Side, Occasional, Lamp, Accent + End Tables. What’s the Difference?

Dear Laurel,

Loved the coffee table post. But now, I need help with the end tables. But first of all– I’m so confused.

Sometimes I see them called a “side table.” And then there are Occasional, lamp and accent tables, as well.

Okay, an accent table, I can see the difference. That must be a smaller table, not meant to have a lamp on it. Right? And I guess that occasional might fall into the same category since “occasional” implies that it’s not for every day use, right?

That leaves side, lamp and end tables.

What’s the dif?

And how do I know which one to get to go with the sofa and coffee table?

Oh, dang, I forgot one.

Night table.

Endra Tableside




It’s pretty simple, actually.

Side tables goes on the side of something.

End tables goes on the end of something.

And a lamp table has a lamp sitting on it.

Glibness, aside, I see those last three tables as all being the same thing.

And since end is slightly easier to say than side, I usually say end table.


Laurel’s Rules For End Tables


It’s interesting, but after three years of full-time study at the New York School of Interior Design, there was little if any specific talk about  furniture. Yes, there was a rudimentary course on space planning, and historical styles, but not one about size and proportion.


I understand from a friend who’s a student and happens to around the corner from me, that nothing has changed in that regard.

So, I had to let experience be my teacher when it came to figuring out what looks good with what.

When I’m designing a room, let’s say a living room. There always is a jumping off point. It might be a wall color, a rug, or an existing piece of furniture. Or it might be another room that’s recently been done.

After it’s clear what the style needs to be and the desires and needs of the client, I do a room layout.

That way I know what sizes are needed in terms of the space on the floor.

But then they need to work with each other.


Let’s begin with the end tables flanking a sofa.


If the sofa has arms, they are generally between 23″ – 34″ if a Chesterfield style where the arms are the same height as the back. 34″ is as high as I’ll go.

But let’s say that we have an average sofa arm that’s between 23″ (for an English roll arm) and 25″ for most other sofas.

I like to keep the height of the table to within a few inches up or down from the sofa.

but for the English roll-arm, usually a max height of 27″ is where I draw the line. Is it a disaster to go up to 28″? No, and the reason is… that a lot of end tables are 28″ these days. But I prefer lower.


The best size for end tables


Well, it depends.

It depends on two things.


  • The amount of space available
  • And the configuration of the seating arrangement.


The most tricky, is when there are two sofas perpendicular to each other.

Then, the table in the square-ish opening should be either round or square. :]

I usually do a round table and then matching rectangular tables on the two ends of the perpendicular sofas.

The round table is not going to be seen very much, so I would not spend a lot of money on it.

However, it should be about the same height ideally as the two other end tables.


Now, comes the fun part when it comes to selecting all of the tables


The finishes.


Most of the time, I like to select a different finish for the coffee table than I do for the end tables.

For Example:

  • Wood stained coffee table with painted or metallic end tables. The latter with either glass or marble.
  • Or it could be the opposite.


The shape of the tables.


A few of you asked me about oval tables. I have done on occasion, but there are very few that I like. But you can substitute an oval anywhere you might have done a rectangular table.


A rectangular coffee table  can have a round, rectangular or even a square end table.

However, if the coffee table is round, I usually do either a square or rectangular end table.


And finally, there are occasional or accent tables, which Endra got right.


These generally go next to a single chair or between two chairs. And they include any small table, small chest on stand or garden stool. Love those!

If the occasional/accent table is going between two chairs which are set on an angle for better conversation, then it must be a round table. Well, I guess it could be a triangular table, but there aren’t many of those.


Usually this small round table is from about 18″-24″ in diameter. But it could be as small as 12″ in diameter.

There is also something called a cigarette table which is really tiny, but I don’t allow smoking in my home. ;]


But if the room is large and/or one needs the table to serve multiple functions, it can be larger– up to about 36″. It depends on the individual situation.

Please note that we are not discussing sofa tables, console tables and center hall tables and night tables in this post. But of course, we can get to them another time.


This accent table is generally lighter and frequently metallic, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be another wood table, or a painted table. It just depends what’s right for the room.


The Style of the End Tables


Of course, you already know that you will be struck by a searing lightening bolt if the end tables match the coffee table. You know that, right? ;]

I think that a lot of this is common-sense, but I’m going to pretend like it’s not. :]


Here are the things to consider.


