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Why Coffee Table Books Are a Decor Cliche That You Need To Ditch Right Now

Photo via Instagram by esa_interiors

As the wife of a professional photographer, I have a home filled with art books, interior design tomes, and photography collections bound in shiny covers.

My husband buys books every chance he gets, in part because they’re a great source of inspiration and they allow him to do a deep dive into a colleague’s published work.

But do I display these massive books to decorate my coffee table? Absolutely not.

One reason: They scream, “Look how cool I am with this Alice Neel retrospective lying casually by my coffee mug!”

I adore Neel’s portraits, by the way, but the book of her work is on the shelf—where it belongs. This leads to my second reason: My massive books will get massively messed up if they sit out in the open on my coffee table.

My lensman hubby would agree. He’d be aghast if I displayed his photo books on the coffee table only to have them catch the occasional wine and coffee spills. Heaven forbid our rescue pup gnaw on his copy of Richard Avedon’s oeuvre.

Yet despite these clear-as-day-to-me downsides, nearly every home I enter has coffee table books planted on their coffee table—often covered in a layer of dust, their spines never cracked, since no one’s ever bothered to see what’s inside.

What is it with coffee table books as a decor element in the home?

Curious to hear what designers had to say about this ubiquitous go-to design move, here’s more on why people use it, the pros and cons, and (if you must) how to pull it off so you don’t look like a poseur.

How design and art books ended up on the coffee table

Photo by Houzz

Certain designers gravitate toward these volumes because they are often beautiful to behold. Heavy and generously sized, with glossy pages devoted to the Amalfi Coast or Chinese pottery, these pretty tomes add instant color and flair to an empty table.

If you want some beauty in your home but can’t afford bona fide framed artwork on your walls or a Tiffany lamp on your end table, you can instead pick up a few pretty art books and elevate the aesthetic you’re trying to channel.

Photo by Houzz

Yet even though art tomes will certainly cost less than real artwork or high-end decor, coffee table books aren’t cheap.

Some arty books will cost less than $100, but those are the rare exceptions. Most will set you back at least a C-note, while others will run $250 a pop. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that owning a bunch of these books will cost more than what you shelled out for the table they sit on.

The downsides of coffee table books as decor

Photo by The L&C Company 

In combination with their high cost, coffee table books present the conundrum of low durability. This will mean that if you invest in a couple, you could become that homeowner who freaks out when people approach your precious stack with a sweaty gin and tonic and no coaster in sight.

Do you want to leap up and accost the few friends you have, when they’re simply trying to kick and relax? I, for one, do not.

Photo by Coral Interiors 

Grubby hands and coffee mug rings aside, it seems abundantly clear that you can’t easily read these books, since you’ll strain your arms if you try to hold them (and break your toe if you drop ’em). As such, isn’t having them readily available on your coffee table just a big, fat lie?

Face it, you majored in French and poly sci, not art history—and everyone knows it. And no one will believe you’re suddenly all into Tom Ford and his time at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent because you literally live in The Gap sweats and old tees.

As a devotee of all leisurewear, I’m proud to display Vogue, InStyle, Elle Decor, and other magazines because I know how to stay in my coffee table lane. (Plus, when these magazines get ruined, it’s no big deal.)

Another problem with coffee table books is that people don’t display them the right way. One or two coffee table books isn’t going to cut it. You need a stack of several or more to make a real decor punch.

“I use lots and lots of coffee table books stacked together based on their cover colors, with bright shades in one pile and more muted tones in another,” says Mimi Meacham of Marian Louise Designs.

Meacham urges homeowners to “keep the book spines and covers within a similar color family to add visual harmony to the room.”

And be tidy, people! “You certainly have to dust your coffee table books as regularly as you clean any space, ideally once a week or two,” she says.

Coffee table books may help curb chaos on this piece of furniture, says Katie McCann, the organizational expert at Haven, since “these large pieces of decor can serve as a reminder not to pile a bunch of papers or other clutter on top of them.”

But if you value your volumes, keep children at bay.

“If you let your kids draw all over your nice coffee table books, you’re ruining the purpose of using them as decor,” says McCann.

What to put on your coffee table instead

So what should you display on your coffee table? This spot is all about functionality and accessibility, or you’ll end up with a museum exhibit, rather than a real piece of furniture in the home.

Meacham’s advice is to put out the books you actually like to pick up and peruse, rather than pure eye candy.

She also says you should “balance the table with a couple of objects on each side, along with small potted plants like succulents for softness and coasters made of fun textiles.”

Or use a tray—a product that’s everywhere nowadays, and for good reason. Well-priced, attractive coffee table trays can hold decorative objects, a small vase of flowers, and the TV remote, while still leaving room for your beverage of choice.

Personally, I won’t jump on this fancy-book bandwagon, since it smacks of my mother-in-law’s rather dated living room decor, lovely lady that she is. Instead, juicy novels, a bowl of pistachios, and the crossword puzzle are all that adorn my coffee table. And to me, at least, they are beautiful to behold.

The post Why Coffee Table Books Are a Decor Cliche That You Need To Ditch Right Now appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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