Why coffee table books take your interior design to the next level

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Contrary to what you may believe, coffee tables aren’t simply for putting your coffee (or your feet) on.

Coffee table books, which rose to prominence in the Sixties, are a great way to inject a little personality into your room, as well as providing a talking point for guests.

More often than not, coffee table books are predominately image-based, and are therefore chosen for their aesthetic appeal rather than as a source of information.

So, if you’ve got a coffee table that’s just being used for drinks and snacks, could you be missing a trick?

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Table with books

A bit of background…

The first known use of the term “coffee table book” appeared in Arts Magazine in 1961. The concept is often attributed to conservationist David Brower, who, while executive director of the Sierra Club environmental group, had the idea for a series of books that combined nature photography and writings on nature. His vision was for “a page size big enough to carry a given image’s dynamic. The eye must be required to move about within the boundaries of the image, not encompass it all in one glance.”

The first such book, This is the American Earth, was published in 1960 – and so was born the ‘coffee table book’!

As Brower envisaged, coffee table books today are generally image-based, allowing photography to take center stage, often accompanied by brief captions or short pieces of text.

What are they for?

Coffee table books look great. Glossy and bulky, they make a real style statement and help you reveal a little of your personality to visitors.

Subject matters vary, although the focus will often be on art, fashion or design, as these fields lend themselves to the medium. Cars and travel are other popular choices; in short, any subject where the pictures speak for themselves.

The books can also provide a talking point, which is particularly helpful if you’re entertaining unfamiliar guests or those you need to leave alone while you prepare drinks or a meal – everyone appreciates some reading matter, and flicking through a book is a much nicer option for guests than taking out their phone.

While they are designed for décor as much as reading, don’t be tempted to go overboard. Two artfully placed on a table are enough, while a pile of six or seven with a plant or ornament on top just looks cluttered.

And remember, coffee table books don’t always have to be placed on your coffee table per se; they can make a real statement propped alone on a shelf or bookcase, too!

Black and white themed room

Getting Started

While you can allow yourself to be led by your own particular interests, there are a number of coffee table classics you could start with for inspiration.

Three of our favourites are:

  • In Vogue: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine. If fashion is your thing, then Vogue is your bible, and this 2012 book features some of the magazine’s most iconic covers and photo spreads from renowned photographers including Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts.
  • Architectural Digest at 100 is a compendium of the magazine’s work over the past century, featuring a foreword by none other than Anna Wintour. It mixes the personal with the public, giving readers a glimpse into the private world of famous faces such as the Obamas and David Bowie as well as celebrating the works of architects such as Frank Gehry and David Hicks.
  • The Ferrari Book – Passion for Design is a must for any petrol head – or even anyone who appreciates classic design. It’s packed full of stunning photographs of Ferraris through the years, from the iconic designs of the Fifties and Sixties to the supercars of today, accompanied by stories and anecdotes about the legendary brand.

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