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Don’t Set Aside Your Side Table: Using Your Accent Pieces Well

It takes a surprising number of tables to decorate a whole house. But while certain types of tables are very distinct – like dining tables – the language we use to talk about them can get a little muddied. The terms “side tables” and “end tables” in particular are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. While they both fall under the broad category of “accent tables,” it’s worth taking a closer look at what makes side tables unique, and why you might not actually want to use them interchangeably. A side table should be more than an afterthought in your interior design, even if you think you don’t need the added surface space.

What IS a Side Table?

Side Table (Marble Top) French and Victorian Inspired Modern Furniture, 116BM by Polrey

You may wonder what counts as a side table. I know I did while browsing our catalog, thinking at first glance, “These are all end tables!” While they are visually and functionally similar to end tables, side tables do have some unique features. For instance, size. They are typically larger than end tables in both width and height. Side tables also tend to be less practical in shape, as they don’t need to bookend a piece of furniture. You can use them as end tables or as nightstands, but also as freestanding decorative pieces.

A Side of Asymmetry

Make two accent chairs “feel” like a sofa by connecting them visually with a side table (by Rachel Reider Interiors)

Side tables have a huge advantage in contemporary spaces. Because they don’t need to be placed at the “ends” of your furniture, you don’t have to invest in multiple tables if you don’t need them. When your living room consists of multiple chairs rather than a single couch, having a table on each end can even make the room feel cluttered. You could place a single larger side table in-between the two chairs, or box each in with a whopping three extra end tables to make them symmetrical. If you don’t have the space (or the budget), one design choice is significantly better than the other.

Filling in Empty Corners

A side table can make even the worst room corners feel hospitable (by Terracotta Design Build)

One thing I love is that a side table can stand on its own – and I don’t just mean literally! End tables are designed to sit below the level of chair and sofa arms, so you don’t bump your elbows while you’re sitting. Their small size makes them a great surface space while you’re sitting, but leaves them looking sad on their own. Taller side tables are hefty enough that they don’t need supporting furniture to look right. That means they’re perfect for fleshing out a larger space, or an odd-shaped one. Have an empty nook or corner that’s not quite big enough to be usable? Enter the side table. With a like a lamp or vase on top, you can fill those awkward spaces. Bonus: having furniture underneath will make it easier to hang art on the wall above, too, without making your home feel like an art gallery.

Showing Your Creative Side

Side Table (Marble Top) French and Victorian Inspired Modern Furniture, 114BM by Polrey

Along with taking up corners you wouldn’t normally fill, side tables also take your room’s style further. Not needing to be entirely practical means they can be more ornate, more colorful, and more unique than other tables. For example, while a Victorian room may feel out of place in an otherwise contemporary home, a single Victorian side table can play against other elements like abstract wall art to create a thoughtful anachronism that is very popular right now. Take advantage of your side table’s desire to not blend in and pick one that makes a great talking piece.

Topping It Off

116 Side Table (Wood Top), 116BW by Polart

If you regularly use your side table as an end table or night stand, it’s important to choose a durable one. Wood is a solid base for tables, but can be easy to scratch and a little too absorbent without a strong finish. If you aren’t big on coasters, opt for a table surface made of glass, marble, or metal. These can be used to preserve a side table in a high-impact area, and add an extra layer of flair as well.

A side table is more than just a fancy surface. They are part accent piece, part functional furnishing, and part design signature. So while you can use them interchangeably with other accent tables, they’re worth a second look.