Styling Series: Tables and Bars

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Get caught up on this Styling Series by reading about the essential pieces, arranging 101, and all about bookcases!

For your horizontal spaces that need styling, the options are really endless – after all, you’re not confined by the height of the next shelf! Even if your table needs to serve a specific purpose (landing spot for keys, home for the record player, or the home bar), there are ways to work around those pieces and inject a little personality. I lump bars in here because not everyone has a bar cart, but anyone can add a little bar area to a console table for entertaining or decorative storage (and move the bar to the kitchen when having a large gathering, which is what I do).

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Console tables

A console table is usually a rectangular or demilune (half circle) table that sits against a wall. It’s not always just four legs and a top – in this case I’m also lumping in pieces with drawers. It may serve a specific purpose or storage, or it may be there to fill space. Either way, there are some good rules of thumb to follow.

Over your console table you’ll want to create a sense of height. If the table is not under a window, consider a large mirror, a piece of art, or several smaller pieces of art grouped together over the table. You don’t want this item to be larger than the table or the table will look disproportionate – exception is placing a wide floor mirror behind the table.

Because console tables are often larger than, say, a side table, this is a great spot for a lamp or even a pair of lamps. If the table is a little too small to accommodate them, you might add wall sconces for a similar effect (and to make sure your tabletop is well lit for admiring guests!). For petite tables, look at candlestick lamps or small pieces.

You should also take advantage of the opportunity to add height – this is a great spot for a tall vase or statue. Try to create a triangle effect by placing the tallest object in the middle of your arrangement and working your way down and out.  If you’ve placed a large painting, this may count as your particularly tall center object. Also, don’t be afraid of layering – some of your taller pieces will overlap with the bottom of the mirror or art hanging above – this is GOOD because the different elements seem to relate to one another instead of floating in space independently. That being said, use your best judgment in not totally obscuring the most interesting elements of each piece.

If your table is pretty large, use a tray to gather a few smaller pieces that relate to one another (this is also a smart way to include a bar area that won’t look like someone left the gin out). Use bowls or small dishes to collect tiny objects like matchbooks or your collection of sea glass, or for a more practical purpose like a place to keep your keys and loose change.

Books aren’t just for shelves either – I love to use a carefully selected 12 or 15 books between two beautiful bookends on a table.

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Coffee tables

Whether you use a pair of smaller tables, upholstered ottoman, or a more traditional coffee table, there are options for styling. For coffee tables, however, keep in mind the occupants of your household and the purpose of the room – don’t put down expensive breakables if you have a rambunctious pup with a wagging tail, and make sure to accommodate your spouse’s remotes and kid’s video game controllers, as well as someplace to set a snack or drink – the original purpose for the table, after all!

Think of the table in “zones” to help style – four for a large square table, or two or three for rectangles. Each zone holds an object, tray, or stack of books (which may or may not have another object on them), or remains empty for drinks. If you have an upholstered ottoman, the empty space may be an empty tray – particularly if there are tufts, a tray will create a more stable spot for a glass. Also remember that a coffee table is likely seen from all directions, so choose items that look good from all sides, like baskets or vases, not picture frames or upright books. I call this the 360 Rule.

Don’t be afraid to get some height on the coffee table – just don’t block the TV if you use it often. A pair of hurricane vases with candles, a vase, or a sculptural piece of art would look great here.

Use trays to create smaller vignettes – a big table calls for a big tray! You can even corral the taller pieces or stacks of books within a tray – especially on a big table. A tray is also a great way to keep remotes and video game controllers contained (and having a “home” for it means it’s less likely to wander off and get lost behind a pillow). Use a small lidded basket or decorative box to stash extra batteries and even pens and a little notepad with a deck of cards on hand. Have a pretty board game that your family likes to play? Keep that on display too (Target has a nice line of games in wooden boxes, or try a nice backgammon or chess/checker board).

Side tables

Since these tables are usually pretty small, there are limited styling possibilities. Usually a side table will hold a lamp and maybe a picture frame or decorative object. If the table doesn’t have a lamp, consider adding a stack of books and a candle. For larger round tables (at least 24 inches in diameter) you can get a little more adventurous with a lamp, plant, stack of books and a decorative object.

Sofa tables

If you float your sofa in the middle of the room, a sofa table placed along its back is a great place to store things like spare blankets, books, games, and also have some items on display. But remember, the 360 Rule applies here for anything on the top of the table! It’s also a great place for lamps; add a floor outlet under the table or run the cords to a nearby wall under a rug or cord protector. Use museum putty to anchor anything breakable – close proximity to couch lounging/wrestling kids/stray elbows means you’ll want them as secure as possible!

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Bars

Now, a bar area can be carved out of a regular console arrangement (or dominate the entire display), on a bookshelf, a bar cart, or be it's own stand-alone furniture complete with doors and mirrors. And depending on the degree to which you entertain, the amount of equipment you have in your bar may be wildly different from someone else. But there are a few rules of thumb.

Use trays. Bars can look unwieldy and cluttered if you don't impose a sense of order. If you have a small amount of liquor options, you might use the tray to gather all the bottles together. If you have a lot of liquor, try using a tray to corral your glassware (by type) or mixers and tools. For small items (bottle stoppers, olive picks, wine charms, etc), gather like-items in a decorative box.

Take advantage of height. A bar in a restaurant displays its liquor up on shelves. It looks cool and it gets it up out of the way. Try adding a riser to the back of the table, or using shelving above the table, especially if you have a large collection. Arrange items with the tallest in the back so it's easy to find things.

Add style with accessories. A bunch of liquor can look like a frat party without the addition of some chic accessories. I love to use vintage glassware with cool designs, but you can find things new as well. Cloth cocktail napkins add a punch of color. Decanters add a sophisticated touch. And if you're looking for a statement piece, make it with a fabulous ice bucket. If all this, plus a shaker and other tools are looking cluttered, then repeat after me: use a tray.