Small Occasional Tables
Small and unique occasional tables, decorative and ornate tables for no particular room.
This is a loose term and very adaptable for it covers a multitude of varying designs, and is often applied to tables that authorities might describe otherwise ; but its use has a certain simplifying effect, which is sufficient justification for using it in a work that is intentionally non-technical. It may stand for any sort of fairly small table that has no particular function in a room, but may be a very useful emergency space ; or it could be a flower table, a spare writing-table, or simply a place whereon newspapers, ash-trays or knitting needles may come to rest until some orderly soul hustles them away to their right places. An occasional table may be put in practically any room; dining room, living room, library or bedroom.
The forms of the small oak table vary considerably, and the simpler types should be given space in a fairly plain room, although their presence does not make simple surroundings essential. There is a type of oak table with turned or twisted legs that is but little larger than a coffin stool, and such a table may have a leather top, stamped with gilded patterns, with a silk fringe at the edge that hangs down an inch or so ; or a piece of old needlework or tapestry may be framed into the top and protected by a sheet of plate glass that is flush with the frame moulding. This protecting glass produces no effect of ponderous carefulness ; rather does it add to the attractiveness of the needlework by lending a curious depth to its colour.
Small Oak Tables
Before we consider the numerous gate-leg models that are small enough to come beneath this very rough classification of "Occasional", there are many small tables that have real furnishing value and should be mentioned. They are excellent pieces in rooms where limited space may forbid the presence of such specialised creations as bureaux or work tables. From the carved Elizabethan small tables in a variety of shapes, circular, rectangular, square and octagonal, to the plainer oaken Cromwellian there is enough material from which to choose solid and durable, but never clumsy, tables for corners and recesses.
Cromwellian Era Parlour Room
Stuart tables are charming in most rooms, and in bedrooms the simpler varieties can be used as wash stands or dressing tables. In the hall, in the window recesses of any room, landing or corridor they are in their right place, and they can serve where gate-legs fail, for their rectangular tops in many sizes present definite boundary lines. A gate-leg table would be impossible as a dressing-table, irritating as a washstand, and infuriating as a writing-table.
Gate Leg Tables
The small gate leg makes the ideal tea table. It carries a load of cups and plates very gracefully and can be folded away neatly after tea. For a reading-table beside a bed the small gate-leg has a very good claim to preference ; for it may be reduced or extended in size when desired, and without any complicated machinery. With both flaps closed it can still bear a reading-lamp standard and one or two books may be added to its burden by opening one flap.
A gate-leg table may have legs that are perfectly plain pieces of turning; or they may boast the "barley-sugar twist" ; its legs may number four with two gates, or it may have only one gate and four legs, one being a centre support on which the gate pivots. The feet may be shaped, or they may be simply rough block bases for the turned legs, with a stretcher connecting them. Some early forms have side supports instead of legs, resting on a solid base, and some are so constructed that the top can hinge over when the gates are closed, and the whole table can stand flat against a wall.
The commoner types are seldom difficult to acquire and their prices vary with their condition : today it is much cheaper to buy an old table and have it restored than to buy reproductions. This applies to nearly all furniture. Only a few firms take the trouble to make really good reproductions, and the furniture that has no pretensions to any period and is frankly a modern product although based on old conceptions of design, is often better than a bad copy of something we would like to have, but which will in all probability ever remain beyond our power of purchase.
Walnut has almost as much to offer us as oak in the way of variety for the occasional table. With Queen Anne tables we get English lacquer too ; but before, in the period of William and Mary, there were tables of very delicate and attractive design with beautifully turned or twisted legs, inlaid with marquetry, their tops occasionally being inlaid with oyster-wood.
Seaweed marquetry had strayed over all kinds of furniture, and in this period it became perhaps more complicated than beautiful, though much of the inlaid work was carried out with great taste and considerable skill. There had been much work of the kind on oak furniture, but it had never attained the delicacy and beauty of the period of William & Mary. The well-designed tables of this time with their turned legs and tied stretchers, that is, stretchers that met or crossed, running diagonally from the four legs, were soon replaced by the stretcher-less, cabriole leg type ; and we find numbers of card tables in walnut, varying greatly in design, and getting further away from the strong, rather solid lines the early walnut tables followed out on the tradition of Jacobean oak models. The increase of gracefulness has been traced roughly in the development of antique chairs, and the same process was at work with table design.
Some of the card tables of the Queen Anne period are most useful as well as elegant. The folding type possesses all the advantage of the gate-leg, for it really is a gate-leg table, and when its flap is folded down it makes an excellent side table ; extended, it is roomy and convenient for cards, and in actual use its functions may be varied. Gesso work brought a wealth of soft line to tables, and although such designs are rather elaborate, for they were often gilded, a gesso table would be an attractive addition in any room, though hardly simple in character.
Altogether the eighteeenth century produced a vast multitude of table types : there were latticed tables, tripod tables with tip-up tops; tables with plain tops and moulded rims or with galleries, carved and fretted, and dumb-waiters whose tiers of polished mahogany provide such excellent accommodation at tea time. The whole period of mahogany construction, excepting the post-Regency work, can give us the design we happen to want, and can fill any gap in our plan of furnishing with something appropriate to our needs.
Console tables acquired great elaboration of carving and during the earlier part of the eighteenth century were richly ornamented, gilding and silvering playing a great part in their decoration. The tendency towards ornate design that appeared so strongly in French furniture influenced many English craftsmen; but the marble-topped and gilded tables that graced the rooms of those far-away days when they gleamed with subdued reflections of gay costumes cannot have a place in our simpler furnishing for simpler rooms.
Pembroke and Other
Pembroke tables, and tables in mahogany and satin-wood with slender, tapering legs and inlaid work are particularly interesting, and are effective in rooms with modern or late Georgian decoration. There are painted tables too, and bedrooms and boudoirs may be furnished throughout with painted furniture designed in harmony with the decoration.
Although modern work may be superficially attractive few designs possess the distinction of the old forms. As we have already discovered with chairs, the work of our own time excels in the production of nursery furniture, and tables with decorative friezes, painted in bright colours, portraying things which help children to live more securely in their happy world of make-believe, are delightful in a nursery ; they are friendly tables, full of interest.
Victorian Work Tables
Victorian work tables deserve mention, for despite complicated secret drawers they are useful, and their framework is too simple to permit the application of the clumsy vagaries of mid-nineteenth century carving. For a sitting room or a bedroom where needlework, a far more attractive word than sewing, takes place, they are both convenient and tidy.
Next: Vanity Dressing Tables.