Style on the side: take risks with your side table
Be adventurous when picking this useful and classy piece of furniture to put drinks on
I was recently a guest in a house with a very large but heavily furnished living room. The owner was fond of antiques. "What lovely side tables," I remarked, tripping over two of them. "We have too many tables in this room," my host admitted, as she rescued a third. "Last week I counted 17!" I have since heard that two of their side tables have been re-homed. The remaining 15 are probably breeding like rabbits.
The moral of the story is that you can overdo it on the side tables. A room cluttered with small unstable tables is neither stylish nor practical. That said, it's worth making room for this useful and potentially classy piece of furniture. "The right side table can be like a little piece of sculpture in your room," says the interior designer Emily Maher of Lost Weekend. "You don't want to go radical on a sofa or a dining table, but you can be a bit more adventurous with a side table."
The side table is a functional item so first think about the way you want to use it. "You have to be practical," says Maher. "The whole point of a side table is that you put your drinks on it, so the surface needs to be easy to keep. If you want to be able to move it around the room, don't go for a piece in solid marble. Those ones stay put."
If you like marble (I'm not crazy about it, but it's very hip), Lost Weekend have a range called Salute designed by Sebastian Herkner for La Chance where a circular metal tray is fitted around a solid marble pillar (from €1,609). The Enoki side table by Philipp Mainzer for e15 reverses the materials with a round marble top on a cylindrical metal pedestal (from €780).
"The bases come in lots of colours, including yellow and bright pink," says Maher. "It's a great way to bring a pop of colour into a room." Both ranges look gorgeous in mismatched pairs - if you can afford them. These are "investment pieces" (that's interiors-speak for massively expensive). If you're spending that kind of money, you want to make sure you're still going to like the piece 20 years down the line.
"I think they're going to stand the test of time," Maher speculates. "They'll be of an era - which is now - but they'll still look cool."
Mid century designs are often a safer bet. If they've lasted for 50 years they're probably not going to date. Classics from Lost Weekend include the graceful Pedestal side table (1957) designed by Eero Saarinen on a single central column. "The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs," he wrote of his Tulip chair, which is designed on the same principles.
Size, too, is important. "Do the measurements," advises Jenny Hurren. The self-confessed interiors addict from Lancashire runs Out There Interiors, a London-based online furniture store. "The returns that we get are often because people get the measurements wrong. They see the piece online and get an idea of it in their heads without really thinking about the dimensions. People tell you to play with scale. Don't! Unless you really know what you're doing, that's dangerous advice."
Once you find a side table that fits the room, Hurren feels that you can be adventurous with the style. Side tables, physically small and not particularly expensive, offer a low risk way of adding personality to a room. "Look for something interesting - that's a piece in its own right and not just a bit on the side. It doesn't have to match the rest of the furniture."
Most of her customers spend under €400 on a side table with the dominant styles including metallic, geometric, and marble. Another prevalent trend is for three-legged side tables, a slightly upscale version of the traditional milking stool. "It's the same height as a stool but the base is wider," Hurren explains.
The Bloomingville Chai coffee table (€162) in bamboo with a rose top is three-legged, like a stool, but the table top has a raised lip so it can't be sat on.
Side tables that are designed to double function as seating are a smart move for small spaces, but do check that the piece is strong enough. Some coffee tables are designed to look like pouffes - a practical combination - but Hurren cautions against buying an ordinary pouffe and expecting it to work as a side table. A side table needs to be firm and sturdy, and a soft surface can result in spilled drinks and stained fabrics.
You can also buy side tables in the shape of animals. Those from Out There Interiors includes a Helpful Elephant Side Table (€149), holding the table top above its head, and a Monkey Side Table (€292). For real animal magic, I'd be tempted to go the whole hog and buy the life-size (and life-like) Pig Table from Moooi (inset left).
Have you ever noticed how big a real pig is? Massive. So is the table, which measures 80cm high and 170cm long. It's made in black polyester and balances a table top on its head.
The manufacturers - with unusual honesty - describe it as a piece that "never fails to elicit a strong response from its onlookers… fall in love with at first sight or hate forever". I adore it but my family would be horrified. Luckily, it costs over €2,000 so they're safe enough.
See lostweekend.ie, outthereinteriors.com, moooi.com.