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What are Occasional Tables?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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For several years, this particular writer has been dumbfounded by furniture ads for occasional tables, leading me to wonder, are these tables only there on occasion, used for a special occasion, or are they only tables occasionally? The fact is, the term, occasional tables, is just a fancier way of defining end tables or coffee tables, or any table one might use in a living room, parlor or family room setting.

The first references to occasional tables appear in the late 17th and early 18th century. In early usage, occasional tables often referred to dining tables with expandable or drop leaf tops. On occasion, these tables could be expanded to accommodate additional guests, or to make extra space when work was being conducted on the table.

From these early references, the term occasional tables gradually migrated to mean any type of small tables used in living room settings. We more commonly refer to these as end tables or coffee tables, but you often see sets of occasional tables sold that usually include a coffee table and two end tables. They can exhibit a wide variety of styles, and the supposed advantage to purchasing them in sets is that the furniture matches in style and make.

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Occasional tables can reference the style of any period of furniture making. They can be made in wood, metal, combinations of wood/glass, metal and glass or rattan. Designs can range from simple wood top construction with four blocky legs, to fancily carved and ornate features. Price varies depending upon make, quality of construction, designer names and features. For example, some occasional tables feature drawers or have a second lower level to hold magazines, remotes, books, or a telephone. You can often find an inexpensive set of occasional tables for under 200 US dollars (USD), even less if you can find a used set.

Since end tables are small, they could theoretically be stored when not required for use. Hence the term occasional tables could mean a table that occasionally is in use. Alternately, occasional tables can be tables that are occasionally useful by a home’s regular residents. If you sometimes need to set a drink down or have a hard surface on which to write, then you occasionally require the table.

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