A Year of Side Tables

Mutawintji side table in jarrah, red gum and rock maple

The past 12 months has seen an extraordinary flourishing of hall/side/sofa table designs. We’ve enjoyed one commission after another that has allowed us to really explore this form.

Call them a hall table, a side table or a sofa table, these are essentially a long thin surface with possibly one or more drawers. They can be brutally practical or whimsically playful. They are always very graphic and often command a premium location in the house. From our perspective, this humble piece of furniture lends itself to endless variations of form.

This run of work started almost exactly 12 months ago with the Mindaroo Side Table.

Our client, who I’d known for more than 25 years, commissioned a new side table for her beautiful Southern Highlands home. She already owned a Stork Hall Table and was looking for something special to occupy a sunny space surrounded by First Nations art and weaving. Working with interior designer Luci from Luci.D Interiors, I developed a design that was at once contemporary and yet very crafted.

Fluting timber is an excellent way to display grain and to play with texture. There’s something extremely tactile about fluting and I can never resist running my hands over it. Fluting is such a celebration of the material. I used two fluted sections to delineate the three drawers of the Mindaroo Side Table.

At the time, I was thinking about how the Ashbruton River winds it’s way through Mindaroo Station. The Ashburton is a classic arid region ephemeral river, sometimes little more than a chain of ponds, other times in raging flood. My client grew up on Mindaroo station WA and I wanted to capture something of the red landscape and the watercourse.

The Mindaroo Side Table led directly to the Mutawintji Side Tables. I’ve already written about this journey in detail here.

Another interesting side table brief came from a client who had just finished a beautiful new home on the Hawkesbury River at Mooney Mooney. This client wanted a Scandinavian inspired piece in a pale timber. She wanted a spare and restrained piece that did not dominate the space.

At the time, my head was filled with changes of level, texture, curved forms and a little drama. I was obsessed with Australian timbers and the colours of our landscape. My client kept pulling me back to classic, spare lines. The breakthrough came when I stopped hearing “Scandinavian style” and started to connect with the feel that she was after.

After many drawings and false starts, we settled on a final form. The Rosa Side Table was born. It had many Dunstone Design details, but the piece was calm. We were after a soft, almost silken look so I selected rock maple. This is a beautiful timber, but its a challenge to use well. Rock maple shows every indiscretion of craftmanship. It also requires extremely controlled colour and grain selection to achieve the right energy. There is a fine line between clinical/cold and soft/welcoming.

Rosa Side Table in rock maple
Rosa Side Table in Rock Maple

In September, we received a brief for a very architectural sofa table in jarrah. We had made these clients a Contour Dining Table about three years prior. They wanted a complimentary table to sit behind their sofa and act as an extra serving surface. They did not require drawers and this piece had to command the space visually.

One of my pet hates is work that “looks drawn”. I want work that is organic and flowing. I want to experience a visceral reaction to the work, and not have the maker’s process stuffed down my throat. A lot of contemporary work is designed straight on to the computer, and it shows. My challenge was to take a form that was essentially an extrusion and make it look both crafted and spontaneous.

Contour Side Table n Jarrah
Contour Side Table n Jarrah

Alex MacFarlane crafted the Contour Side Table. He’s the master at this type of stack-lamination construction. The key was to retain the flow of the lines while adding extra layers of surprise through the selection of grain and tone. This is how we negated the essentially two dimensional nature of the design.

At the time, the development of each of these four designs (I’m including the Mutawintji) seemed natural. I probably struggled the most with the Rosa, simply because it was the most strident change of direction for me. Now I look back with something close to surprise.

Contour Side Table in jarrah

I’m usually content if I can look back over the previous twelve-months and pick out three or four pleasing new designs across all furniture forms. Some years it might only be one or two pieces that cut the mustard. To have enjoyed such a productive year in just one form of furniture is exceptionally gratifying.