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Brew up a creative coffee-table design

Coffee tables are on my mind this summer because I just got one of the new coffee-table ottomans we're carrying at Nell Hill's that are upholstered with antique rugs. I'm smitten with mine because the rug covering my ottoman has tiny snags in it that I imagine came from someone's kitty, generations ago. Dan can't imagine why on earth I would buy a piece of furniture with cat scratches on it when we already have several in our home, thanks to our ornery kittens.

Now, I have to decide how to accessorize my new coffee-table treasure. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they design their coffee-table displays is to use too many small or low-profile pieces — the look you see at the doctor's office.

For a display that really works, first determine what look you're going for. Do you want something casual or dressy? Be sure your display matches the style of your room and is functionally sound. For instance, you don't want an overly tall, dramatic display on the coffee table in front of your TV.

Next, collect some intriguing accents you can showcase that bring in a mix of textures, sizes and shapes. Don't be afraid to include beefier objects because accents with some heft will add width and height to your tableau.

To build your display, start with an interesting base, such as a tray. I'm a big believer in putting displays on trays because trays pull the pieces together and give the grouping a unified look. Plus, when you build a display on a tray, you can easily move it if you want to clear the coffee table for another use.

Next, find a focal point for your display, like a vase of flowers, a stack of boxes or a candlestick. I like to use pieces that have sentimental value, such as a china soup tureen you inherited from your grandmother or an old trophy of your granddad's.

Finally, consider including a few items you will use on a daily basis, such as a book or a bowl of candy. Why not add a wooden box to hold your TV remotes or a silver vase to store your reading glasses?

To create one wonderful look, we used a framed mirror as our base. Next, we added layer upon layer of texture using books. It's good to replicate a few key pieces such as books. We topped the stack of books with a wooden box. It mirrors the shape of the books but adds a bit of shine.

We finished off the tableau with two porcelain figurines.

While I love traditional coffee tables, I'm also a huge fan of coffee-table ottomans and recommend them all the time to families with young kids. Not only do they remove the safety hazards of sharp corners and hard surfaces, they look lovely without a display on top of them.

We dressed up a regal upholstered ottoman with a working centerpiece, one you could use when entertaining friends. Our anchor for this bar-service display is a lovely silver tray. If you don't have a silver tray yet, consider adding one (or more) to your arsenal of accents. You will be blown away by how often you use it when you entertain and in your year-round decorating.

Next, we added a few party essentials, from a classic crystal decanter and glasses to appetizer plates with gold detailing. We filled a blue-and-white china bowl with fruit, but you could easily replace it with a dessert server holding canapes or tarts. To bring in some visual height, we finished off the look with a silver candlestick.