DECO CONSOLE TABLES
Console tables were first created as an adjunct to elegant living in the 18th century, and experienced renewed popularity in the years between the wars, in both traditional and art deco styles.
Console tables were a common sight in the hallways of 1930s houses and flats. Functional and compact, they seemed to be typically sleek and graceful products of the contemporary art deco style, but had roots planted much deeper in the past.
They originated in the early 18th century as decorative versions of the side table, but differed from other tables in that they didn't need to be free-standing; they were supported by one or two brackets fixed to the wall. 'Console' is French for 'bracket', and console tables were first seen in France.
The first console tables were highly decorative, often showy and extravagant objects made to furnish grand, spacious rooms they often came in pairs, and stood beneath imposing mirrors. Although the tops of early console tables might have been attractively made in wood or marble, the supporting brackets were their principal decorative feature. These first took the form of interlaced dolphins or eagles with outstretched wings, carved in wood. Later ones were made in the daintier rococo style, featuring scrolls and curves, or as neo-classical pieces.
Toward the end of the 18th century, plainer, more functional versions appeared, with their tops supported by two tapering legs at the front an A by two brackets, concealed beneath a decorative frieze, at the rear.
In the 19th century, the term 'console table' lost its arrow definition and came to mean almost any small, marble-topped table. Later on, they became available in more modest, everyday designs and materials. Many were mass produced and had wooden, rather than marble, tops. As the 19th century closed, the console table had lost its popularity and much of its identity - except for its traditional role of standing out of the way against a wall.
This however, was its saving grace. As smaller houses and apartments became more fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s, console tables were increasingly used wherever space was tight. Console tables from this period were made from a variety of materials. Glass and mirror tops were as popular as marble.
The top-of-the-range commercial tables sold through high-quality outlets, like Heal's, were often in exotic woods such as calamander, walnut or zebra wood, using a solid slab of wood. The brackets were sometimes omitted in favour of three or four legs. Smaller, cheaper versions, veneered in mahogany, kept the brackets.
Tubular steel and plate glass, the classic materials of the 1930s, were also widely and effectively used for console tables. Here, the glass used would have been at least 6mm/¼in thick with neatly bevelled edges. The steel of the supports was very sturdy to stop them flexing and causing the chromium plate to peel. With these modern materials the console table became extremely simple in design.
Over the years, the console table moved out of sumptuous reception rooms in aristocratic houses into the hallways of suburban villas and town flats. However, its main function, to provide a surface on which to display one or two decorative objects against a wall, has hardly changed at all.
Genuine art deco console tables are rarely found outside specialist furniture dealers, as they are increasingly sought after. Any art deco styled racketed iron tables that you may come across in junk shops or flea markets are likely to be relatively recent imitations, easily recognized by the utilitarian nature of the iron work, which usually consists of simple scroll-work and a top frame made for a lightweight, drop-in top, often of glass. From a collector's standpoint, these later variations are all but worthless.
More common are 1930s console tables in revivals of 18th-century styles, sometimes cross-bred with deco, with wrought-iron brackets painted to give them age, or steel ones polished to a high sheen.
You may come across some console tables with two legs and no brackets, designed so as to make them free-standing. This ingenious idea does not always work. Before buying this type of console - indeed before buying any type of console - check the balance.
Better wooden tables were made in the solid, rather than veneered. If the table is veneered, check it for cracks, splits and missing pieces, especially around the edges. Small areas of missing veneer are not too serious a flaw and can usually be renovated quite easily, but severe damage will reduce the overall value considerably.
Glass or marble tops are likely to be scratched or worn. This is acceptable, though cracked or chipped tops should be avoided. Replacement glass rarely has the right bevelled, smooth finish. Chromium-plated steel supports should be in good condition; avoid pitted or peeling chrome.
The brackets will have to be screwed to a wall. Before you buy, make sure that the wall where you're intending to fix the table is sound and will be able to take its weight.