My favorite coffee table books and the story behind them.
I don’t think I’ve ever touched one of these I did not love. From an interior designer’s eyes, they are timeless objects. When curated well on a tabletop they express personality, style, and intention.
Are you curious about the history of these literary gems and popular home décor elements, known by many as a coffee table book?
I was, so I decided to do a little home design history digging…
It turns out that displayed coffee table books have been part of households since the post-civil war times.
First referred to as “parlor books” or “nonbooks” because they simply journaled cartoons, photos, and illustrations, or were scrapbooks for loose personal treasures. In fact, most intellectuals dismissed their status as not real books at all, because they lacked credentialed writing and word count.
The game changer and where the name coffee table book came from.
In the 1960s, (one of my favorite years, I was born in it LOL) coffee tables became popular due to the innovation of central heating in homes. Furniture no longer had to be arranged around the fireplace. Now, this piece of furniture was used to enjoy coffee, food, and play games, and the coffee table was born and thus the name of the book style too.
As cited in the full history of coffee table books article, Emily Post, who I wish I could claim as blood relative and style sister, even instructed readers on how to “create fake bindings for decorative purposes” by covering ugly covers with more attractive ones. This practice was dubbed “bookaflage” for the way books were used to disguise homeowners under a more pretentious, cultured image for those who visited their home.
As a home designer and decorator, my joy from coffee table books comes from 5 worthy reasons. If you have not been a coffee table book junkie like me, here’s why you should start.
- Inspiration – one can never have too much inspo, especially creators. I’ve been a creator my entire life (My mom claims I started with baby food on the wall!) Creators need all sources of inspiration, and coffee table books are just that on steroids.
- Therapy – aren’t we all a work in progress? Spending even 15 minutes reviewing a beautiful book is great self-care. It gives your mind and soul a break from the hectic, noisy, and always-digital world around us, and can provide a nice mental boost of good energy.
- Knowledge – our brains must be fed to stay strong and sharp. Today’s coffee table design books are an ocean of learning. I’ve added skills, deepened my appreciation for unique points of view, and expanded my vocabulary too.
- Fun – because life is too short to not laugh and feel good. I try to mix up my coffee table book stash with serious design books, some that cover world topics, and a few that are pure entertainment or hit some pop culture theme.
- Adventure – this is much easier than going to the airport to travel. There are so many incredible books from exotic places, covering the people, the culture, food, architecture, and fashion.
And now 4 of my favorite interior design coffee table books
This list of my favs changes every year, as hundreds of new wonderful book options are released to explore.
Q&A I get asked about coffee table books.
Q: How many books should a well-curated coffee table have?
A: There are no hard-lined design rules here. However, like with most things design, I lean toward a simple, cleaner approach. This means balancing color and texture. Honor timeless design principles. Don’t overdo the volume of anything (books or other decorative items) and be intentional with your selections.
Q: How often do you change the book collection on a tabletop?
A: I rotate my coffee table book display like I do my closet. Remember, before I become an interior designer, I was a visual merchandiser in my early career. So I like to keep things fresh and moving. You can be topical too with seasons, moods, or what’s hot off the press.
Q: Is there a coffee table book club in Tampa?
A: I don’t know, but I have added this to my research list to find out and will share soon!