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Rules For Picking An End Table + 3 Fool-Proof Styling Formulas (+ A Billion Options…JK It’s Only 90)

HI PALS. Let’s start this one off with a trivia fact (you know, in the event that trivia is ever a thing again, but I digress) — you know when you see or hear something for the first time and then you notice it everywhere? That’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, aka the frequency illusion. (I’ll hold for a second while you break out your pens and pencils.)

My frequency illusion kicked in recently when I was looking for styling inspiration for some new end tables. I was feeling overwhelmed with making my tables work in my space — my lamps felt way too big and tall, the surfaces felt crowed with ephemera, and I was just NOT feeling it — so I decided to peek through our archives to see how the actual pros on our team do it. AND Y’ALL, THERE’S A FORMULA. AND IT’S SO EASY. AND I LOVE MY TABLES NOW.

But WAIT! Before I get to the details, let’s just go over some classic living room rules on how to pick a side table that works best in your space:

  1. Size: There aren’t a ton of rules on height — if you can, try to keep the top of your table roughly in line with the arm of your sofa or chair, give or take a few inches — but you definitely DON’T want your end table to be too deep. Make sure the depth of your table isn’t bigger than the depth of the sofa or chair it’s next to!
  2. Materials: If you have a wood coffee table, consider bringing in a cement or metal end table. Mix things up to give your room a little bit of texture!
  3. Visual Weight: If you’ve got a chunky sofa, bring in a piece with legs. If you’re trying to balance some open accent chairs, go for a drum table to ground the space.
  4. Family Ties: Jess once said that you want your living room pieces to be “cousins, not siblings,” and BOY. THAT’S TRUE. Try and keep a common thread — whether that’s color palette, the era they’re from, or a structural detail — so you’re space will have that “who, me? I just naturally have great taste” vibe.

OKAY. Now that you know which end table will work in your design, let’s talk about how to make it look REALLY NICE, okay?

Hot Tip

Keep about 2-3 inches between your seat and your end table. You want to be able to set that glass, book, or whatever else you are holding down with ease.

For Small Tables: Book + Nature + Floor Lamp

FOLKS. IT’S THE FLOOR LAMP. The floor lamp is the thing that makes tiny side tables work. Open any design magazine for the next week and let that frequency illusion sink in. Every. single. tiny. table. will look like this: a book, a plant (or flowers, or incense, or anything natural) and a floor lamp…and it looks GREAT every time. It’s such a common mistake to try and over-style end tables, but y’all, take a deep breath and clear some stuff off.

And let’s also take a second to look at what makes each of these rooms above work: both leggy tables are balancing out a chunkier, grounded sofa. The round table on the left speaks to the hits of black in the room, the light wood coffee table (the full reveal here is so good), and it echoes the geometric shape of the pillows. On the right, we’re seeing a traditional silhouette that reflects the black metal base of the coffee table.

You didn’t think I was gonna let you get to the next styling formula without looking at some EHD projects, did you? I’M A HYPE MAN, BABY. Jess’ malachite end table is the perfect example of playing with scale: it’s a little lower than what we normally see, but it’s balanced by the height of the floor lamp. Similarly, Sara’s drum table is a small grounding force for her lighter-weight chairs in this open concept space. And minimalists can rejoice: look at that styling! So simple, so easy.

PS. If you’ve been similarly awakened and now you’re like, “holy crap, I just need to clear off some space and grab a floor lamp to make my space work,” Julie rounded up 39 of our favorites. (You know what else you’ll see in that post? End tables styled with books, one natural element, and a lamp nearby.)

For Larger Tables: Book + Nature + Framed Art + Table Lamp

“But Caitlin, I’m smart and bought an end table with enough space for a lamp!” GIRL, I have styling tips for you, too! Kicking it off with a big one: if you’re doing a lamp with a lot of visual weight, like the two above, pop that puppy next to your sofa and style towards the outside of your end table.

When you have such a tall piece, levels are the name of the game. On the left, we have a tall lamp, a mid-sized piece of the art and piece of nature, and a low stack of books. But on the right, with a narrower table, Ginny was able to fake the illusion of additional levels by grounding her art and nature with a bold printed book. In any case, WOW, I have been way over-styling my tables!!!

DIFFERENT RULE: you know how I just told you to put your lamp next to the sofa? NOT SO FAST. If you’re rocking something with a super thin base, the opposite applies. Why? IT JUST LOOKS BETTER. Again: it’s the frequency illusion. I could not find a single photo of lighter-weight lamp that wasn’t on the outer edge of the end table. THESE ARE THE SECRETS FROM A STYLIST THAT THEY’VE BEEN HIDING FROM US.

But again, y’all get it: less is more. Break out a book. Break out some flowers. Bring in a framed piece of art, if you have one (and if not, just bring in extra height with a few more books). That’s all you need! Step away from the HomeGoods — you do not need more knickknacks to fill up your space! (Someone please print this out and show it to me when I’m standing in line at HomeGoods.)

