Multifunctional pieces most popular, yet rarely called upon for many uses

RITA ST.CLAIR

February 16, 1992|By Rita St.Clair | Rita St.Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Even though they are seldom used as intended, multifunctional pieces remain the most popular type of furniture. I suppose it's comforting to know that a table can accommodate more than one function, despite the fact that it will never be called upon to do anything out of the ordinary.

Many multifunctional pieces are rather small when broken down into their component parts. One common example is the nesting table that can be pulled apart to form three or more small units. These tables, however, are hardly ever pulled apart.

Once upon a time, a small cabinet might have been used as a bedside commode containing all sorts of items. Today, these same pieces usually serve one purpose only: to hold a lamp. In addition, they're now generally found in the living room, where they help to anchor a setting without adding four more spindly legs to the furniture grouping.

The piece shown in the photo is inspired by the dressing table of long ago. The original actually would have provided more knee space than is available here, but it really doesn't matter, since the modern versions are used mainly for decorative purposes. True to the historic design, however, this charming table still features lots of drawers, which once would have contained cosmetics, combs and other dressing accoutrements. Often, too, a standing mirror would have been attached to the top.

Another multifunctional piece gracing many homes is the tray table, whether of the butler variety, which can be used as a bar, or a low-slung model that typically serves as a coffee table. In practice, they are seldom made to perform more than a single function, but well-designed tray tables are nevertheless desirable additions to traditional settings. The colorful Chinese-style ceramic garden stool was originally intended to be used outdoors as well as indoors. It won't be seen in many gardens today, however. But that's all right, since its decorative qualities are reason enough for acquiring a stool of this type. It looks great alongside a pull-up chair, as it adds spark to a traditional room filled with brown furniture.

Manufacturers realize that many so-called multifunctional pieces will not be deployed to their full capacity. Their design is often derived from another place and time. In a contemporary American home, there's usually no real reason for them to do more than one thing. That's why this kind of furniture is now produced and marketed with attention paid primarily to its decorative quality. But as I noted at the outset, the potential for performing two or more functions is still a valuable selling point.

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