Looking at the best short back and side-tables for your living space

Kya deLongchamps looks at short back and side-tables, the unsung heroes of ergonomic living and the backbone of a good, working interior decor scheme.

Here’s a quote that’s worth repeating on the topic of occasional furniture: “The privileges of the side-table included the small prerogatives of sitting next to the toast, and taking two cups of tea to other people’s one.” (Charles Dickens — Martin Chuzzlewitt)

Occasional furniture is not just the supporting case for larger pieces, but very often, lifts up the overall look of the room and performs essential little duties, to boot.

Used for display, occasionals also gift back some vertical foil to all those horizontal planes. Don’t leave the choice of side-tables, coffee tables, slender side-boards and consoles to the final moment of making a room. Work out their role, aesthetics and scale in your vision for true impact.


Ideal for breaking up the volume of a room, the height of side-tables is a contentious point with decorators. 

Deliberately high and flanking a sofa they can create an upholstered little canyon. Tall lamps or sculpture, lifted up on piers, can reach eye level — very ‘apartmente Paris’. 

However, if you lean out (and up) to put down a book or switch on a light, the thrashing worthy of directing plane traffic demolishes any practical role.

Generally, keep the table top level with the arm of the seating or about 5cm lower. 

For a more slouchy couchy, sit down and mimic reaching for a drink and take a measurement before you go shopping. Keep in mind a rounded table has less surface area and will sweep away from your reach, but they do save on digs to the thighs when passing in a meaner space.

Traditionally side-tables are added to sofas as a pair. Don’t feel paralysed into using two or even matching them tightly. 

I use a 1960s school desk with a Formica top® and tubular metal base still scrawled in angry adolescent graffiti, as a single side table — €30 of anyone’s money. An airy leg allows light to travel, opening up the look. Any stable surface of a suitable height and size of thing, can be drafted into position.

In terms of materials — if you have butter soft couches, metal-gilded or left-in-the- industrial rough pieces can be a pleasing counter-point. Glass offers shine and sophistication, but also, regular ring marks. Where room is tight, leave one side table clear of ornaments and lamps and swing it into position forward of the seating as needed, to serve as a coffee or snacks’ spot.

Our favourites: IKEA’s witty wiry and white PS side table with integrated light and magazine slide. €65.

Loft Bradshaw side table (ideal as lamp table) in a choice of colours (new for 2015/16) €59, M&S.

Habitat Kilo multicolour nest of tables suited to coffee or side roles. €92.

Coffee & more

Coffee tables, more prettily called cocktail tables — sit in front of the couch or seating group, and should form the natural centre of a seating arrangement.

They are low slung obviously, to allow a lean into the from the edge of a chair and 50cm is enough room to pass between the pieces and still grab a cup of Barry’s with ease in a forward squat. As Terence Conran says, “flexibility is the essence of the contemporary home”.

With computing an everyday distraction, look for pieces with flip-up supports for your laptop set over concealed storage and charging points. 

Choose something with the surface area around half the size of the couch, rounded up rather than down. Ovals and rectangular forms generally work best, and are good for the odd game of cards — even seated on the floor. Height? Take this from the seat height of the principle seating, usually the couch.

Going for a completely blank, legless trunk of a table will make it highly present, weighing down the area. 

Upholstered ottomans look utterly luxurious and are great for books and throws, but are perilous for balancing drinks and are the habitat of spoiled cats and small dogs.

Glass will set a coffee table lightly afloat in the living room and if you don’t fancy legs, try some Italian, cantilevered curves. 

The much scoffed at ‘nest’ is back in force, together with mid-century inspired alternate varieties that stack loosely and side-ways into each other such as the Mercia range by Bo Concept. For an extra stretch of couch you could use two identical tables, placed just politely apart.

Try www.made.com for nests of tables at reasonable prices.

Looking at the best short back and side-tables for your living space

Smoked glass

Plexiglas and simple slings of glass in 1970s forms have also returned. What’s less certain is the enduring appeal of the car-engine-block supported coffee table (heave it to his man cave), or the bare-breasted Amazon athletically juggling a glass top.

For alternative exuberance — look for attractive lumps of architectural salvage in heavy metals that could form the support for a glass top in gifted, crafty hands. Scaffolding boards and even period doors stabilised and with suitable panelling can serve as fabulous table tops.

Our favourites: Chiva dual function table with storage and flush panels that lift up on hinges into higher sub-surfaces (great for laptops), from €659, Bo Concept (Dublin).

G-plan Astra (1970s) by Donal Gomme from €150, second-hand.

Consoles and sofa tables

Extra surfaces held tight to the wall, set in open areas, cuddled to the back of sofas or used as dividers, offer more room to layer and display objects, set lighting and to set down transient ephemera like keys and post. Standing alone without a relationship to another piece of furniture they can be as discreet or show stopping as you like. Hall tables must be sized carefully to the space, and can be inferred by a stout shelf or a wall mounted table, which takes up less floor in a narrow circulation space.

Console tables are multi-function beauties and can go all over the house from an upstairs corridor, to the redundant space between two symmetrical windows, (a classical position known as a pier table). I’m a huge fan of the sofa table, back-to-back with the family couch, and you can make up your mind what a sofa table should be depending on available room.

Sideboards and buffets with valuable extra storage are winning in open plan spaces. With brown furniture going for a song at auction, pick up a quietly composed mid-Victorian beauty and style it back to life. Ensure it’s not taller than the sofa back and stylistically flatters its rear.

Our favourites: Designed by genius Cédric Ragot, who sadly died last year, the Outline Console table for Roche Bobois features a series of listing boxes, Roche Bobois, POA.


It’s still sales time and let’s face it, we are all a bit trigger happy at this time of year. 

Having dragged an item home and found it’s not, say, the right size or colour for what you had in mind —what are your rights to return it? 

Well, sales goods are under the same conditions as any merchandise —if the item is of reasonable quality, fit for purpose (and no, that doesn’t include your taste), and as described, that really is as far as your rights extend.

However, this is where the individual policy of the store comes into play. 

For example Argos has very generous returns policy for just about anything once the piece is returned in the original packaging within a specified time period. Money back — job done. However, in general, many shops will take even furniture back with the offer of a credit note for the full amount (possibly bar delivery and/or collection for a larger item), or an exchange for something else. 

Keep in mind they have no obligation to give you a credit note, or your money back whatsoever, if the piece that they sold to you is in perfect order. Sellers usually do all they can to send their customers and potential future customers out the door with their tales wagging.

Sometimes, getting straight back to the store with proof of purchase can yield results. Keep calm, explain why you cannot use the piece as intended, and be prepared for the retailer to concede to the compromise of a credit note or a like-with-like exchange. 

Blaming the floor-staff for a wobble in your choice is pointless, but if you feel the item was mis-described by a member of staff, you may have some grounds for redress. Credit card companies will not entertain a charge-back to the card you may have used, without good grounds for a dispute.

* www.consumerhelp.ie 


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