There is no best way to put together a Wiccan altar, which will be as unique as the Wiccan who creates it. You can have more than one. Each altarís size and type are determined by its purpose and your lifeís circumstances. For example, what is your budget and how much storage space do you have? How discreet are you about sharing your faith with outsiders? Do you prefer lots of stuff or minimalism?
You also must consider the people you live with. How many are Wiccans or pagans? If you keep your faith discreet, you might feel more comfortable hiding your altar in a private area of the house. Do you have small children and rambunctious pets? You may want to locate your altar away from high traffic areas such as hallways or doorways. Here are some different types of altars that might be found in a Wiccan household.
The house altar: This is a showpiece altar set up in a central part of the house such as in the living room on a sideboard. It never goes away but changes with the passing seasons. The family can enjoy decorating the house altar together and admiring its changing appearance through the year, but it does not have to be an overtly Wiccan altar. Because it is in full display to the guests and because your family members might not all be Wiccan, you might feel most comfortable limiting your house altar to a simple items such as real or faux seasonal foliage to reflect the natural world right outside the door. (If you consider the acorns upon your house altar sacred to the Horned God, the non-pagans in your life need never know.) The ever-changing seasonal display is a very common type of altar that non-pagans create without seeing it as anything more than home decorating.
The personal altar: This stays permanently on display, but you are the only one who sees it. You might keep it in your bedroom or your closet. You might locate it on a shelf, a windowsill, or bureau top. It might occupy your bedside table. Here you can keep statuettes of your patron god and goddess. You can work with your chakra energy by establishing long-standing displays of certain colors and crystals. You might arrange a tableau to reflect the yearís most important goals. All of these scenarios work well with a personal altar that remains on display to you but is also kept private from the rest of the world.
Many non-pagans create this type of altar as well, even if they would not call it an altar. Some may display items significant to their religion such as statuettes and sacred literature. Others may arrange secular items from childhood or gifts from family members or things of personal significance that make them happy. Altar-building seems to be a deeply rooted instinct among us humans.
The working altar: Unlike the house altar and personal altar, the working altar is not for display. Because you will be cleansing it before and after every spell and ritual you perform, you want a surface that can be stripped bare and changed to suit your different needs. A coven might use a small table. An individual could streamline things further. What about the top of a wooden box (storing ritual tools within)? Perhaps a smooth piece of wood kept wrapped in silk when not in use. You could even unfold a scarf of placemat to serve as an instant altar top. All you really need is to delineate a square of sacred space from which to practice.
Of course, you can use your personal altar to cast spells. There is nothing wrong with keeping a display area in back and a clear area in front for your spellwork. However, if your personal altar is too small and you would rather not disturb your permanent display, having a separate working altar can be a solution.