What is an Occasional Table?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2019
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An occasional table is a small decorative table. This term is used generically to encompass things like end tables, lamp tables, sofa tables, coffee tables, and so forth. The design and styling of an occasional table can vary widely, and many companies sell tables in sets which are designed to coordinate both with each other and with an existing design scheme. Most furniture stores sell occasional tables, and you can also custom order one if you cannot find a store model which meets your needs.

In order to be considered an occasional table, a table must generally be small enough that it does not have an immensely practical use; it is meant primarily for decoration or display. A small kitchen table, therefore, would not be an occasional table, since it is designed as a place to sit an eat, whereas a large coffee table would be an occasional table, since it used to display large format books and curios.


A well placed occasional table can dramatically change a room. Such tables can be useful for displaying artifacts from trips, like sculpture, baskets, and various found objects. They can also be used to elevate and display lamps; an occasional table at the end of a couch, for example, can put a lamp in the convenient reach of a seated reader. When the table meshes well with the existing d├ęcor, it can quietly accentuate the room without drawing attention to itself. In some cases, an occasional table may also come with a drawer or shelf for additional storage, which can be very useful.

The materials used to make occasional tables vary widely. You can find them in a range of woods and metals with inlays in wood, glass, ceramic, or metal. Many companies make occasional tables which are meant to blend with a specific theme, like Chippendale or Mission style furniture. Depending on the design, an occasional table can be very fragile, because furniture makers often build them with slim legs and minimal cross bracing so that they do not look bulky.

While occasional tables can be great and very useful, try not to go overboard with them. Too many small tables can clutter a room, making it difficult to navigate and unsightly. If you feel like you need more space to display treasured items, consider setting up a rotating display so that your rooms are not overwhelmed with objects; guests will also appreciate the variety.


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Post 3

Small occasional tables may be really useful for decoration and storage, but please do give some thought to the material and design before you buy one.

If you have small children around the house, or as regular visitors, something round and not made of glass is much safer. If you think about it those sharp corners are often right at eye level with a toddler.

Post 2

@Bakersdozen - There's a lesson to be learned from your story: always make sure your occasional table sets have something on top of them! Though someone who's a bit shortsighted may still think it's okay to sit down.

I just bought myself a very nice wood occasional table, and woe betide anyone who tries to sit on that. It's made from walnut and birch, and I chose it because inside there are two handy shelves.

As I often have to work from home it is the ideal place to hide my work away when I don't need it. It would be equally useful as a place to store books, handicraft materials or pretty much anything else that you don't want on display.

Post 1

I got three really nice square occasional tables as a housewarming present last year. I quickly found uses for them in my living room, flowers on the corner table, my current book and reading glasses by my favorite chair, and a third which was left empty for visitors to use for their coffee cup.

This arrangement worked well until my aunt came to visit. Before I could stop her she'd taken a seat on what she mistakenly thought was a stool. Yep, it was my beautiful table, which promptly collapsed under her!

Luckily she wasn't hurt, just a bit shocked. I did think it was a bit rich that she later complained to relatives about my shoddy furniture.

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