You see them on Instagram and in design magazines: those perfectly composed coffee tables that pull a living room together and give a hint of the owners’ fabulous taste.
How do those tablescapes come together? How does someone decide what accessories to wear? And how can you compose a similar one at home, without doing too much or too little?
king colinan in-demand interior stylist, he hosted a reporter at his TriBeCa loft to demonstrate how he does it.
Designing photo shoots for companies like the Roman and Williams Guild and Anthropologie, as well as houses for magazines like Architectural Digest, Mr. King usually arrives after the architects and interior designers have finished. That’s when he adds the finishing touches that make rooms sing.
“For me, styling is a way of looking,” said King, who published a book called “Fixing Things” with Rizzoli in March. “It is about creating simple vignettes that bring joy to the home. A bowl, a candlestick, a branch: all these things can be much more than an object when they are arranged.
As he concisely put it: “It’s the power of location.”
When designing a coffee table, “there’s no strict formula, because every coffee table is different and every person’s collection is different,” he said. “But I can definitely share what worked for me.”
These are the steps you follow.
Start with a blank slate
To add style to any table, don’t add to things that are already there. Instead, clear everything.
“I always start clean,” King said. “It can be overwhelming to do that, but I really like to see the surface I’m working with.”
It also helps ensure that the table doesn’t end up too crowded. “Negative space is nice and provides more opportunities for the objects you choose to have space around them,” he said. “It makes each one more important.”
build with books
Then add books. “People get caught up in choosing coffee table books, like they need a certain size or a certain weight,” he said. “But I like to play with the scale and even add smaller booklets or books.”
He usually creates stacks of two or three books, using some as mini-pedestals. “They are like platforms or elevators for other objects,” she said. “It gives you this topography. I like to have fairly plain covers on top, just because they help frame the objects nicely.”
Also orient slipcovers to face sofas and chairs around the table to encourage people to pick them up.
Collect sculptural accessories
Use one or two of the piles to store items with personality: favorite bowls, pieces of sculpture. “Exposing things that you want to see every day or that evoke some kind of memory is really important,” she said.
That includes pottery made by friends and antiques from far-flung places, but also found objects.
“It can be anything you find in the house or on the street,” he said, such as an unusual piece of stone or a piece of driftwood. “A stone can be as important as a piece made by a friend or a gift given to me.”
Create a group of objects
For a large table, create a group of objects with a similar quality but different heights. “I like to choose three objects of different heights, so that there is a good dialogue between them,” Mr. King said. “I could have books at one end of the table and then my objects at the other.”
In his TriBeCa loft, he grouped a tall ceramic planter, a medium-sized vase, and a low tray with similar colors at one end of the table. “These all have a very similar palette, with browns and blacks,” she said. “None were bought or found at the same time, but discovering similarities in the objects you have in your house is part of the process.”
plan for real life
If your table is cluttered with things like remote controls, phone chargers, and keys, make a plan to contain them so they don’t detract from your composition.
“Boxes are really great for coffee tables because you can keep things out of sight,” said Mr King, who placed an antique tea box on his coffee table. “A lot of people will use a tray, but I don’t like that, because you want to cover things up.”
Add a touch of nature
“I like to add an element of nature as the last thing,” he said. “People think it has to be this big arrangement on a coffee table, but I could just add a stem.”
Often choose a single flower or branch for a vase.
finish with photos
If you’re planning to share your stylish table on Instagram, check out the arrangement by taking a snapshot.
“I always take a photo and style through my phone,” said King, who makes small adjustments based on what he sees on his screen. “Until you see it on camera, you don’t really see the full composition.”
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