For Doubles: Fake a Coffee Table

Emily Henderson Citizenry Photo Artwork Tessa Living Room Boho 23
photo by tessa neustadt | from: a living room refresh with the citizenry

MY FAVORITE USE. End tables are often a little more affordable than their full-sized coffee table cousins, so grab two (or three, if your space is enormous) and let them live in front of your sofa. Added bonus: if you want to shake things up a bit, you can repurpose these lil cuties as nightstands (or, you know, as actual side tables), which make them a more budget-friendly choice for those of us who are frequently shaking things up at home.

I could probably write a novel on coffee table styling, but a picture’s worth a thousand words…so here’s a 30-second step-by-step video that Emily made on how to decorate your coffee table, which is probably the educational equivalent of about a billion of my blog posts.

ANYWAY. Now that we’ve gone over how to pick an accent table and how to style it, let’s dive into some EHD-approved picks! (PS. Thanks to my whole team for helping me assemble these graphics and links. Sometimes I go a little overboard with the pinning — there are just so many good tables, guys!!! — and I need help assembling everything. That said, I looked literally everywhere on the internet and these are the cutest ones for every style at every price point!)

Kicking it off with our tiered options, for those who need (or want) a little storage space:

1. Bar Cart | 2. Rattan 2-Tier Tray Table |3. Ferdinand Round Wood Accent Table |4. Smoked Glass End Table | 5. Cyrus Side Table | 6. Peggy End Table | 7. Hillside Side Table |8. Terrace Pill Side Table | 9. Costa Mesa Rattan Wrapped Table |10. Sayer End Table | 11. Profile Side Table | 12. Haverhill Round Wood End Table | 13. Cane Nightstand | 14. Glasgow Metal End Table |15. Mid-Century Art Display Side Table |16. Porto Round Wood Accent Table |17. Eclipse Side Table | 18. Wyatt Nightstand |19. Terrace Side Table | 20. Geo-Marquetry Side Table | 21. Tanner Round End Table

I own #14 and have used it both as an end table and a nightstand — it’s the perfect price and size. (Also, how cute is number #1? Talk about double duty!) I also love how Em styled #19 in this classic weekend makeover.

1. Ceramic Drum Side Table | 2. Chandler Stool | 3. Pyronia Rattan Cage Accent Table |4. Braeswood Wicker Side Table | 5. Scalloped Ceramic Side Table | 6. Profile Ceramic End Table | 7. Bruciata Blackened Wood Side Table | 8. Fiberglass Terrazzo Side Table | 9. Stassi Side Table |10. Hourglass Concrete Accent Table | 11. Fluted Side Table | 12. Ivan Round End Table

How handy are the storage capabilities on #4? And as a postmodern lover, I’m such a fan of the shape of #9 and the fluting on #11.

1. Mayfair Side Table | 2. Happy Natural Bunching Table | 3. Vintage Rope Side Table |4. Taylor Bone Inlay Side Table | 5. Cyrus Side Table | 6. Building Table (High) | 7. By Your Side Table | 8. Maggi Side Table | 9. Horseshoe Ivory Lacquered Linen Side Table | 10. Side Piece in Neon Orange |11. Charee Mirrored Cube Table | 12. Ghita Glass Top End Table | 13. Slit Table Oblong |14. Glasgow Metal End Table | 15. Oxford Black Marble Side Table

SURPRISE, I LOVE A WATERFALL TABLE. #2, #9, and #10 are speaking my language! (Also, is orange having a moment? I feel like I love it all of a sudden.) I also know that Em had her eye on #4 back around Memorial Day…did she grab it? Stay tuned for an upcoming living room reveal and find out 🙂

1. Hyacinth Side Table | 2. Bowler Side Table | 3. Turn Tall Side Table | 4. Shuffle Side Table | 5. Tweneboa Wood Side Table | 6. Cocotte Side Table | 7. Lierskogen Side Table | 8. Roundhouse Side Table | 9. Serriola Side Table | 10. Dita Carved Side Table | 11. Hera Side Table | 12. Zena End Table | 13. The Fetish Side Table | 14. Li’l Something Side Table | 15. Glasgow Side Table | 16. Willy Plaster Side Table | 17. Foss Side Table | 18. Mercer Street Side Table | 19. Illusion Side Table | 20. Gladom Side Table | 21. Circula Low Side Table | 22. Bandera Side Table | 23. Round Metal Side Table | 24. Ora Side Table | 25. Weiland End Table | 26. Triller Side Table | 27. Birdy Side Table | 28. Bingo Stool | 29. ‘Don’t Leave Me’ Side Table | 30. Ellwood Side Table | 31. Oath End Table | 32. Maestro Side Table | 33. Mesa Side Table

