Choosing the Right Table for Your Living Room

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Coffee tables, end tables, side tables and library tables are some of the options for the living room or family room. Here, too, you’ll find different sizes, styles and construction, but the quality of your tables isn’t as crucial as it is for upholstered furniture. A table should be sturdy, functional and appealing. Its size should relate to its use.

Coffee Table
The coffee table, as we know it, is a relatively new creation. After 1915, the low table in front of a sofa came into being for holding books, magazines, beverages and flowers, as well as for propping one’s feet upon. Before this, decorative painted metal trays were placed on a stand in front of sofas or chairs. The low coffee table was favored by designers as the alternative to its more refined cousin, the tea table. The tea table, which is generally higher, is often found in Victorian-style rooms and set in front of a straight-back settee. The low coffee table, with an average height of 15 inches, contributes to a more relaxing atmosphere and is the most obvious piece of furniture around which to arrange a sofa and chairs.

Alternatives to Traditional Coffee Tables: Ottomans, dining tables cut down to size, nesting tables, small tables of the same size placed side by side, a pedestal or large clay planter turned upside down and outfitted with a thick glass top, and a trunk suggest just a few of the ways you can create interesting tables. Wrought-iron garden tables make interesting coffee tables as well. If you find one in a yard sale but the frame is rusted and the top missing, it’s easy to restore with spray paint and a piece of wood or glass cut to fit the top.

Tea Tables
These tables are higher than coffee tables, 23 or 24 inches, and often smaller as well. They are perfect in front of a settee or straight-back chairs and can double as eating tables in small rooms that serve many purposes. A tea table is perfect in an apartment that lacks a dining room. No matter what style of furnishings you’ve chosen, even if it’s contemporary, an antique tea table is a nice small piece to consider as an interesting focal point or accent in a room. It can be used as is, or covered with a linen tea cloth or a full tablecloth hanging to the floor.

Occasional Tables
End tables, placed at either end of a sofa, are a relatively new invention, part of the twentieth century. They are used primarily for holding lamps, and while they often match, it isn’t a necessity for good design. End tables don’t even have to be made especially for that purpose.

I found a lovely tea table in a secondhand shop (“antiques shop” would elevate it beyond its station). It has a wooden Victorian-style base that I painted light gray. The top is a separate oval piece of beveled marble. I use it as an end table to hold a lamp and a few interesting objects.

Be creative, using an antique piece or something that wasn’t originally intended as a table at all. A sewing cabinet, for example, might make an interesting side table, as would a dry sink, an unusual plant stand or a serving cart from another era. Hand-stenciled and painted work tables from the 1800s are quite popular as end tables for sofas and bedsides. They often have a single drawer with a small, rectangular top. Those made in New England and Pennsylvania between 1820 and 1840 are currently in demand.

All-Purpose Tables
A library table is usually long and narrow and can be placed against a wall or behind a sofa for holding lamps, books, flowers or collections. These tables are wonderfully practical in the dining room for serving buffets or in a hallway, as well as the living room. Aside from being good-looking, a library table is a handy piece of furniture to press into service for holiday entertaining, even if, at this point, a party is the furthest thing from your mind.

Another table that could work well in a living room might be an occasional drop leaf that takes up little space when the leaves are folded but can be expanded to accommodate various uses. A large round table is often used in a corner or next to a sofa. If it is made of beautiful wood, leave it bare; if not, cover it with a pretty floor-length tablecloth. The top is of ample size to hold a lamp, a vase of flowers, a stack of books and some framed photographs.

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