Function dictated form of furniture Design: Campaign pieces that could be folded up and moved have inspired some new tables for small apartments and mobile lifestyles.

November 24, 1996|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Some pieces of furniture have a charm all their own because they're seen as throwbacks to an earlier, nostalgically remembered era.

Perhaps you recall the tete-a-tete sofa, that serpentine-shaped love seat that kept a couple side by side (or head to head) even as they faced in opposite directions.

I'm thinking, too, of the tea trolley, or bar cart as it is often called in America. It used to -- and still does -- offer a most convenient means of transporting dishes, glasses and serving plates from the kitchen to the dining room table.

Despite the cleverness and usefulness of their designs, tete-a-tete sofas and tea trolleys aren't often seen these days.

One reason they're so hard to find is that furniture dealers typically consider them conversation pieces or curios that warrant production only in limited quantities. Some knowledgeable design clients understand, however, that pieces of this sort remain valuable for their functional aspects.

Have you noticed, for instance, that fine restaurants often use serving trolleys? In a few cases, the contemporary usefulness of a "throwback" item becomes so widely apparent that manufacturers will again make it readily available on the commercial market.

That's happened in recent years with so-called "campaign" furniture, which is ideally suited for small apartments and today's mobile lifestyles. One sees more and more adaptations of the compact, foldable pieces that were used during Napoleon's military campaigns in the 19th century.

The butler's table seems poised for a similar comeback. This supremely functional piece, used primarily as a surface for serving food or drinks, can be set up quickly anywhere in the home and then be folded away for easy storage.

Milling Road has manufactured a piece, shown in the photo, that combines features of the butler's table and campaign furniture. It was introduced in response to the demand for a small, portable and decorative serving table with some storage capacity.

Its charming design is based on a military field table, the top of which could be removed and used for storing maps. The legs would meanwhile fold underneath to allow for fast and simple transport. The shield-shaped door in front opens out to reveal a storage compartment that's intended to hold bottles, not military accouterments.

Similarly, the crossed legs do not fold but are instead joined by sturdy stretchers. The top is reminiscent of the butler's table -- with drawers having been added to provide extra storage capacity.

This server qualifies, I suppose, as a throwback or a conversation piece. Its main purpose, however, is functional, even as it enhances the beauty of almost any setting.

We're building a mountainside getaway in Utah ski country that's to be used on a year-round basis. The home will be modern in its architecture and interior design, but we also want it to be comfortable and inviting. Having reached the material selection stage in our planning, we'd like you to suggest an alternative to ceramic tile for the bathroom floor and walls.

Wood can be successfully used in a situation such as the one you've described. Its look and texture make wood an especially appropriate material for a rustic setting. And that same flavor can be further enhanced by installing stone countertops in your bathroom.

Cedar, redwood or cypress with tongue-and-groove planking might be your best choice, given the home's Western locale.

Whatever type of wood you choose, you'll be wise to leave it in its natural color. The plumbing fixtures can then be colored red, green or even black, if you want to produce a dramatic effect, or soft beige or some other neutral, should you prefer a more monochromatic color scheme.

Of course, you'll have to decide on the materials for other rooms. Give some consideration to surfacing with stone elsewhere in your home, in addition perhaps to the countertops in the bathroom.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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