Published on August 26, 2021

When staring at a blank coffee table, it’s easy to be intimidated, overwhelmed, stumped, or all of the above. And it makes sense, because the accessory options are truly endless. Books, bowls, plants, candles—sometimes just picking a lane can feel paralyzing. Are you going for neutral minimalism, or uptown art buff? Are you placing short stacks of books in a grid format or leaving the table empty except for a vase of fresh flowers? 

While maybe a controversial opinion, I’ve recently been most inspired by those coffee tables that pick no lane at all. Think: an ever-changing mood board as the centerpiece of your living room. Rather than a locked-in default, view the surface as a window into what’s inspiring in the present moment. Plus, when a book is “supposed” to be in a specific spot on your coffee table, odds are you’re not going to read it as you’re lying in bed (or anywhere at all). 

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Photography by Sean A. Pritchard

Anything from a begonia garden to a tray of shells collected on a summer holiday to a messy pile of Polaroids can make your space more personal and ever-changing as you uncover new curiosities. I’ve found this outlook to be especially successful while styling photo shoots. For example, if a homeowner is obsessed with collecting vintage cameras, like content creator Taylor Lashae, leaving a handheld Super 8 camera out on the coffee table helps me tell her story. 

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Photography by Max Burkhalter; Styling by Julia Stevens

So at home I’m letting my table tell mine. Over the summer I’ve found the photography from Assouline’s book Capri to be an endless source of inspiration. It’s a total escape to Italy during a time where I haven’t been traveling much, and so I leave specific pages open, which encourages me (and guests) to dive into it. But I also recently learned how to play chess on a trip to Maine, so I might need to switch things up soon and find a display-worthy board

Domino contributing editor Benjamin Reynaert is all about a loosely styled coffee table. One of his many photogenic rituals is creating scenes with fabric swatches, images, vintage ceramics, and more. “For me, a coffee table can easily become a workstation, aka a place to spread out and flip through those design books you’ve been meaning to read,” he explains. But why a coffee table and not any surface? Says Reynaert, “Since the coffee table is lower to the floor, I love being able to stand up and look down at everything and see what stands out.” 

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Photography by Benjamin Reynaert

And while there’s no official rule for how often you should switch around your objects, my personal philosophy is that when your books start collecting dust, it’s time to change it up. Does anyone know of a great chess set?

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