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Modern wooden coffee table and cozy sofa with pillows. Living room interior and home decor concept. Toned image

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Done right, your coffee table can be an eye-catching focal point and ever-evolving mood board. What you don’t want is an arrangement so perfect and pristine it belongs in a showhome. You actually live in your space, so the things on your table should reflect what you find useful and beautiful – ideally both at once. Junk-drawer items need not apply; these things are on display, after all.

Start with coffee table books because, well, that’s what they’re for. One or two stacks of three is a foolproof formula and, bonus, creates yet another place to put things. On top of a stack, you could layer a lovely ceramic bowl, either presented empty as an objet or filled with things such as matchbooks, stones you’ve picked up on walks or even reading glasses.

If you’d rather go with a single book for a cleaner look, I’d suggest choosing one with a focus on art, photography or travel and leaving it open to a favourite spread, which is often more visually inspiring than the cover itself.

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Next, find one perfect tray on which to build a vignette. Doesn’t matter if it’s round or rectangular, as long as it sits comfortably on the surface without overhang. As you experiment with adding and subtracting things to the tray, think about two key principles: contrast and scale. The ideal mix should juxtapose old with new, shiny with rustic, round with linear, and tall with low. This is the fun part.

In terms of the items themselves, wood, metal or natural-stone boxes are a classic option and easy to find at big retailers (CB2 has a fantastic selection right now) and vintage shops. They’re stackable to create height, and you can stash remotes or phone chargers inside.

Make sure to include at least one item that’s personal or what I like to call, “a bit of weird.” It could be a loose Polaroid photo, a piece of driftwood, a small sculpture or a tarnished magnifying glass. My bit of weird is a “Reserved” sign a friend swiped from a fancy cocktail bar when we were in our twenties. I don’t recommend the theft part, but the sign makes me smile whenever I see it.

Now it’s time for the final flourishes: some fresh flowers and a votive candle (or three) for sparkle and coziness. It’s true; I favour the maximalist look, with lots of stuff cavorting across the surface. If you need an actual place to put your drink, that’s what cocktail tables are for!

Need some advice about interior design and decor? Send your questions to personaldesigner@globeandmail.com.

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