There was a time when a console was an uninspiring narrow table used to keep post, keys and coins. Today’s creations from the design world’s most imaginative studios are anything but, and while they vary in style from the sleekly cool to the gloriously flamboyant, each one transforms this unsung workhorse of the furniture sphere into a piece of beauty.
Alberto Nespoli, head of the Italian craft-based interior design company EligoStudio, was so keen to raise the status of the console that he moved his most recent design (€18,000) out of the hallway and mounted it on a sitting room wall. With its galvanised-iron wings, cobbled-glass sliding doors and hand-painted silk wallpaper backdrop, it occupies the wall like a three-dimensional painting. “A console creates elegant volume in a space,” he says. “This one, which was part of a bespoke interior for a client in Milan, was created as a piece of functional art.”
Luxxu’s Beyond console (£6,103), which received the award for Most Coveted Console at the Milan furniture fair in April, was also consciously designed as a piece of useable sculpture. Partly inspired by constructivist architecture and handmade from brass and wood topped off with an extravagant gold-plate and black-lacquer finish, it is, says its creator João Barros, “a depiction of pure luxury”.
The console’s reputation as an aesthetically inconsequential depository for everyday clutter is largely due to the fact that it is most often found lurking in the shadows of entrance halls, but it didn’t start out that way. Today’s consoles are, in fact, an evolution of the pier tables that were developed in continental Europe through the 17th and 18th centuries (arriving in England around 1675) as a purely ornamental way to fill the wall space between pairs of windows in grand halls. This means that, while these new attention-grabbing iterations may appear to be breaking fresh ground, they actually represent a return to the past. “The console has come full circle,” says Stuart Sharpless, co-director and co-founder of Decorus Furniture. “People are now looking for something that makes a real impact in a space.”
Anna Czarnowska, lead designer for Morpheus London on the property design and development company’s project at the Six Senses Residences Courchevel, goes so far as to say that a console can almost be pure form: “Our clients see them as a good way to introduce a piece of art furniture that provides an initial wow as you walk into a house.” With its ice-like, antiqued gesso top balancing on a cast-bronze branch, the elemental Morpheus console (£2,585) in the hallway of the Residences’ penthouse acts as an appetiser for the interior scheme to come.
Sharpless’s new Lazzaro console (£7,600), on the other hand, is designed as the main event. Based on the idea of disrupting the rigid structure of a grid (something he refers to as “organic geometry”), the base is composed of a tangle of sharp-angled struts made from hand-forged, textured steel. Finishes such as distressed bronze, platinum silver or gold covering these struts gives them a precious, jewel-like quality and when the light hits them, they sparkle against the Lazzaro’s black Marquina marble top. “In recent years people have wanted clean lines, but they are now accepting a certain level of busyness,” says Sharpless. “That’s what organic geometry is all about – we have taken something very geometric and disciplined and turned it into something free-flowing and rather chaotic.”
Christopher Cox who, together with his wife Nicola, designs and makes sculptural furniture and lighting under the brand name Cox London, believes we are now seeing a return to flamboyant consoles “because people are looking for something a bit jazzier in their homes”, and consoles are the perfect vehicle for this decorative comeback since they pose very few practical challenges. “From a designer’s perspective, the great thing about console tables is that we don’t have to think about fitting people’s legs underneath them or how many people will sit around them, so we can concentrate entirely on the decorative composition. That gives us huge creative freedom.”
The Coxes have exploited that freedom to the full with their new Oak Leaf console (standard size £11,800). Composed of over 100 forged-steel leaves, each one individually patinated and coloured with two layers of water-based egg tempera (one green and one milky white) and carefully soldered onto twisting branches that appear to grow from the gnarled central trunk, this piece is a beguiling folly. And, as you would expect with a large-scale sculpture, its creators recommend that it is placed in a space large enough to allow people to view from a distance. Nor is it intended for any practical purpose; that smooth onyx top is definitely not designed to be sullied with the day’s post.
If the Oak Leaf console hovers on the line between art and furniture, Tuomas Markunpoika’s Engineering Temporality console (price on request) steps right over it. This piece is part of the Amsterdam-based designer’s ongoing project exploring ways of translating human fragility into design objects – work inspired by the experience of seeing his grandmother lose her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. As he witnessed her memory loss, he was struck by the difference between the perfection of most items and the transient fragility of the humans who use them. “I believe that the notion of beauty migrates into objects when we consider them symbolically comparable to ourselves,” Markunpoika explains, “so I have created a collection of objects that are enmeshed in the notion of fragility.”
This console, like all the other pieces in the collection, is composed entirely of thousands of steel rings. Using an existing item of wooden furniture (in this case a baroque console he picked up in a local antiques shop) as a framework, Markunpoika welds every one of these rings together until the base piece is covered in a lace-like exoskeleton. The process can take several weeks and when he has finished, he sets the whole thing alight, allowing it to burn until there is nothing left but the steel-ring covering standing alone as an ornate, delicate echo of the wooden original. “It is a primordial method of preserving the physical memory of the former object,” he explains.
The basic format of a console, which is a flat top attached to a base, prevails in the majority of these decorative versions. “Even the most glorious console is still built to a height that is easy to place something on,” says Amy Somerville, who heads up an eponymous furniture studio in northwest London. She is right. It may be sacrilegious to empty your pockets onto the top of either the Oak Leaf or Engineering Temporality consoles, but you could because the practical elements are still in place.
Somerville’s own Staccato console (£14,490) is designed to draw attention to the tension between the inherent utility of the console’s flat top and the creative freedom allowed by the space below it. (“The base is a rare blank canvas because anything that supports the shelf is valid,” she says.”) Created for the showroom as a reflection of the traditional materials her studio uses, it is a witty play on the humble workbench. The top is crafted from solid American black walnut with traditional dovetailed, dry‑mounted drawers and insets of saddle leather, while the base is built from a varied stack of solid-bronze bricks. These were carved to size by a CNC machine before being hand-polished and stacked like beads on a structural steel rod. The end result is an obviously functional console glamorous enough to take centre stage.
The Blink console (£984), designed for Stellar Works by North American interior architecture and design practice Yabu Pushelberg, also balances form and function in equal measure. The generous veneer laminate top positively asks to be used, while its spare asymmetric shape allows the viewer to focus on the elegant lines of its black powder-coated steel frame. “We tried to make Blink look as light as possible,” says the company’s co-founder Glenn Pushelberg, “so we stripped away all the unnecessary features like drawers and just focused on the continuous line of the metal rod down to the flat base on the floor. The interest and beauty of the piece comes from the line rather than the form.”
Those who deplore clutter have never really understood the point of consoles, and in the days when they were no more than messy tables near the front door, you can see why. But the maximalist console is a different thing entirely. Extravagant celebrations of material and creative fancy, they can make a hallway – or living space – sing.