With tables, function is usually key: a kitchen table for eating and doing homework, end tables that hold lamps, and a coffee table where you kick up your tired feet when no one's looking. Sometimes, though, especially when it comes to the tables that sit behind couches, all you care about is the decorative side of things. These long, often rectangular tables used mainly as display spaces are normally known as console tables. When used behind a couch, however, they're referred to as "sofa tables."
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A long, rectangular console table used behind a couch is referred to as a "sofa table."
About Console Tables
The first console tables from 17th-century continental Europe were one- or two-legged, wall-mounted, and, stylistically, very fancy-schmancy — that is, French. Sometimes half-moon-shaped and sometimes rectangular, they appeared to float along the walls where they were placed. They often displayed fine goods and were frequently topped by mirrors or artwork.
Those aristocrats from long ago couldn't have begun to imagine the sort of console table cornucopia that's available now, though. Today's four-legged tables come in all sizes and represent just about every furniture style, creative design, and material imaginable. Keep it traditional with wood, go back to basics with rustic, or trick it out nice and trendy with bare-bones industrial or kitschy retro. Mind your budget with a basic MDF piece from your local big-box store or pay homage to the originals of long ago with an over-the-top Louis XV-style showpiece. If money is truly no object, cast an eye on some of the snazzy console tables created by furniture artists. They make for out of this world conversation pieces.
The narrowness of console tables makes them handy, suitable additions to hallways and entryways, where you can use them to display such items as bric-a-brac, small baskets, and plants. Larger, somewhat deeper console tables work as side buffets and, with drawers, as limited storage space. Most often, however, console tables are used as a convenient place to toss house keys just inside the front door, possibly getting only slightly more functional if a lamp makes its home there.
When It's a Sofa Table
When you use a console table as a sofa table, it can't serve the purpose it does in an entryway, but that's a small loss; you can always find a place for your keys. The pulled-together special touch it can create behind a sofa makes the conversion worthwhile.
Console table height ranges from 28 to 32 inches, but 30 inches is the norm. Behind a sofa, however, a table that's higher than the back of the sofa will look odd. The table height should bring it close to level with the back of the couch, with slightly shorter being better than slightly higher, and its length should be at least 12 inches less than the length of the sofa.
Sofa tables are used to their best decorative advantage when the sofa sits away from the wall. Shoving all your furniture up against the perimeter of the room is never a good decorating move anyway — and besides, why would you want your great display table to be tucked away where it's only seen when the couch is pulled out for vacuuming? Everything but the surface of the table would be hidden, and if it has lower shelves that could hold, say, beautiful baskets, you've lost that. Try to situate your sofa so its back and the table behind it face a high-traffic spot and show off that table!
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- Academia: A Tea Table Fit for a Patroon: Trans-Atlantic Craftsmanship in Colonial Albany, New York
- Atena: Console Tables: History and Specificities
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Console Table