It’s impossible to live without and yet often neglected. Let’s help you pick the perfect piece

They might go by many names — end tables, side tables, occasional tables, nightstands and more. But they have one thing in common — everyone needs them in one form or another. Trying to choose one from the vast range out there can be a daunting task. I’ve found that it helps to work out in advance exactly how you’ll be using the table, and then find a style you like to fit that function. Here are some of the most common uses and variants.

In their simplest guise, side tables are used in the living room, commonly placed beside the sofa, or in a corner of the room, to provide a handy place to set down a drink or place a bowl of snacks. Pared down to its most minimal form, a side table is really just a surface with a convenient size and height. That size can vary quite substantially between pieces, but the majority are between 18 and 22 inches in height, with a surface that is usually at least 16-18 inches square.

To add a bit more substance to the mix, many side tables come with a lower shelf or two to provide a bit of useful storage. These are great for magazines, coasters, or other living room odds and ends that you might need at short notice.

Many end tables are used to hold pieces of décor, curios, lamps and more, but sometimes you can make a strong style statement with the table itself. You might have to work a little harder to find one, but there are plenty of end tables with bold styling or interesting details that make them perfect as an accent piece.

One of the best aspects of side tables is how you can take advantage of their relatively small size and portability. You can take that portability to another level altogether by choosing from several types of folding tables that can fold up completely flat for carrying or storage. Another option could be to use super-compact tables (less than 14” in each dimension) that are small enough to carry under your arm. Either way, you can bring a handy surface to wherever it’s needed, whether you’re out on the balcony or entertaining in the garden.

For more constrained spaces, why not use a side table as a compact coffee table? Larger side tables (with a surface of more than 20” by 20”) can comfortably hold magazines, plates or several cups of coffee, and genuinely blur the line between end table and compact centre table.

Another useful trick for compact spaces is to use nested tables. Usually in sets of three, the varying sizes make them extremely versatile, whether used as stools, end tables, or some combination thereof. Best of all, when not in use, they all nest conveniently together to use the minimum amount of floor space.

Nightstands or bedside tables can almost be considered a category by themselves, but are still closely related to side tables, generally using similar forms and dimensions. One common addition to the nightstand, however, is the one or more drawers that provide a private place to store all those little items you need close at hand when in bed.

A side table is usually thought of as a simple, almost one-dimensional piece of furniture, but a little imagination will let you unlock far more versatility, whether you’re using one by the power outlet as a gadget charging station, or just keeping it in front of your easy chair as a convenient footstool. No matter what they’re used for, a few side tables are a welcome addition to any home.

The writer is product manager and designer at www.urbanladder.com, the online furniture store. Mail him at hinduhabitat@gmail.com