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What Is A Coffee Table Book? Our Definitive Guide

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Before we get started, we guess the most pressing question is, what is a coffee table book? Lucky for you, we’re here to provide full transparency. Coffee table books have been gaining popularity, and you might be curious to know why. Perhaps you have come across those oversized books with glossy pages and captivating images and wondered who buys them. The truth is that many people do, and there are good reasons for it. While they are great for display, coffee table books offer more than just visual appeal.

They’re meant to spark conversation, highlight intriguing topics, and showcase the world’s beauty in an accessible way. If you’re looking to liven up your decor or want to dive into a subject you’re passionate about, coffee table books are a terrific option. This guide will give you an overview of what defines coffee table books, how to choose the ones you’ll love, and recommendations for some of the best coffee table books on everything from travel and nature to pop culture, design, and beyond. By the end, you’ll be ready to pick out coffee table books to call your own.

what is a coffee table book

Photo by Yganko from Freepik

Insight – The best coffee table books have a broad appeal and cover universally interesting topics like art, architecture, travel, history, nature, and photography.

What Exactly Is a Coffee Table Book?

A coffee table book is a large, lavishly illustrated hardcover book meant to be displayed on a coffee table, end table, or similar surface in a living room, lounge, or lobby. It comprises glossy pages of high-quality photographs, illustrations, or other graphic content on a popular or visually striking topic that invites intrigue from guests.

They come in all shapes, sizes, and subjects. Whether you’re interested in travel, nature, art, pop culture, or history, there’s a book for you. Some focus on photography, filled with exquisite landscapes, city scenes, or wildlife shots. Others showcase classic or contemporary artworks, paintings, or sculptures. Many examine cultural icons, legendary musicians, golden-era Hollywood, or vintage ads and packaging.

The key is choosing a topic that reflects your tastes and interests while also sparking conversation among guests. They’re meant to be visually appealing but also intellectually stimulating. They give you an easy way to express your style and share your passions with others in an inviting way.

Size Matters

Coffee table books are typically oversized, measuring 10 x 12 inches or larger. Some span up to 20 x 20 inches for maximum impact. The substantial size gives them a sense of significance and allows details in the imagery and text to be prominently displayed. The oversized format also makes them ideal for flipping through with a group at get-togethers.

Quality Counts

Premium paper stock, vibrant inks, and high-resolution photographs are hallmarks of a premium coffee table book. They give the books a luxurious feel and help the visuals pop off the page. The binding, cover, and overall construction should also be premium so the book can withstand frequent use and handling over time. Cheaper books with lower production values won’t have the same effect or longevity.

what is a coffee table bookPhoto by Julienprotz from Freepik

Insight – Look for books with high production values—thick pages, dust jackets, and lay-flat binding—for the best coffee table experience.

What Is a Coffee Table Book: History and Origins

Coffee table books have been around since the 1950s, intended initially as decorative accents for, you guessed it, coffee tables. These oversized books are filled with compelling photography and are designed to spark conversation.

The Birth of an Icon

The first coffee table book is widely considered to be Edward Steichen’s “The Family of Man,” published in 1955. This collection of photographs from 68 countries aims to show the commonality of human experiences across the globe. Its large format and artsy presentation made it perfect for display in homes.

Other publishers quickly caught on to the concept, releasing their own photography and art books. These tomes covered travel destinations, classic paintings, architecture, fashion, and more. For the first time, people could have beautifully printed reproductions of masterpiece artworks and far-off places right in their living rooms.

A Cultural Phenomenon

By the 1960s, coffee table books had become a symbol of sophistication and status. Owning a library of these lavish books conveyed a sense of worldliness and an appreciation of the finer things. They also sparked discussion, allowing hosts to show off their knowledge and allowing guests to connect over shared interests.

Today, the market has expanded to include books on cuisine, gardening, history, pop culture, and virtually any other genre or subject you can imagine. While sales have declined in the digital age, these visual stunners persist as cultural icons and make for memorable gifts. For the traveler, art lover, or photography fan in your life, a coffee table book remains an excellent way to spark inspiration and fuel dreams of adventure.

Insight – High-end coffee table books are often collectibles with limited print runs and premium materials, making them valuable collectibles over time.

What Is a Coffee Table Book: Popular Genres and Themes

Coffee table books come in a variety of popular genres and themes. Depending on your interests, you can find books highlighting breathtaking photography, intriguing history, or pop-culture nostalgia.


Ravishing landscapes, travel, and nature photos are always a favorite. Books like “National Geographic: The Photographs” or “Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016” feature iconic and award-winning works of art. These flamboyant books are designed to be displayed and shared, igniting chatter.


Options exploring history, from fashion to music to world events, offer a glimpse into the past in an engaging way. For example, “The Beatles Anthology” provides a comprehensive look at the famous band through pictures and their own words. Books on era-defining topics like “The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings” or “Apollo: A Photographic Journey through the Golden Age of Space Travel” capture pivotal moments in time.

Pop Culture

Lighthearted books tapping into pop-culture nostalgia or fan bases also make popular coffee table options. Collections of classic movie posters, vintage advertisements, or retro toys and gadgets induce feelings of fond memories. “Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie” or “The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion” are eye-catching tributes to beloved films. For TV show aficionados, books like “The World of Downton Abbey” or “The Art and Making of Game of Thrones” provide a behind-the-scenes look into costumes, sets, and characters.

Glass Table with themed books

Photo by Julienprotz from Freepik

What Is a Coffee Table Book: Tips for Styling and Displaying

Displaying your collection of books is an art form in itself. Arrange them in an inviting yet functional way that sparks intrigue. Here are some tips to style your books like an expert:

Group By Color or Theme

Put books of the same color palette or subject matter together. A cohesive color scheme or theme will make your display look more intentional and polished. For example, group all your books on travel, nature, or fashion together on one side of the table. On the other side, arrange books with black, white, and gold covers.

Stack Some, Spread Some Out

For visual impact, stack some books on their sides in a fan shape and lay others flat open to an interesting spread. Leave space in between stacks and open books so the display looks balanced, not cluttered. An uneven number of books in a stack, around three to five, usually looks most attractive.

Elevate for Dimension

Place a decorative tray, box, or crate under some of the books to lift them and add height variation. You can also set some books on pedestals or small plant stands at different levels. Dimension and uneven height will make your table display really pop.

Leave Room for Other Decor

Don’t overcrowd the table with just books. Leave space for bowls, trays, candles, plants, or other decorative items. A good rule of thumb is to take up no more than two-thirds of the table surface with your books. Fill the remaining space with decorative accents to complete the chic look.

Rotate Selections

Swap out some of the books every few months to keep things fresh, or rotate the ones on top or in focal points. You can store the non-displayed books on a bookshelf or in a basket under the coffee table. Rotating a few new selections into your display will spark renewed interest in your collection. With simple tips, you can craft an artful display that becomes a star attraction in your home. Group, stack, elevate, and rotate your books to create a smart arrangement that reflects your preferences and interests. Your well-curated collection is sure to impress your guests!

Wood table styling

Photo by Mykhaylovanatalia from Freepik

Insight – Consider the intended audience when choosing a coffee table book. Some subjects will appeal to a broader audience than others.

Final Thoughts

Coffee table books are a great addition to any living room. They are not only trendy but also a source of visual inspiration. Whether you want to impress your guests or indulge in a visual feast, a well-chosen coffee table book can provide just that. The next time you have friends over, watch their faces light up as they flip through the pages of your latest find. You may even discover a new passion or interest as you get lost in the pages. So, start building your collection and unleash your inner bookworm. Your living room will thank you for it!

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