Just some thoughts on setting up an outdoor coffee table that’s both pretty to look at and functional! These ideas should keep you from having to run out to your porch to bring everything in every single time it rains this summer!
If you’ve spent time setting up an outdoor living space and if you’ve invested in furniture to create a space that’s both cozy and functional, you’re probably going to want to make it pretty too. We added a new front porch onto our house last year and we just finished it up at the end of the fall season, so this will be our first spring and summer where we’ll really get to enjoy it. We picked up an all-weather coffee table a few weeks ago to go between the existing white Adirondack chairs that we had out there because we needed a bit more space for putting stuff down when we’re working on our laptops out there, or just relaxing. I thought I’d share a few thoughts about styling an outdoor coffee table today, since it’s been on my mind lately as I get that part of our home set up for the warmer months ahead.
How Not to Style an Outdoor Coffee Table
Obviously, I love to play around with decor to try to create a beautiful and welcoming home, but I think that you need to draw a line in the sand and make sure that your choices are practical and easy to live with as well. Obviously there are some limitations when you’re working in an outdoor space. I’ve seen a lot of recommendations to use books for styling outdoor coffee tables, or fabrics and breakables from indoors as long you “just remember to bring them inside every day when you’re done being out there.”
I want my porch to be ready for me to enjoy whether I’m having guests (hopefully one day?) or whether I just step outside with my tea for five minutes. I don’t want to be pulling things in and out of storage on a daily basis and I don’t want to have a space that’s less lovely on those days when I’m just out there for a few minutes. I want something that will work and that will work all the time, all season long. Actually, hopefully what I choose will last for several seasons, because as I’ve mentioned before, I’m just tired of finicky decor that I get bored of and need to replace over and over again. It’s wasteful, it’s a hassle, and I just get so much satisfaction in knowing that I have things in my home that I can rely on for the long term.
I’ve been testing this outdoor table set-up for the past couple of weeks and it has survived all kinds of crazy wind and rain quite nicely. I haven’t moved a thing actually, which is perfect because when a summer storm blows in, I only want to worry about bringing in my precious planters, not every single little thing off the porch as well, whenever I can avoid it.
How to Style an Outdoor Coffee Table
Don’t Overdo it
When we style an indoor coffee table, we often fill almost the entire surface with pretty things. Lots of books, vases of flowers, decorative objects, etc. The coffee table can kind of become a display shelf that sits in the middle of your room. When it comes to your outdoor coffee table though, you’ll probably want it to be a bit more functional. We don’t usually have as many flat surfaces to put things down on outside so it’s a good idea to keep most of your outdoor coffee table clear for drinks, snacks, that book you’re finally getting the chance to read, or in my case, all your work stuff if you’ve decided to make your porch into your unofficial home office.
Choosing a tray that takes up no more than about 25% of the top of your outdoor coffee table to house your decorative items will help keep things under control and make everything you place on your table feel cohesive and tidy.
Keep it Classic
If you’re not really sure what exactly to put out on your outdoor coffee table, you can’t go wrong with classic, garden-inspired elements, or coastal elements if you’re in a setting near a body of water like a lake or the ocean. Stick to things that feel authentic to where you are and the whole things will be a lot easier to pull off.
I find that things that are a little more rugged and durable tend to survive the outdoor climate a lot better and they also don’t make the whole decor scheme feel too forced because they seem right at home in a garden setting, even if these items weren’t originally sold as outdoor decor. Look for things in mixed metals like galvanized finishes, aged brass, copper, and even rust – these are all good garden-y choices. Any heavy-duty ceramic containers like this sturdy pitcher and this big bowl/pot thing ready to act as an ice bucket when needed will work well too.
Height, Shine, Texture, Pattern
Try to incorporate all of these elements into your plan in some small way. Something tallish clipped from the garden will bring a bit of height into your tablescape, and sparkly metal or a sturdy glass candle holder can bring a bit of shine.
My favourite way to bring texture into the mix on a porch is with an old basket or two. This one I have out here was one of my planters on the side porch last year and you can see it’s perfectly weathered now, but still in great shape. I don’t love a lot of the outdoor rattans because I find they don’t hold up to our mix of heat and humidity and they start looking rough pretty quickly. And not in a good way.
The old spongeware pitcher adds a bit of pattern and it’s also just really heavy and great for standing up to the crazy weather we can get here sometimes.
Of course, you have to have plants of some sort. Fake plants are totally fine if you don’t want to fuss with them too much, but try to add in something real as well here and there. I’ve only been to the garden centre once this spring because they just opened up in my area, so I have some faux ferns happening out here along with some fresh green forsythia branches from the back yard.
I have to note that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just sticking a single pot of flowers that you love in the middle of your outdoor coffee table and calling it a day. We see some pretty elaborate set-ups in decor catalogs that make it look like your outdoor decor won’t be finished without $1000 worth of carefully-planned decor accessories, but really anything that shows that you put a little thought and care into making the space just a bit more beautiful will be lovely.
And that was my blog post about how I put five things out on my new coffee table and it made the whole space feel finished and ready for summer. Ha! 🙂
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.