18 must-have coffee table books and conversation starters
For when you’re ready to welcome your first guests back
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As more Americans are vaccinated, social gatherings can once again start to fill up your agenda—albeit in small numbers. But after such a long stint of alone time, you, like me, may be feeling the panicky stirrings of stranger danger. To help you reacclimate to face-to-face encounters, coffee table books can be the subtle conversation starters you need. They’re artful, inspiring, insightful, and their subject matter most likely broadens your world view.
Some are designer (see Chanel: The Impossible Collection and The Rihanna Book: Queen Size) and some are cheap (see Unforgettable Journeys: Slow Down and See the World and The Photo Ark Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals), but they’re all amazing, conversation-starting decorative books for a table on your patio, porch, or in your living room.
Here are the best coffee table books we could find with a variety of interests, prices, and sizes.
1. For the foodie
Snag a signed, limited-edition copy of Eleven Madison Park, a two-volume collection of anecdotes, watercolors, food photographs, and recipes from Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s triple Michelin-star New York City restaurant.
2. For the Star Wars fan
George Lucas’ imaginative universe continues to resonate nearly 45 years after it first hit the silver screen. In The Star Wars Archives: 1977-1983 fans can get a look at the making of the original film trilogy through storyboards, on-set photography, and much more.
3. For the architecture buff
From Gropius to Gehry, progressive architects have always pushed boundaries. In Radical Architecture of the Future readers can dive into the structural creations of today’s design world rule breakers, including Diller Scofidio + Renfro and David Adjaye.
4. For the culture curious
@MuseumMammy Kimberly Drew and The New York Times journalist Jenna Wortham collaborate on Black Futures, a content-diverse tome with offerings that range from photos and essays to recipes, memes, and tweets. All offer messages from contemporary Black creators that together spotlight “what it means to be Black and alive.”
5. For the pop-art person
Set to be released in June 2021, KAWS What Party highlights actual work and procedure behind the painting, sculpture, and other artistic endeavors of contemporary American pop artist Kaws. This brand new coffee table book from Phaidon comes with four, limited-edition covers.
6. For the haute couture historian
You’ll spend a pretty penny on this bestseller, but in turn you’ll get to explore the world of the fashion icon who turned women’s apparel on its head. Complete with a set of white gloves, Chanel: The Impossible Collection tracks the career and the chutzpah of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and her successor Karl Lagerfeld through images of 100 iconic Chanel products. It’s one of many Chanel coffee table books out there, but we like this best.
7. For the edgy fashionista
Tom Ford coffee table book is a complete catalogue of the designer’s work for both Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Its pages feature more than 200 photographs over a full decade, from 1994 to 2004, by the world’s best fashion photographers, including Herb Ritts and Richard Avedon—some previously unpublished.
8. For the animal champion
Conservationist and award-winning National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore offers The Photo Ark Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals a compilation that showcases just a selection of studio portraits from his 16-years-in-the-making project to photograph every animal species in human care (read: they’re either extinct or destined to be extinct in the wild).
9. For the traveler with a quirky perspective
Anyone who has seen The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel will understand the goal of coffee table travelogue Accidentally Wes Anderson, which journeys across the globe spotlighting real buildings and destinations that could be out of one of this Hollywood director’s films.
10. For the flower fan
A diverse range of floral-based work from world-class and lesser-known artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Georgia O'Keeffe, make up the 316 color illustrations that compose the multi-style contents of Flower: Exploring the World in Bloom. This is a must for anyone with a green thumb and an appreciation for beauty that grows.
11. For the romantic
Before being openly gay was accepted or, many times, legal, the same-sex partners pictured in Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s shined bright for the men they loved. Images stretching to the early days of photography capture these tender relationships that were so striking in context of the social rules of their time and place.
12. For the fashion magazine junkie
Among many shelves of fashion coffee table books In Vogue: An Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Fashion Magazine is where two thick histories—fashion and the publishing industry—intertwine. Through essays, excerpts, and archival materials, you can examine a century’s worth of Vogue and get to know the work of names you may recognize: Condé Nast, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Federico Fellini, and others.
13. For the wanderluster
DK Eyewitness offers Unforgettable Journeys: Slow Down and See the World, a travel diary organized by mode of transportation, from foot travel to train and kayak. More than 200 iconic to unique journeys span the globe and will no doubt inspire your wanderlust.
14. For those who want the inside scoop on Rihanna
As the internet considers renewed will she/won’t she chatter about an impending 2021 song or ninth album release, pop-culture devotees can satiate their RiRi hunger with a read-through of the singer and beauty mogul’s 2019 autobiographical The Rihanna Book. Super fans can splurge on a hand-sewn and bound, limited-edition luxe version with all sorts of special flourishes and a hefty price tag.
- Get The Rihanna Book at Amazon for $110.66
- Get The Rihanna Book: Queen Size (Limited Collector’s Edition of 500) at Phaidon for $1,495
15. For cannabis culture explorateurs
High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture explores the new acceptance and widespread accessibility of cannabis, through interviews with brand leaders, designers, creators, entrepreneurs, writers, and chefs who work with and promote weed.
- Get High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture at The ICA Store for $60
- Get High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture at Barnes & Noble for $60
16. For fans of the deep blue
From underwater creatures to coastal vistas, The Life & Love of the Sea showcases stunning visuals by a number of different marine photographers. Anyone with a hankering for a budget-friendly seaside escape should check this out.
17. For the minimalist
If there’s one thing that quarantine taught us, it’s that home organization is hot. With it comes decluttering and living with less—the thesis of New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living—practices this book can help you build after walking you through your physical and emotional perspectives on stuff.
18. For the person who loves animals and architecture
A terracotta bird house roof tile and a hand-blown glass Bubble Tank that fluidly overhangs the surface it sits on are just two of the animal houses (and other objects) created by leading global architects, and highlighted in the lighthearted Pet-tecture: Design for Pets.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.