The tables should have a similar level of formality.

For instance, we wouldn’t put a cerused rustic wood coffee table with a gold and onyx guéridon.


That’s like wearing flip flops with an Yves Saint Laurent


There was some discussion about tea tables.


Tea tables are really another kind of end table when you think about it. A square end table.

In fact, almost any square or nearly square end table could be placed in front of a sofa as a pair.

The height could be the same as a normal coffee table such as this fabulous pair of antique (from 1910) Chinoiserie tables that the wonderful Scot Meacham Wood is selling over on Chairish.

Scott Meacham Wood Antique Chinoiserie End Tables on Chairish

A closer look at one of them. He’s selling the pair for $1,600 which I think is a fair price as these are stunning and unique. If I did this, my end tables would be very simple but complimentary.


I’m mad-dog-frothing-at-the-mouth in love with these charming brass finish and glass tables


from are you ready?






And they are on sale for only $299.00/each!


This is making me delirious and I’ll tell you why.


A few years ago, I was obsessed (yes, obsessed) with this Verre Eglomise end table

(are you impressed?) ;]

from John-Richard.



And then you know what they did?

I’ll give you one guess and you be right.

Yes, that’s correct.


And believe me, they were bloody expensive too.


And no, the Pottery Barn tables are not cast brass, etc, but the idea is exactly the same.


Now, here’s the cool thing.

The Pottery Barn End Tables would also make two sensation tea tables.


And then we could do a fabulous Pembroke table.


I love these classic English Pembroke tables I found on Chairish.


And I seriously need some smelling salts every time I look at these classic black Chinoiserie beauties. These would coordinate beautifully with the va-voom red antique tables. To boot, the seller gave them a beautiful new slightly rustic lacquer paint-job. And get this. They are only listed for $369.00 WHAT???

If these are still here in the morning, I’m going to be mighty shocked.

But just in case they are, I would head over the Chairish anyway, because they have the most magnificent collection of end tables. Classic styles that you can’t get any longer.

You should be able to get them (or something similar) any longer, but you can’t, for the most part. Or you can get some of these styles, but the price tag will send your eyeballs out into the cosmos.


Here’s a bunch of wonderful end tables I found over at Chairish.


Some are old and some are new. But I find the prices to be excellent and you can always negotiate.

If you are interested, please click on the individual images and you’ll be taken directly to the page where they live.



I also spy another fabulous set of black Chinoiserie end tables.

And please show me another round mahogany end table of that size as perfect as the ones pictured. Very rare.


I would probably not do another ming-type leg for the coffee table. In that case, perhaps a gold or brass and glass or marble table would work beautifully.


It’s all like pieces of a puzzle and they all need to fit together. duh.


And no, it’s not always easy.

So take your time.

I cannot tell you how many times, I was excitedly going on and on how wonderful something was and then when I started ruminating thinking about it back at home, realized that there was a better option.

And then I had to sheepishly contact the client who was usually relieved!!! haha!


Below is another sampling of end tables that I love.


But before you scroll down, a word about lamps that sit on an end table.

Is there a rule of thumb about how large or small it should be?

I don’t know. But here’s what I’ve figured out.

A round table to have a lamp on it should be a minimum of about 22″ in diameter. Otherwise, I would use a floor lamp.

There is one super-skinny rectangular table below from Sarreid that I have done before when the space was super tight. It is only 11″ wide. It’s really a little too small for a lamp. What helps is that there’s a good amount of length. So, if you’re desperate, then maybe a super skinny lamp would be all right.

I think that you need a rectangular table to be at least 14″ in width for a lamp. That I have done. But I would not do a lamp shade larger than 14″ at its widest point.

Note: if you click on any of these tables, they will not take you anywhere, unfortunately.



Some of these tables come in other finishes. And the pretty square one that looks like raw wood – IS raw wood. It’s from Ave Home. A wonderful newish boutique company. They had a great idea that I wish someone had done years ago. Part of the line is available in raw wood, so they don’t have to go crazy doing a custom finish. They can just ship it out and let the designer do whatever they please. win/win!





Heads Up



For more information please go to the updated hot sales page just updated 8.2.2017.


