. Opt for nested tables that can be stacked when not in use. Use vertical space with wall-mounted options that fold up whenever you need space.

2 thoughts on “How to Style a Side Table

  1. Can you use the 26″ height South Beach side table as a stool to sit on if you need extra outside seating?

    1. Hello Maxine,
      We do not recommend sitting on the side tables, as they have only been tested to hold 50 pounds.

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