The Console Table – An age-old love affair.
Updated: Apr 21
A New Year is upon us and to start it in style, Leonardo – Tables by Design is featuring a furniture item that has been with us for centuries and continues to become even more of a home essential with each passing decade; the console table. To welcome the New Year, and to celebrate our own stylish range of consoles, the first blog for this year raises a glass to this multi-tasking hero of the home.
Image: Leonardo’s Chinese console dressed to give dramatic impact.
Photo Credit: Leonardo – Tables by Design
A console originally referred to the s-shaped bracket that was used to affix a half-moon shelf (called a demi-lune) to a wall, giving the illusion that it was free-floating. This trend has a history that winds back to the aristocracy of France and Italy of the late 17th century. The traditional material for the demi-lune was marble, and as it was viewed only from the front or sides, the back and underside often remained unfinished and unadorned.
The inclusion of two inward curving support legs gave the console the appearance of a proper table, and a smaller support system replaced the often-elaborate s-bracket. The obvious evolution to 4-legged free-standing consoles happened quickly and our enduring passion for the console table began in earnest.
This new trend became popular in the palaces and stately homes of France and Italy. Initially, consoles were purely decorative with no functionality attached to them and, as such, lent themselves to the embellishments that the Roccoco period embraced. Intricately carved details and theatrical themes abounded. Some could even be described more as sculptures and artworks than furniture pieces.
Symmetry was an important element within the décor style of the period. This lent itself to sets of two or four consoles with matching mirrors and stools being commissioned from the craftsmen of the time in a move to bring harmony and high-style to the mansions of society’s elite.
Below is one of a group of consoles made between 1675–78 for the Palazzo Colonna in Rome. The elaborate gilded carving is typical of the period when the supports for the tops were commonly styled as human figures, eagles, cupids, foliage, and assorted sea life.
Image: Sala Grande: XVIIth century console table with busts of Emperors Antoninus Pius (left) and Septimius Severus (right)
Photo credit: romeartlover.it
The court of Louis XIV was the epitome of style and Versailles' grand reception rooms were the backdrop to many matching console and mirror combinations, fixing it as one of the most popular and desirable furniture items of the period.
The purely decorative nature of the console changed along with the introduction of legs. As a free-standing unit, this handy piece of furniture (in numerous guises) started fulfilling various roles around the home and by the end of the 18th century the styling had become less elaborate. Satinwood and Mahogany consoles with hand-painted designs in pale colours started appearing in England and other European countries.
Image: A George III Sheraton period satinwood veneered console table Circa 1780.
Photo Credit: Reindeer Antiques
The many evolutions that the console table saw over the last 400+ years have made it as indispensable in the modern home as it was a decorative essential back in the 1600s. This makes the console a kind of furniture hybrid, encapsulating both functions perfectly.
What had started as no more than a supported shelf in the 17th century had transformed into huge elaborate works of art during the 18th century. It further evolved into a scaled-down, simpler version in the 19th century and by the late 1800s the console was found in more affluent white-collar homes, particularly in entrance halls and reception areas. Modern urban developments of smaller space-saving homes had a major impact on furniture design during the 20th century, and narrow, streamlined consoles quickly gained in popularity. 400 years after they made an appearance we are still obsessed with these décor gems.
The range of console tables available can be overwhelming but, as with any decorating project, there are a few golden rules when it comes to choosing the right piece for your room. Before anything else be sure to measure the space you have available for your new acquisition. For maximum effect always leave some breathing room around a console and allow the design is to tell its story.
As with all tables, the materials used are key to a successful outcome. Metal is a logical option for normal to heavy traffic-flow areas, while delicate wooden and flimsy tables are better suited to quieter rooms. Glass tops are perfect when you want to feature the design of the frame and also helps to create airiness, however, toughened glass is always recommended to prevent damage or accidents.
The addition of a shallow drawer or second shelf to a console immediately transforms it into a handy storage solution. Adding a few decorative baskets or boxes in your accessorizing mix immediately provides a handy home for numerous items that would otherwise cause unwanted clutter.
Image A simple console dressed perfectly to give a homely welcome.
Photo Credit: Ballard Design
Console tables are no longer limited to entrance halls and reception rooms. With slimmer dimensions, they have found a home in a number of settings.
We now see them used to break up long narrow hallways and give visual interest while providing storage and decorative space. Large dressing tables have become a thing of the past yet a bedroom vanity is still a necessity. A console coupled with a stool, mirror and suitable lighting is the perfect solution in smaller bedrooms. Another clever use for a console table is as a cocktail bar. This is ideal for those who don't have a dedicated bar area or drinks cabinet. A word of advice, use an easy to clean console for this idea to prevent watermarks and spills on delicate surfaces
Image: A console table bar – a perfect space solution when entertaining.
Photo credit: modernconsoletables.net
One of the first alternative uses to come about for the console table was to place it behind a sofa as a couch table, a trend that is still popular today. In the dining room, a console makes the ideal buffet server for large family gatherings and celebrations. Consoles have even found their way into bathrooms where they lend an air of opulence and are perfect as a vanity area and ideal for storing a snug pile of rolled-up towels.
Whatever your choice of décor style, you will find the console table one of the easiest to create a statement with. Adorned with flowers, ornaments and framed photographs, it becomes a personal story; simply accessorised with a few carefully selected objet d’art and it turns into a strong, bold statement.
When it comes to choosing a console table an excellent way to start is by contacting us! We have a large range of beautifully designed consoles, expertly crafted from top quality materials and with a range of finishes to match modern décor palettes. We also offer a custom-made service that lets you tailor-make any of our range to your specification, and our bespoke service gives you the chance to bring your one-of-a-kind décor dreams to life.
I feel that the console table will be with us in one form or another for years to come and Conde Nast’s House & Garden Dictionary agrees with me. They noted back in 1973 that the console was “integral to the decoration of a room”. The Leonardo team agree wholeheartedly!
Until next month,
Yours in Style – Frank
Image: Simple and practical use of a console as a couch table
The Beta Tray-Top Console from Leondardo – Tables by Design
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