Please note that this post is crammed with affiliate links and if not, it’s an inadvertent error on my part. ;]

No obligation whatsoever, but any purchases made are greatly appreciated and help to sustain me and this blog! (which is free of charge, but very expensive to run)


36 Responses

  1. Hi Laurel, I love your blog and eagerly await your Wednesday and Sunday postings. I need just a bit of clarification about this posting. You said, “Wood stained coffee table with painted or metallic end tables. The latter with either glass or marble.” Does that mean painted And metallic can be paired with glass or marble; or, just metallic end tables can be paired with glass or marble? Also, would you consider doing a post where you put together some great coffee table, end table pairings for purchase? Your guidelines are great but I don’t quite trust myself to interpret in an aesthetically pleasing way, lol.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I meant the former; a metallic frame with a glass or marble top. That would’ve been a better way to say it.

      My original idea was to pair more of the tables specifically, but then I begin to get bogged down with the millions of possibilities.

      What I could do is maybe try to do my ten favorite combinations. But then, folks will want to know what sofa and chairs. And then, what lamps and what rug and…………

      BUT… there is a lot of this in the paint palette collection. I don’t know if you’ve purchased it or not, but there are 40 boards and then you’ll become privy to the years worth of bonus boards. (once a new one is given out which won’t be until the end of the month) Not all of the rooms are living rooms, but about 2/3 of them are. And even some of the bedrooms have sitting areas.

      1. Thank you for your reply. I’ll check out your paint palette collection. It sounds like just what I need.

  2. Hi Laurel! I found your blog a few months ago and LOVE it! Love your sense of humor as well as your excellent advice. This question harkens back to your post on round dining tables. I loved my 60″ black round table which I donated to Goodwill when my 95-year old mother came to live with me because I was afraid she couldn’t get around it in her walker. She passed away a few months ago, and now I want another round table, of course! I love the black and ivory table from Amazon, but it’s a very busy pattern. I have a blue Pottery Barn Persian-style rug and white slip-covered-to-the-floor chairs. Do you think the patterns in the table and the rug would clash or would the white chairs create a visual boundary which would make it ok? I also like the round table from Crate & Barrel, so I could go either way. You make decorating sound so easy, but then when I must actually make a decision, I’m paralyzed like a deer in the headlights!

    1. Hi Diana,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. Mine is 94 and who knows?

      I can’t see what you’re talking about so it’s very difficult to give advice. But I would not do an Oriental pattern with the Black and White inlay table. If I did anything, it would be a seagrass rug.

      The C&B table works, however. At least in theory. Again, I really can’t make recommendations when I can’t see everything that’s going on.

  3. Just curious – would you still go a couple inches above or below the arm for a 34″ Chesterfield sofa? I have one and finding end tables that look right (and aren’t awkward to use) a bit challenging.

    1. Oh yikes, I never did finish my thought about chesterfields. i know that I have before, but blimey, not sure where. With a Chesterfield, the “rules” need to break. But here’s where those 28″-30″ end tables come in handy. I wouldn’t go lower than 6″ below the arm and then I would do a nice tall, hunky lamp, at least 30″.

  4. Ok, so. I’ve never sent you a comment but I discovered you a couple of months ago and I just love you. Yes, yes, and yes on all. I’d describe the rooms I’ve done ( learning on the job) but you’d die of boredom. So everyone, listen up and take note! It’s fun to do your own thing, just follow general guidelines and you’ll be happy!

  5. If I get end tables on each side of a sofa with reclining seats on both ends but not in the middle, what looks best?
    – no coffee table or anything at all,
    – a little ottoman in the middle,
    – those little mini-accent tables for drink,
    – an accent rug where the coffee table would normally be

  6. Hi Laurel,

    Do bedside tables follow the same rules as side/end tables, or is that another post? It seems logical to me that bedside tables should be close to the same height as the top of the mattress, so that when one reaches over while lying in bed, one would be less likely to knock anything over.

  7. Hi Laurel..really good post. Wondering if you need lamp tables and you already have a square glass/metal coffee table and a wood ming style sofa table, Would you look for something in glass table or wood? Should the lamp tables be the same since you would have 3 different looks?

    1. I probably wouldn’t do a glass coffee table and glass end tables. But it could be a painted table that coordinates with the room as a whole. Difficult to access without seeing what’s going on.

