Simple, classic, versatile. The Parsons table—so named for the Parsons School of Design where it was created during the ‘30s—is one of those rare furniture pieces that can fit into any interior in any application. The simple shape, a square or rectangular top with four flush legs of equal thickness to the top, is the perfect complement to more ornate furnishings and details, while simultaneously fitting in with other minimal, streamlined items. The Parsons table's timeless versatility means that whether it's juxtaposed with baroque furnishings in a dining room or kept simple and pared down in a hallway, this classic piece remains a design staple that will stand the test of time.
Creator of the Parsons Table
Jean-Michel Frank is widely thought to be credited for designing the original piece while teaching at the Paris outfit of the famous Parsons School in the 1930s. However, there are preliminary versions of the table dating back to Frank's earlier work (1896-1941) along with designer Joseph B. Platt's work (1895-1968), muddling the certainty of its exact origin. According to The New York Times, “Frank challenged students to design a table so basic that it would retain its integrity whether sheathed in gold leaf, mica, parchment, split straw or painted burlap, or even left robustly unvarnished.”
Evolution of the Parsons Table
In its founding years, the most common way to see the Parsons table styled was as a small occasional table, covered with textures like snakeskin, parchment, eggshell lacquer, or leather, among others. Eventually, the tables were created larger and made of printed composition or plastic rather than solid wood, and used as sideboards, game tables, desks, dining tables, and more. These days, the style options have grown further to extravagant materials like marble, grasscloth, and burled wood. You'll commonly see a larger, rectangle version of the Parsons table used as a desk, dining or console table, while a smaller, square size is an ideal choice for a coffee table or ultra sleek nightstand.
Styling of the Parsons Table
The nature of the Parsons table's streamlined and simple design makes it so that it's virtually foolproof to incorporate into any room. Whether it's paired with an Eames chair in your office, or flanked with Oriental lamps in your hallway, the design will feel seamless and intentional.
- Juxtapose: For a strong juxtaposition, style amidst ornate antique furnishings or imposing woodwork and details to balance the stark lines of the table.
- Go Minimal: Play up the minimalist vibes with clean, unadorned accent pieces, like a mid-century chair. Keep your tabletop décor accents simple, such as a small tea candle, or forgo them altogether.
- Embrace Versatility: Pair two smaller versions of the table side-by-side as a movable coffee table when you need a flexible table or floor space.
- Find Extra Space: Opt for a bar height version in a compact kitchen with matching stools to keep the design streamlined.
Shop Parsons Tables
The Parsons Table. Histories of the New School. May 28, 2018.