This Designer's "Anti-Minimalist" Trick is a Genius Way to Elevate a Living Room — Plus, It's Easy to Try

Including a side table in your living room shouldn't be an afterthought — these designers are curating them to create interesting and layered schemes

a modern living room in an apartment filled with color
(Image credit: Gieves Anderson. Design: Justin Charette)

Most Curated is a monthly series in which one editor, team member or friend of Livingetc will share the top 15 items on their current wish list.

If there's one thing that all my favorite interior designer-designed living rooms have in common, it's not a particular couch or a trendy color palette, it's how their creators use modern side tables in their schemes.

There's more to creating a living room-scape with side or end tables than plunking one on the end of the sofa — designers are using the best side tables as a device to define areas and add "pacing" to a seating arrangement, as well as just acknowledging their practical use for a room in your home that often needs to adapt. 'When I contemplate tables and stools I think in levels,' New York-based interior designer Justin Charette tells me. 'Some place to rest a drink, some place to rest your feet, and larger surface to rest a laptop and/or snack. The key to this is all in the sizing.'

These schemes use intriguing, varied clusters of tables — there's no matching three-piece sets in these designs. Combining intriguing textures, colors and shapes adds brilliant interest to a space in smaller but meaningful ways. They're also easier to swap out and move around, so if you feel the need for a refresh, it's far easier to reinvent your space.

Look around your living room now — how many side tables do you have? One, maybe two? These modern living rooms are a little more extravagant when it comes to quantity, as well as the quality of the design. After all, how many is too many when it comes to side tables? 'I generally think it’s hard to use too many if they have the ability to tuck and cluster,' Justin says. And I tend to agree with him.

How to use side tables in a modern living room

a colorful living room with a large lamp and bleu artwork

(Image credit: Stephen Johnson. Design: Jamie Bush + Co)

This beautifully curated living room from Jamie Bush + Co shows that it pays not to skimp when it comes to surfaces in a living room. Both this room, and the living room designed by Justin Charette, above, have no fewer than 6 tables around their seating areas, including their choices of side, end and coffee tables.

So how do you decide where to put a side table in this kind of scheme? 'Our typical rule in a space when we have a singular chair or chaise which is a focal point in the room, we most always pair it with a floor lamp and a side table for a three-part composition,' interior designer Jamie Bush tells me. 'The chair becomes a sculptural mass while the floor lamp demarcates the grouping with a vertical stake and the side table provides a smaller scale embellishment to complement or contrast the chair – whatever the intention is.'

This idea works on a larger scale, across your room, too. Think about the "Rule of 3", breaking down your scheme into smaller vignettes. Think about the contrast in materials, shapes, heights and colors across these micro-schemes. Even the best accent chair, floating by itself in the space, can feel lost — supplementing it with a set of low side tables can help draw it into your design, grounding it within the context of the wider room.

What kind of modern side tables are on trend?

Whether or not you want a timeless scheme, or something that feels a little more fresh and invigorating, side tables are easier to move in and out, swap around or even replace without breaking the bank. That means, they offer an opportunity to have a little fun with your design, bringing in interesting materials, shapes and colors that might just introduce the element a living room is missing to make it feel elevated.

So what sort of interior design trends in side tables should you be looking out for? 'I’m enjoying irregular shapes in addition to standard round,' Justin Charette says. 'A triangle for example can be a fun unexpected table shape that doesn’t take up too much visual space.'

Introduce a mix of styles to avoid a room feeling too one-note. As well as block-y pedestals and storage side tables, use designs that don't eat up so much visual real estate. 'I think tables that have open bases and can add shadows to the room add a lot of depth,' Justin says.

Hugh Metcalf
Editor of

Hugh is the  Editor of From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2024.