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What Should (And Should Not Be) On Each Table In Your House

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Decorators share simple tips on some of the most-used surfaces in our homes.

By Joann Pan

  • The Item Every Foyer Needs
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    What Should Be on the Entryway Table: Given this is the place we toss our keys, mail and our latest beach read, the first thing you need is a sturdy tray, says Evan Schwartz, interior designer at Homepolish and the owner of Brooklyn Auction Barn. Stick to wood, metals and cloth-covered containers that are relatively low-maintenance. Avoid Lucite, acrylic, mirrored glass and lacquered carriers, which are prone to fingerprints and scuffs. Use a small ceramic dish to corral keys.

    What Should Not Be on the Entryway Table: A cozy candle can instantly warm up any room, but there's no need for one here, Schwartz says, since you probably won't want to light a candle on your way in or out. If you want to walk in the door to a favorite scent, consider placing lavender or eucalyptus in a simple jar instead, Schwartz suggests.
  • A Solution To The Problem You Don't See In Photographs
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    What Should Be on the Coffee Table: A closed-lid box. Why? Flip through a home catalog or decor magazine, Schwartz says, and you'll notice that one thing is missing: a remote control. In real life, Schwartz says, we usually have a few of them. In a box, they'll be close at hand but out-of-sight. Use a decorative tray to hold the larger box, a ceramic bowl, vase and neat stack of your favorite hardcovers.

    What Should Not Be on the Coffee Table: Coasters -- no matter how gorgeously textured and unique they are -- don't belong on this busy surface. "Those things always end up at the edge or toward the back of the coffee table," Schwartz says. A better place for one or two coasters, though not the entire stack, would be on a side table. "Side tables are there to rest your drink," Schwartz says.
  • The Item That Makes Dinner Guests Swoon—and How to Fake It
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    What Should Be on the Kitchen/Dining Table: Flowers. Bijou & Boheme blogger Christine Dovey keeps fresh blooms, paired with a gold candelabra, on her kitchen table at all times. You can add greenery to your dining space without spending a small fortune each week. Choose varieties including roses (which last up to 10 days), lilies (14 days) or orchids in pots (about a month), Dovey suggests. Other affordable options include the elephants ear plant with leaves that you can stick in a beautiful vase with water or long-lasting succulents placed in a ceramic pot. Stay away from hydrangeas that usually last a day -- and peonies, which stay fresh for only about three to four days. Another budget-friendly option: fake flowers. "I recommend ones that you get from a real florist," the Ontario-based stylist says. "Have a little pot of fake flowers for day-to-day. When people come over, you can get fresh ones."

    What Should Not Be on the Kitchen/Dining Table: Your olive oil decanter. The table is a convenient spot for the bottle when you're ready to chow down salad or sourdough with dinner—but keeping the vessel off the table might even preserve the oil's quality and taste. Keep it in a cool, dry, dark cupboard -- away from damaging heat and sunlight. If you've got beautiful bottles, glassware and decorative shakers, display them on shelves, in pantries, armoires or buffets, Dovey says. "For a dining table setting, I'd only leave out perhaps a beautiful vase and some candle holders -- all else should be away until it's time to set the table."
  • The Measurement That Will Make Your Bedroom Cozier
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    What Should Be on the Nightstand: At least 12 to 18 inches of space. "Books and things just end up there," says Lauren Liess, Washington D.C.-based decorator and textile designer. Start by measuring your nightstand across the top. "If it's a really small table (less than 20 inches across in width), try to mount the lamp above it." This way, you won't knock over your alarm clock when youre looking for your glasses in the morning. Installing a swing-arm sconce above the nightstand is a great option if you read in bed, providing the perfect amount of light.

    What Should Not Be on the Nightstand: A water carafe. Sure, a bedside pitcher can save you a trip into the kitchen at 3 a.m., but it can leave marks on your wooden nightstand, Liess says.
  • The (Free) Piece Of Decor That Doubles As A Napkin Holder
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    What Should Be on the Outdoor Table: A lantern -- not too big, not too small. When it gets dark, your dinner guests should be able to see what they're eating. Plus, lantern candle holders make easy, elegant centerpieces. Pick a style that is small enough so people can see one another, says Michele Bitter, senior designer at Homepolish.

    For an outdoor cocktail table, try small metal sculptures (nothing with high-gloss metal polish that will rust, such as nickel) or a unique stone you've found -- this can conveniently top a pile of napkins so they don't blow away. "At a New England home, use chunks of granite," Bitter says. "Or if you're at the beach, the beautiful seashells you found that day."

    What Should Not Be on the Outdoor Table: "Avoid anything that's glass, that is going to blow over and break," Bitter says. She recommends Jonathan Adler plastic barware, tableware and serving trays for outdoor dining.

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