"I don’t get no respect!” – Rodney Dangerfield
Sadly, in most homes, end tables are the Rodney Dangerfield of the furniture world. Regardless of their significance – a beloved piece passed down from generation to generation, or a shiny new item that ‘spoke to you’ in the store – they always seem to end up being the second (or third) banana to a new couch or statement piece. Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Come look at my new end table” or, “I love that new coffee table.” Almost never. Why is that? Typically, side tables get short-changed because their use is predetermined by their owners. Rather than thinking of the table as a significant component of a room’s design, people are thinking of what will be put on top of it – a lamp to read by, a spot for drinks, a cherished decorative piece. Whatever the purpose, what could have been a beautiful complement to a room’s style has been downgraded to nothing more than a functional flat-top surface.
Unfortunately, any table not considered to be a kitchen or dining room table has had a long history of being an afterthought. Ancient Egyptians crafted early end tables that were essentially platforms to keep things off the floor. Likewise, the Greeks and Romans held little regard for their tables by shoving them under the bed when not in use. Coffee tables skyrocketed in popularity during the 1950s. Why? Because they were low enough not to obstruct the view of the television even with cups and glasses on them. No respect.
While we aren’t shoving them under beds today, we still aren’t using end tables to their fullest potential. Not only can they be beautiful accent pieces, tying together the décor in your living room, but they can even set the theme or look of your room.
Let’s first identify three tables that are most commonly used in a living/family room. Then I’ll share with you the best ways to bring out their beauty and charm.
The coffee table, also known as the cocktail table, is most commonly placed in front of a sofa. While many people use it as a support for objects such as stacks of books or favorite knick-knacks, its primary the workhorse of the tables. People will always place drinks, plates, newspapers, homework, etc. on the coffee table because of its central location (in front of, but not blocking the TV).
Most coffee tables are made of wood, but as I mentioned in the last issue of IN Magazine, silver and gold leaf metal is becoming popular. Another type of coffee table style that can make a big statement in a room is the ottoman. Over the years this multi-functional piece has become popular thanks to upholstery in bright, cheery colors or patterns that reflect a family’s personal style.
How to coordinate a coffee/cocktail table:
Consider the coffee or cocktail table to be the ‘centerpiece’ of your room (this table is usually quite literally in the middle of your living room). Because of this, it needs to be of a size and material that best fits your family’s needs. When choosing a table, list all of the needs this table might have to address. “Do I need a table that is used to play games after dinner, or a place to rest feet when the neighbors aren’t looking?” Don’t forget about your storage needs!
With your needs determined, feel free to think outside ‘the square.’ Don’t limit splashes of color to accent pillows. Instead, consider buying an upholstered ottoman in a bold print. In doing so, you’ll make a dramatic statement in your space that everyone will be talking about. Or, how about bringing in two wood tables side-by-side in different colors? I couldn’t call myself the repurposing queen if I didn’t also suggest a do-it-yourself option. In the attic, do you have untraditional item that can be transformed to a conversation piece…like an old suitcase that you add legs to from a garage sale chair? Every item that comes into your home should tell a story or start a conversation. Because the coffee table is in the center of room and the center of attention, it should do both.
The end table is commonly found next to one or both sides of the sofa and is used to hold a lamp, support a beverage, or serve as home base for the remote. With this piece of furniture, storage drawers are very common.
How to coordinate an end table:
I think of an end table much like “the end” of a story. While other pieces of furniture or tables start the story or serve as a main character, the end table’s job is to tie up loose ends by complementing and completing other elements in the room – primarily your sofa. If you think of your end table(s) as the end of your sofa story, then it’s important to scale the table to the sofa. Most often end tables are the height of the sofa arm, and I always recommend this height in rooms with low ceilings. But with a high-ceiling room, try going 3-4 inches above the sofa arm. This design trick balances the room’s scale while still being functional.
In my opinion, end tables have come a long way over the years. Gone are slim, dark tables that disappear under decorative stuff. Today they can be functional pieces of art that add just the right amount of style to a room. When using two tables at either end of the sofa, it is not necessary for them to match. Feel free to use a round table at one end and a square table at the other. The same goes for colors, finishes and even material. Picture a round preserved wooden trunk made out of an actual tree! If that’s too rustic for you, envision a mercy glass chest outlined in silver metal. The sky’s the limit, but please make sure that whatever choose, your tables are similar in height. Likewise, matching decorative elements such as lamps should also be at the same height. Remember that your room’s story must be in balance in order to be pleasing to the eye.
The Third table that’s in need of some good PR is the sofa table. Defined as a table with drawers and a drop leaf at both ends, this table is usually placed behind the sofa. FYI, a sofa table and a Davenport table are the same thing. In the early-to-mid 20thcentury, especially in the Midwest, folks called a sofa a Davenport.
Usually the sofa table is high enough to come almost to the top of the back of the sofa. Personally, I like them best when they are 3-4” shorter than the sofa. At this height, you can place a lamp or lamps on the table without messing up the balance of a room.
Over time we have forced the console table to function as a sofa table. This table is much smaller and taller than a traditional sofa table. While I’ve got nothing against a good console table, from a design perspective they need to stay against the wall in a hallway or entryway where they belong.
How to coordinate a sofa table:
A sofa table is a great way to break up the space in a large open area, such as a combined kitchen and living room. Also, it’s never a good idea to have a sofa ‘floating’ alone in the middle of a room, so use a sofa table to ‘anchor’ your seating.
Because traditional sofa tables have leaves on either side, they are perfect for extending your entertaining space. For your next party, consider extending the tablescape theme in the dining room to your sofa table. Then use the sofa table as your dessert station. Not only do you gain additional serving space, but you’re creating a flow through your home. Now your guests haveto leave the kitchen and mingle!
I think it’s high time that these tables get a little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T! First, we need to stop treating them as afterthoughts. Be purposeful and creative when making your selections. Second, remember that each room in your home tells a story about you and your family. No one likes a hard-to-follow or unbalanced story, and no onelikes to be left hanging at the end. Tables that are a real expression of your style will always be the perfect ending to any story. Now get out there and create your own best-seller!