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Bedside tables may look strange, but have purpose

Amber, a 23-year-old former waitress and the current paramour of a wealthy older gentleman client, pulled up in front of my showroom in her spanking-new and outrageously decadent red Jaguar convertible and then, defying all odds, actually found a parking place on a busy afternoon in Beverly Hills. I remember thinking, as I took a deep breath and readied myself for her visit, that she truly embodied the perfect example of the beautiful but tough young woman about town who certainly must be thinking of the world as her oyster. At least for awhile, anyway.

She was coming to see me to finalize the design for the master bedroom of the new condominium that she’d soon be sharing with her beau. I’d been told to show her what I had in mind and I’d hoped that it would meet with her approval so the project could remain on track.

The client had decided on my very glamorous and certainly out-of-the-ordinary knot sleigh bed, and an oval up/down television cabinet with matching oval-shaped night tables, which were really the best design, to my mind, for the overall look of the room. Each piece was to be finished in a soft, shell-color faux-goatskin lacquer. And while Amber appeared to like the direction we were going (especially the metallic-pearl leather walls), it was the night tables that gave her pause.

She had nothing against their shape; it was more their functionality that she faulted. I suppose she felt that for a woman in her new position, they needed to do more for her. In her best little girl voice, she batted her eyes at me and asked, “Isn’t it possible for them to go up and down like the television cabinet and then swing over the bed like a tray?”

Well, you could have blown me away with a feather. Her request still haunts me to this day; it was so incredible, considering the source. Needless to say, the young lady got what she wanted, and not too long after my first-ever motorized oval night tables were installed and a great and rather unusual design was made even better.

Later on I repeated this concept here in Las Vegas for a physically disabled client so that the top of the night table slid forward and over to become a bed tray, this time without a motor and with greater appreciation from the client and more personal satisfaction for me.

And so you can see that while a conventional night table can be simply described as a small table or stand that is placed at a bedside, a custom designer like myself will, from time to time, be called upon to provide the unusual when it comes to something as basic as a bedside table.

Another case in point is a bedroom I designed for a well-known Hollywood celebrity, who, while unfailingly polite, had some very unusual design ideas and a special affinity for insects that he wanted incorporated into his bed. Knowing his obsession, I decided to shape his bed like a bat while elegantly executing the design in Carpathian elm burl wood, being absolutely sure to place his beloved cockroachlike Amazonian beetles behind glass and centered in the headboard and night tables as well as in the up/down television cabinet which, by the way, also undulated in a batlike way. Talk about strange bedfellows.

A number of my custom-designed beds featured headboards and night tables that were made as separate units and then joined to look as one, creating a flow and sleekness not easily matched and really best when used in a contemporary design.

For applications more mundane and commonplace than the ones I’ve just described, I’ve developed certain guidelines through the years for size and appropriateness that might prove helpful when choosing bedside tables that will work best for you.

First of all, don’t hesitate to use tables that don’t match on either side of your bed. Personally, I think this is a great look and I recently installed a custom chest of drawers on one side of a client’s bed and a console on the other.

Of course, if you’re a person that needs symmetry in all aspects of your life, this is not the road you want to go down. Rather choose matching tables, but always be careful to scale them to the appropriate size for the bed wall. Postage-stamp-sized tables look ridiculous on a great long wall.

Don’t be afraid of using tables that are 36 inches wide and more, provided you have the space to do so. And no, they don’t have to match your headboard or, for that matter, any of the other furniture in your room; just as long as they enhance the overall design, you’ll be fine.

As far as height, be sure your tables are as close to the finished height of your mattress as possible in order to ensure the greatest comfort and functionality. If they’re too high or too low, it will only prove an annoyance as you reach for something either in or on the table.

Finally, how you arrange the drawers and shelves in your tables is entirely up to your own needs and desires. I’ve had tables configured in every possible way with some clients wanting all drawers, some asking for only book shelves or simply storage behind doors and others looking for just a big empty space in order to store whatever.

But, what I do recommend for all my clients is a pull-out shelf located just below the tabletop and preferably finished with a scratch- and water-resistant material (i.e., laminate), thus sparing the cabinet top from any unnecessary wear and tear. This is a great addition for any night table and one you’ll certainly appreciate as it prolongs the night table’s look and beauty.

Whatever your choice of bedside tables, just be sure to include practical storage because that’s their basic function — whether executed with clean, fresh contemporary lines, traditional European styling or even if shaped like a fire hydrant, and, yes, I’ve seen that too!

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design International; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Questions can be sent to soleildesign@cox.net.

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