A Guide to Occasional Furniture
Occasional furniture can transform both the look of your rooms and the way that you are able to use them.
The right pieces fulfil valuable functions while bringing balance, colour and texture to your spaces.
But what is occasional furniture and how do you ensure that your choices enhance rather than detract from your interior?
What is occasional furniture?
Occasional furniture is so-called because such pieces were originally those used only as the occasion demanded. Small tables, spare chairs and footstools were included in rooms but only used occasionally.
Over time, our priorities in furnishing our homes have changed. Aesthetics are now as important as functionality and we have found ever more creative ways to utilise the various pieces at our disposal. What were once optional luxuries have become essential inclusions or finishing touches offering impressive visual impact.
The history of occasional furniture
It took mankind almost 200,000 years to begin using furniture at all. Early humans were far too busy hunting and gathering to worry about sofas and armchairs. Early furniture was nothing more than purely functional benches and beds. As furniture began to evolve, the finer things in life were reserved only for the wealthy.
The first examples of decorative furnishings were those created for the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. Wealthy Romans liked to relax on sofas and ancient Greek scholars benefitted from ornate chairs. By the 16th century, the homes of European nobles featured beautiful furnishings, crafted from the finest materials. It wasn’t until the 20th century that ordinary working people could afford to invest in comfortable pieces for their homes.
As furniture moved beyond the purely functional, style became an increasingly important consideration. In the 1950s, visionary designers began to take advantage of new man-made materials to produce striking new looks of stunning simplicity, such as the iconic Eames chair. These pieces inspired a new era of affordable yet stylish furniture.
Householders were gradually becoming more house proud. Essential pieces were increasingly chosen for their style as well as their practical features. As more women began entering the workplace, families could afford to invest in additional pieces for their homes. Living rooms began to feature pouffes and lamp tables. Bedrooms were graced by bedside tables and hallways by console tables.
Interior designers found new and interesting ways to utilise occasional pieces. Their work was showcased in glossy magazines and later online, inspiring us all to create stunning spaces for our homes.
How to choose occasional furniture
It’s all too easy to fall in love with a special piece and then find yourself struggling to accommodate it in your home. It’s best to consider each room in turn and to invest in the absolute essentials first. Once you have positioned your sofas, armchairs, dining table, bed and storage solutions, you can decide what you need to complete your rooms and how much space you have left to work with.
Address the practicalities of your interior first. Do you have anywhere to position a lamp for reading? Where will you rest your drinks? Are you able to tidy away all of your bits and pieces? Do you require an extra chair or two for seating guests? Think about how you use your room and how you would ideally like to use it.
When you have attended to the functionality of your spaces, you can turn your attention to the aesthetics of your interior. Do your rooms feel balanced or are there awkward empty areas? Does your home look bland because it lacks accent colour, interesting details or contrasting textures?
You might need to live in your home for a while and use your rooms regularly before it becomes clear what you are missing. You can then choose stylish and memorable occasional pieces that make all the difference.
When you think about occasional furniture, it is probably tables which first spring to mind. A coffee table can balance your living space and will provide somewhere to serve your refreshments. But you can use coffee tables more imaginatively. Why not display your reading matter, a plant or an eye-catching sculpture?
Lamp tables are versatile additions to any space. Of course, they can be used to display a lamp for decorative interest or task lighting. But they could also be stylish alternatives to bedside lockers or utilised to showcase a beautiful vase or plant.
Slender and elegant, console tables are traditionally positioned in hallways as they lend themselves to narrow spaces. But these versatile pieces could be striking features of any room in the house. They’re the perfect solutions when you need display space and you are struggling to accommodate an extra piece in your home.
Nests of tables offer the ultimate versatility. A nest of two of three pieces gives you lamps tables, side tables and more but the tables can be nested when you need to save space in the room.
Once you have decided which tables you need, explore different looks and imagine how they could enhance your décor. Would the warmth and texture of wood best suit your interior, or would contemporary pieces, fashioned from metal and glass better complement your home?
Glass is an excellent choice for smaller rooms as your line of sight isn’t disrupted by the transparent surface, ensuring that an additional piece of furniture does not leave your room looking cluttered. Occasional pieces that match your existing furniture create a unified feel but sometimes you need contrast to define areas and enhance visual impact.
Of all occasional furniture, it is perhaps chairs which offer the greatest potential for transforming the look and feel of your rooms. With a wonderful array of styles, shades and fabrics to choose from, you can use chairs to bring valuable colour, texture and interest to any area of your home.
You may require additional seating in your living space to accommodate guests or to enable you to relax with a better view of your garden. Rather than simply featuring an extra armchair that matches your suite, why not choose a chic accent chair? This contrasting piece could transform your space immediately. A swivel chair or recliner would be a wonderful indulgence as would a fireside chair in the cold winter months.
Perhaps your bedroom could also be improved by the addition of an accent chair or nursing chair? That empty corner could become the focal point of the room! Accent chairs can also be positioned in hallways and studies to striking effect and you don’t have to limit yourself to a single piece.
Choose chairs upholstered in bold colours or striking patterns to lift bland rooms. Feature velvet to enhance texture or to lend a sense of luxury to your spaces. Leather chairs are hard-wearing and practical yet imbue your home with amazing character while heritage designs such as Queen Anne Chairs bring contrast and interest to contemporary interiors. Sleek modern pieces can be used to update your interior without you having to replace your existing furniture. The possibilities are simply endless.
Footstools and Pouffes
Hunter-gatherers wouldn’t ever have dreamt of being able to put their feet up! As late as the 19th century, most ordinary folk wouldn’t have experienced the luxury of lounging on a sofa. Over time, comfort became a consideration and now you can complete your living space with a fabulous sofa and a wonderful footstool of pouffe.
Your footstool enables you to put your feet up but also gives you useful additional seating when you are entertaining. Better still, you can choose a style which incorporates storage to help keep your space clutter-free.
If your room is balanced and doesn’t require an injection of colour, choose a footstool which matches your sofa. Alternatively, seek out a pouffe in a bold or contrasting colour for greater impact. You could feature several pouffes in different colours or create striking effects with texture by including leather and velvet pieces in your space.
Incredibly useful and impressively versatile, bedside tables or lockers are now bedroom essentials. Enabling you to place a lamp next to your bed while providing somewhere to rest your phone and other accessories, lockers are must-haves.
Choose styles with drawers to give yourself useful additional storage. Lockers that match your bed create a unified look while contrasting pieces will help you to design a unique and memorable space.
Bedside tables don’t have to be confined to the bedroom. If you could use additional storage or somewhere to display a lamp in any room, you might be able to squeeze a locker into the space when a cabinet or console table simply won’t fit.
Occasional or Essential?
These days, the term occasional is something of a misnomer. More often than not, occasional furniture is a permanent feature of your room with a specific purpose. It isn’t brought out occasionally, it is used every day, even if its role is a decorative one. These furnishings are not distinguished by occasional use but rather by versatility.
Occasional pieces give you choices and creative possibilities. A sofa is for sitting on and a bed for sleeping in. But an occasional table could be anything you want it to be!