SMALL TABLE DESIGNS CHANGED
OVER THE CENTURIES

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, June 2006 


Federal oval inlaid Pembroke table. New York. C. 1790, Courtesy: Bernard & S. Dean Levy, Inc. , New York, NY

From the 18th century on small tables were designed for different purposes, and the changing needs of growing upper classes. As the structure of society changed, bringing new fashions and manners, a wide variety of small pieces of furniture were created.

Increasing trade with the Far East put money into the small merchants hands, that formed a middle class. Anxious to keep up with the established upper class they began filling their homes with fine furniture. However, since their homes were modest and the rooms smaller, furniture had to be scaled down for their needs. Even more important, they required new and different styles, not just smaller copies of old fashions. Heavy old woods such as oak were no longer suitable. Mahogany, fruit woods as well as walnut, ebony and birch became popular with such designers as Chippendale, Hepplewhite and  Sheraton.

The custom of tea drinking, begun in the reign of Queen Anne, became the established, "tea time." Naturally there had to be a small tea table that could be easily moved. One of the earliest styles was the mahogany tripod. Design for practicality it had a swivel top. When not used it was folded up and placed against the wall.

Tripod tables were made throughout the 18th and into the 19th century. Styles became more ornate during the 18th century, embellished with carving and a pie-crust top. These small tables were as popular in America as in England. One of the most charming of the small 18th century tables was the wine table, with a pierced gallery top. Never mind if you discover one with a few wine stains. That adds to the authenticity. Expect to pay several thousand dollars .

Among the many varied styles of small tables designed by Sheraton, the nested tables are still the most popular; and useful. Much more elegant than TV tray tables. They are characterized by slender legs and the tops often have inlays of contrasting woods. They are still being made.

CLUES: Sheraton nested tables come in a variety of woods. There are also black lacquer Chinese Export versions. Authentic, early period pieces stand a little higher than reproductions. Stretchers on the early pieces are curved or shaped. Look for hand turning on the legs and a rough underside to the tops. There should be signs of  wear on the feet from being moved around.

Special tables were designed for women's work and play. Examples are needlework tables designed of various woods. One type could be folded and had a deep bag of velvet or silk suspended between the folding wood ends. Being light weight, women would carry it to other rooms. The Sheraton version added a hinged lid, forming a container. Another type of small work table combined walnut with rosewood or satinwood with ebony. It was suitable to being left in the living room as a decorative piece.

Probably the most reproduced of all the small tables is the Pembroke, created by Sheraton. Usually with one drawer and two small drop leaves, it served many purposes from casual dining for two, to a writing table.

The game or cartable changed from the early Queen Anne style, with cabriole leg and pad foot to whatever was the prevailing fashion. By the 19th century the graceful lines gave way to the heavier look of William IV or Empire style. The fold top rested on a heavy carved, tripod base. Changing tastes have brought many Empire pieces back in popularity. Condo living, with smaller rooms makes the small tables even more desirable than they were in the 18th and 19th centuries. 


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