Side table innovation

In the grand scheme of living room layouts, side tables generally
don’t get raves. Also known as end tables, the traditionally rectangular pieces
hug sofas like bookends, often stretching to match full-out depth. Available in
styles to blend with your own 18th century, country or contemporary, they
“finish” a seating group, providing a surface for a lamp and a snack.

Although cocktail tables are
equally utilitarian, they more often steal the spotlight, especially big ones
that do double duty as ottomans. But when side tables got smaller, that changed

Many took notice with the
proliferation of the classic barrel-shaped glazed ceramic or porcelain garden
stools. The Chinese-influenced pieces started showing up in fetching fashion
colours like aqua, lime, coral and bright yellow as well as in pretty patterns.

Ethnic designs, such as
Moroccan-influenced wood tables with inlays of mother of pearl or metal rain
drums from Southeast Asia, caught the eye and appealed to eclectic designers.
In short time, retailers were all over it, and now there’s an abundance of the
morphed, scaled down side table, one typically around 17 or 18 inches square or
round, some as small as 12 inches, with others a more robust 21 inches.
Materials span a variety of woods, metals, as well as horn and other shells,
rattan, fabric, ceramic, mirror, glass or acrylic in a range of shapes, colours
and finishes.

The appeal is obvious:
affordability, portability and versatility. Add personality, pop, possibly colour,
pattern, and even a bit of artistry, as some forms are very sculptural.

“When the economy is tough,” says
Ed Tashjian, chief marketing officer of Home Meridian International, a home
furnishings concern in High Point, N.C. “People like value and cash-and-carry
items. These little tables provide immediate gratification.”

Tashjian says that the global
market has opened the door to all sorts of artisans creating products with
exotic materials like pen shells, and that the high end has quickly been
matched by lower price points. “The Oscar de la Renta table that costs $3,500,
for example,” says Tashjian, can be replicated for about $70.

Then, too, the mix-and-match style
of decorating really has taken hold. “In the 18th to 19th centuries,” says
Tashjian, “a sign of wealth was to have all matching furniture, all made of the
same wood, with the same carvings and style.” Today, we’re more about a “pearls
and jeans” mode.

Finally, there’s an element of
green, either symbolically with nature-inspired pieces, or literally with
tree-trunk bases or eco-harvested woods. The democratization of design has led
to diversity and a comfort zone of prices from Pottery Barn to Pier I to Target
to Hobby Lobby to World Imports.

“The style zeitgeist has worked its
way down to the middle market,” says Tashjian. “And now there’s a demand for
accent pieces.”

That’s not to say that these accent
pieces are all inexpensive. When high-end designers jump on the bandwagon,
price tags for tiny tables rise exponentially.

Still, even a couple hundred
dollars is not as huge of an investment as a sofa — and instantly breathing
new life into an interior feels good.

How to use small-scale tables is
almost intuitive. But besides the common post at the side of a chair or sofa, they
also can sub for a cocktail table, especially when used in pairs or even as a
trio. Sometimes an extra table floated in the space works well, especially when
its shape and sturdiness allow it to double as a stool. Not at all limited to
living rooms, the small sides are equally appetizing in the home office or
bedroom and are handy in the bath for a stack of towels or a hairdryer.

What style you choose depends on
your aesthetic as well as your need.

Go traditional with an unexpected
twist. A familiar shape, a table with a turned pedestal in an arresting indigo
acrylic, combining modern and retro elements. Another variation of pedestal
table has an antiqued gold wrought-iron base in the form of a giant tassel. Its
glossy black granite top lends elegance. A more rustic interpretation f has a
rough circular top with crossed legs that are like intertwining branches.

The X-shape is a favourite modern
as well as classical convention. One design from Williams-Sonoma Home is a contemporary
update of campaign style, with a polished nickel base. The top is cherry
veneer, framed to match its base.

More conventional table and legs
combinations also are available in less predictable looks. One leggy style
takes on geometric angles with an antique-gold finish on metal with a glass top
in Hollywood glam style.

Drum shapes abound, from ceramic
garden seats to stone, such as one in a stylish zebra pattern from Pulaski.
It’s created from layers of natural stone, available in black or tan on a
creamy white. Another drum, interpreted in wood from Crate and Barrel, features
a slot to tuck away a book or two. A brass drum form from Neiman Marcus has a
basket-weave pattern and a mirrored top.

Other drum styles are airy, with
cross-hatch or other cut-out patterns in wood or perforations in metal. Even
simple block forms take on more interesting looks with tapering or hourglass
shapes, which sometimes are reflective when they’re mirrored.

A more open shape — a simple
hollowed out cube — from Crate and Barrel has a glass top. Its lemongrass
finish adds splash to otherwise dark furnishings, especially when the hue is
popped out in pillows. The space beneath is large enough for vintage record

Adding an architectural element
creates functional art. One example crafted from bronze-plated brass features a
male or female figure holding up its square top like a Greek caryatid. Another
sculptural side table is composed of gilded iron rings that artistically work
their way up to an oval top set in with glass.

There even are some options for
storage. An unusual rustic piece from Ballard Designs was inspired by spools
employed by French rope-makers to sell their natural fibre manila rope. Its top
lifts off to reveal storage within. And MacKenzie-Childs takes a cue from
campaign-style furniture with its rattan-framed box, which sits on legs with
ceramic patterned bun feet. It has an enamel black-and-white checker board top
that reverses to plaid and brass latch that opens the 17-inch diameter lid.

If you have more inches to spare,
there’s a 23-inch-square end table that may be a paws-down favourite. The
26-inch tall piece has a handsome latticework pattern around the base, with a
shelf for books or magazines.

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