10 Reasons to Decorate with Coffee Table Books

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WORDS BY Gillian Grefe

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Published on July 6, 2020

Coffee table books are the crisp white shirt of interiors. 

Their versatility and utility make them a must-have piece for every design wardrobe. They’re simple yet inherently stylish. And with their beautiful covers and graphic spines, they provide color and personality to almost any flat surface in your home. 

In short, coffee table books are MVP statement makers. And while their large size and high production values can come with a hefty price tag, you can actually curate your own collection on the cheap (stick around to the end of this post for budget-friendly shopping tips). 

Not sold on their design value yet? Well, here are 10 reasons that coffee table books are an interior designer’s best friend and why they can be your best friend, too.

Coffee Table Books in the Living Room

Coffee table books aren’t just for coffee tables in the living room

They can find work in every corner of your home, from entryway console to dining room buffet, from kitchen island to guest room nightstand, from home office desk to family-room bookshelves.

Coffee table books for every room

Styling a coffee table with coffee table books is as easy as 1-2-3: 

  • Start with your largest book on the bottom for stability, then add another two to four books on top (there’s something about odd numbers that people find more visually interesting). Use the stack as a base for an additional item or two, like a designer candle, a gorgeous conch shell or a marble coaster set.
  • On a large table, use your stack to separate sizable accessories, such as globes or vases. You’re giving your styling moment room to breathe.

Stack a couple of coffee table books inside a rimmed tray to elevate items like decorative boxes or bowls over the edge of the tray.

Styling with coffee table books

Interior designers love coffee table books because they can act as a pedestal for so many items of decor. On a hearth, dresser or desk, a stack of books becomes a chic riser for a family heirloom, a jewelry box or a laptop.  

Or take it to the next level: Stack 20 or so similarly sized books next to your sofa or accent chair to create a one-of-a-kind side table. Top with a tray and you’ve got a convenient spot to rest your remote control or a beverage. 

Got more books than you know what to do with? Go big and stack anywhere from 30 to 50 in a single neat pile against the wall. Top with a beautiful potted orchid. When you’re seated nearby, the blooms will be roughly at eye level. 

Designer Tip: Only create the tallest stacks with books that have serious weight to them and that are almost identical in size. Otherwise, your stack will look like a haphazard afterthought or, worse, topple in a heap. The key word here is “curated.”

Keep all your coffee table books in heavy rotation by switching the dark-and-dramatic books of fall and winter for the light-and-bright covers of spring and summer. Now, without changing anything else in the room, you’ve just achieved an instant update.

seasonal coffee table books

Here’s another reason stylists love this design staple. Coffee table books are pretty much kid-proof. Unlike glass paperweights or jagged geodes, little ones can’t do much damage to themselves, each other or your decor with books they can’t even lift. That means it’s OK to arrange coffee table books on lower shelves or atop an ottoman in the den.  

kid safe coffee table books

Coffee table books are an inexpensive way to add pops of color to a room. Many stylists double-down on color by creating a monochromatic stack of books—say, all covers in hot pink or all spines in black with white lettering. 

Colorful coffee table books

There’s a reason no one talks about decorating with matchbooks or finger bowls. For one thing, both are kinda outdated. More importantly, unlike coffee table books, both are small and unassuming. 

Coffee table books are meant to thump when you set them down. They’re conceived, designed and printed to be admired from across the room and up close. 

They’re great conversation starters, giving visitors and dinner guests some insight into your interests, whether home design, fashion, cooking, wildlife or gardens (many people enjoy stacking their coffee table books by subject matter). 

They are a Pinterest board that you hold in your hands. Next to Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” travel titles are an armchair traveler’s best friend, inspiring wanderlust and bucket lists.  

How to Declutter The Coffee Table

Your largest coffee table books should serve as the foundation when styling your bookshelves. Use them as bookends to anchor smaller books and lean them against the bookshelf frame. If they don’t fit your shelf standing on end, stack them in small groups, perhaps topping the stack with a small framed photo or a souvenir from your travels. 

Always remember to shelf books like a librarian, lining up their spines with the front edge of the shelf, not pushing them all the way to the back. 

Colorful coffee table books

You don’t have to water them. Or hang them from the ceiling or mount them on a wall. Or situate them next to an outlet. They’re an accessory that requires little but keeps on giving. And unlike, say, lucky bamboo, Edison bulbs or word art, coffee table books are a here-to-stay classic. 

New coffee table books aren’t cheap. With a thrifty mindset, though, you can find great books for as little as, well, a large gourmet coffee. Consider these sources: 

  • Thrift stores: Most thrifters are shopping for necessities like clothing, furniture, small electronics or dishes. They’re typically not in it for books, even though thrift stores receive trunk loads of book donations.  
  • Used book stores: The name says it all.
  • Your local library: Many public libraries raise money by selling gently used books. 
  • Your wedding or baby registry: No shame in this game
  • Independent bookstores: You might not get the best prices by shopping an indie seller near you, but you can feel good about supporting a small business. You can also shop these Black-owned bookstores online.
  • Amazon: Search for a title you covet on Amazon and always look to see what sellers want for “like new” copies. A recent search for Christiane Lemieux’s “The Finer Things: Timeless Furniture, Textiles, and Details” revealed prices ranging from $39.24 to $2,040.
  • Your parents’ or grandparents’ bookshelves: A potential mother lode of vintage goodness, provided they’re willing to part with the books you’re eyeing.
  • A book swap: Tired of your titles? Swap with a friend who’s tired of hers. Instant spruce up!
  • eBay: Do your own bidding and land great deals.
  • Etsy: Search “coffee table books” to find vintage titles as well as sellers who’ll curate a stack of books in a color of your choosing.
  • Havenly: Yes, we sell coffee table books, too, and you can often find them on sale.

Our designers wrote the book on interiors. Find a style that suits you and let’s get started on the next chapter of your personal design story.

Words by Staci Sturrock