“The most intimate story you can tell about yourself is on your coffee table,” says Alexander Poma, co-founder with Leslie Steven of New York architecture and interior design firm PomaSteven.
To start, he suggests, pick a color scheme that complements your existing art, walls and carpeting. Then hunt for pieces of all shapes, sizes and materials—metal sculptures, ceramic vases, decorative details like wooden figurines—and don’t forget the books.
“They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the cover is so seductive,” says Poma.
A mix of flat and glossy jacket finishes, he says, is ideal. Then you’re ready to build. Flat is boring; stack books and incorporate elements of varying heights. But don’t go overboard.
“It’s important to step back and think, What could I remove to make it look more powerful?” Steven says.
Most of all, don’t forget to factor in function—a coffee table, after all, should still be able to hold some coffee. A functional tray beneath your items can sweep pieces out of the way when necessary. As a finishing touch, consider adding a bit of greenery.
“It really transforms a table,” she says, “and makes it come alive.”