AHH. #4 is SO beautiful. The price point for #20 can’t be beat, but I’m obsessed with the thin legs and #25 and the chunky base of #33.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Emily-Henderson_2020_Side-Tables_Roundup_with-drawers.jpg

1. Porto Wood End Table | 2. Berkeley End Table | 3. Metalwork Table | 4. Atelier Side Table | 5. Hafley End Table | 6. Nordkisa Table | 7. Langford End Table | 8. Mitzi Table | 9. Amherst End Table | 10. Guthrie Side Table | 11. Bone Inlay Side Table | 12. Valia Side Table

AH, one final roundup for all you private folks out there who want a place to stash all those remotes and random cords. #11 is a from a great resource if you’re looking to buy bone inlay directly from an independent business instead of from Anthropologie. And remember Emily’s Parisian hotel suite? Grab #12 and recreate the look in your own home.

OKAY. WE’RE DONE. Just a casual reminder (as your resident Craigslist and FB Marketplace fanatic), if you see anything you love and you don’t want to pay full price, be sure to search for vendor and item names daily! That’s how Bowser scored a great deal on her end tables (that she used as nightstands, but still).

Buuuuuuut that’s all she wrote! Let’s chat about your styling snafus and about how you’re going to totally win trivia night with that frequency illusion knowledge. See ya in the comments!!!

Opening Photo Credit: Photo by Zeke Ruelas | From: Silver Lake Hills Living Room Reveal

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3 years ago

“Crowded” I think you meant.

3 years ago

FYI – The hot tip just reads “HOT TIP Keep about 2-3”..not sure if you were hoping to expand on that

3 years ago

Caitlin, you cracked me up throughout this post! I’M A HYPE MAN, BABY 😂

Also, every time I see Jess’s living room I catch new details that I love. That malachite table is so beautiful!

3 years ago

Do you (or guests) need to be able to easily set a beverage down on the end table? If so, the height is even more critical.

I can’t tell you the # of times I’ve been sitting on a chair or a sofa next to an end table whose top is so low you have to make an extraordinary effort to put set down your glass of wine or mug of coffee.

We should be able to that effortlessly instead of having to stop, check height, slowly raise glass over arm, slowly lower to tabletop surface.

3 years ago
Reply to  Susanna

Yes, an accessory table (end or side table) should be 0” to 4” height to/above the arm of the chair or sofa. Maximum 2” below but that does become awkward to use. You would be looking at 8” to 10” above the seat of an armless chair or sofa to be comfortably accessible.

Jenny Jenkins
3 years ago

Wow! Thank you so much. Very happy to read this.

3 years ago

Should you have a matching pair of end tables or mix them up?

Kim Pollard
3 years ago

They are just so pretty! I want them all!

3 years ago

Storage, storage, storage, storage! Looking around our playroom/den, the endtables are a vintage campaign bedside table with two deep drawers (they hold lots of school supplies and books for Zoom classes, plus extra chargers), and an antique library card catalog (that holds cat toys and brushes plus a random assortment of kid toys like the walkie talkies). Some of these tables are very pretty, but I need room to stash our stuff!

3 years ago

I absolutely do not buy the idea that height doesn’t matter. Maybe if they’re purely decorative it doesn’t but for function the table top should be at the same height as the chair/sofa arms give or take an inch or two (and lower is better than higher). I just sold two end tables that looked brand new after 10 years because our couch had high arms (like a Chesterfield) and they were too low to be functional.

Our new sofa (the Maxwell from Interior Define) has low arms so after looking for months and failing to find tables that I liked that were the right height I finally just bought tables I liked with legs I could swap out for shorter ones.

3 years ago

This is really useful, thanks for the content. I have a follow up question about how to coordinate multiple side tables in a room. I have a burl wood (pretty light in color) coffee table and a light wood round end table next to the sofa currently. I have two chunkier dark moss green side chairs and they BOTH need end tables so I’m on the hunt. I am looking at leggier style side tables but I don’t really want them to be identical. So should I stick with the lighter tone wood for all of them or should I go with black (I have hits of black all over the room) or metal? I think the tricky part is that I’ll need 3 end tables within one not-so-large room and I’m not sure how to get them to all coordinate without being identical. I welcome any peanut-gallery input. Ha.

3 years ago

This is the kind of styling advice we need – we need someone who is NOT a seasoned professional (or natural?) at styling to break down what people like Emily do without even realizing it’s a pattern. Like, does Emily know that she tends to style heavier lamps next to a sofa but lighter-based lamps away from the sofa? She probably doesn’t even realize she’s doing it – it’s just second nature to her! Like, I love Emily’s styling advice, but Caitlin compiling dozens of pictures of styled end tables and playing a game of “spot the similarities” is what the rest of us need but just don’t have the time or haven’t thought to do ourselves!!! THANK YOU!!!

3 years ago

Very beautyful.