      1. Alas, I am not – though I feel an odd kinship – I’d found their IG page before they were quite so enormously popular; I stumbled upon it while researching a piece of natural curiosities artwork they happened to own. We seem to have a love of a lot of the same sources (though I have a much different asthetic). It’s been crazy to follow along and see how huge they’ve gotten! And here I am, a wee little design McGee… 😉 I did, however, bump into Shea at market last year and she was both beautiful and delightful.

        I apologize for the novel of an answer!

  8. Ugggh laurel!!! You’re posting exactly what I’m theoretically shopping for (coffee tables, end tables) and that PB table is exactly what I want. That’s what I get for throwing their catalogue in the recycling while recovering from the financial crisis that was Shopping in July this year! Just gonna have to add those tables to the baby registry…

    1. Hi! I have a question relative to proportion. If I would like to flank the couch with a pair of smaller chests, Italian, marble top, vintage, 26″ high, 23 inches wide and 16 inches deep, and the couches are about 30 inches deep, are the chests deep enough? Or substantial enough? I was going to put lamps on them, and have them sit back about 7-8 inches from the fronts of the arms. Thanks.

      1. Hi Layne,

        Sorry I didn’t publish this sooner. 16″ deep might be a little shallow. But I’m not sure since I can’t see the situation. This sounds like a great size for a night table.

        If you already own them you could try them out. It’s more important that the tables are related to the wall, not the front. I wouldn’t put the tables more than about six inches away from the wall. But again, it’s difficult to say from here.

  9. Love the info on tables but I have a question. In my rec room there is only space for a chair and what I have now purchased as a very large L-shaped sectional. The room is rectangular shaped so all works well, but now I am struggling with the other pieces. I don’t want anything too heavy in a coffee table so I am thinking something in metal with a glass top and to fit it also needs to be about 60 by 30 or so. I have room on one side of he sectional for a coffee table and would like a drink table on the end of the chaise. My question is: I am not finding any type of drink know the type that just sort of sits over he chaise… that does not have a glass top. What ever I pick for the drink table I want to match it to the end table for continuity. So that will then have to have a glass top too. Is this gong to look weird? The coffee table, drink table and end table all with glass tops???


    1. Hi Lori,

      They don’t need to match. In fact, they should not match. They should coordinate. And like a lot of things in design, it’s a little difficult to say exactly what that means, but what I’ve always done is put the pieces together. These days, I do it on a picmonkey board.

  10. How do you DO that?! Your timing is perfect. The Pottery Barn tables are EXACTLY what I was hoping to find for tea tables. I’m ordering as soon as I hit ‘post’ on this comment. They’re just the little bit of shiny I need in my living room. I am grateful to you, Laurel.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Ya know sometimes Pottery Barn really and truly knocks it out of the park and then they discontinue it. But this table is both classic and sophisticated and 300 bucks. Gosh. That John-Richard table retailed for about $3,000!!!

      Please let us know how it goes with the table. That would be fun!

  11. Wow, I couldn’t even feel you reading my mind from several hundred miles away… but this post is JUST what I needed!

    Great suggestions, all!

  12. Hi Laurel! Love, love, love the square Ave table. Would it work as end tables with an English arm sofa or is there too much height differential?

    1. Hi Jen,

      Actually, it’s quite a small table unless their measurements are off. It says, 20″ in every direction. I would double-check those measurements with the company before ordering. It’s always a good idea if there’s any doubt because they do make mistakes. It looks more like 24″ square to me. That size would be perfect for an English arm sofa. It’s always difficult in a photo with nothing else, but even based on the legs, it seems like it should be larger.

  13. Off subject – I just got a Williams-Sonoma Home catalog and thought of you when I looked at it. You should check it out. Nice furniture, chandeliers, prints, blue/white ginger jars. Check it out.

  14. Thanks for the very helpful info and the great assortment of available tables. Are end tables that are not the same depth as the sofa placed to align with the back of the sofa, the cushion front edge, or centered to split the difference?

    1. That’s a good question, Linda. If we’re talking rectangle, it does look best if the table is less than the depth of the sofa, by several inches. But normally, the table is fairly close to the wall, so not necessarily splitting the difference.

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