Designer 101: How to Choose Nightstands

Designer 101: How to Choose Nightstands

Design expert Kenneth Wingard tells you how to choose the perfect nightstand.


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By: Kenneth Wingard

So much attention gets spent on choosing the right bed for your bedroom, that the nightstands often end up being an afterthought. This is so unfortunate — considering nightstands are really a place where you can add charm and originality to a bedroom.

Thirty years ago, the norm was to purchase a matching bedroom set. While this is still acceptable for a child’s room, matching sets in an adult’s room run the risk of things looking too uniform, or worse yet, like a bad (or good) hotel room. So, if your nightstands don’t match your bed, what should they look like?

Luckily, there are few hard-and-fast rules to nightstands. They’re also a place where you can have fun and exercise your creativity. Try pulling in a piece or two from another room or flea market, or configure something of your own. Since nightstands don’t have to match any other furniture in the room, or each other for that matter, all you really need to keep in mind is a few key principles and then have some fun!

Tip: Find all of Kenneth Wingard’s advice and project instructions here.

Choosing the Right Size
The general rule for nightstands is that they should be roughly the same height as your mattress. This makes it easy for things like reaching for your glass of water or book and turning off the alarm. That being said, if you have a modern or Asian-inspired, low-profile platform bed, you can go as low as the platform base. If you have an oversized headboard you can go higher, but no higher than halfway up the headboard.

For the width and depth it is really a matter of proportion and personal preference. You want the nightstand to be in keeping with the rest of the room, especially the bed. If you’ve got an oversized headboard, use a larger sized nightstand and the reverse. It’s better to err on the side of too big rather than too small — a dime-sized nightstand always looks out of place.

Look for Functionality
This is where I always get into trouble. I love a clean, orderly, well-styled table beside my bed, but I also like to have my book, magazines, laptop, phone, reading glasses, clock, lamp, glass of water and all too often a bowl of ice cream within arm’s reach. For a little reality check, I suggest keeping a pad of paper beside your bed for a week and write down everything that ends up on your current nightstand before you make any decisions on new ones. Then see what on that list is due to habit (I keep my magazines and books there, but really only read them in the living room) and what is a necessity (I plug in my phone and laptop there every night). Then, look for nightstands that will actually accommodate your needs. Will that beautiful pedestal table work or do you need something with at least two drawers and a shelf?

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If you want something a little more streamlined than reality dictates, get creative. If you want round-skirted tables, put a circular top on a set of shelves — you can then keep books and magazines under the skirt. If you have a table with open legs, use a decorative basket underneath to hold your electronics. If you have midnight snacks, perhaps a table with a pullout shelf would work well for you.

Choosing Design
Use your nightstands to anchor and balance your bed. They should aesthetically work as a unit. That’s not to say they should match, but they should complement and play off of the other pieces.

If you have a large, heavy, dark wood bed, then consider a pair of nightstands with lighter open brass legs. An upholstered fabric headboard would be complemented by more structured wood pieces as nightstands. The hardness of a wrought iron bed works well with fabric covered tables beside it. If you have a white painted country-inspired bed, then perhaps a distressed blue pedestal table on one side and a wicker trunk on the other would work best.

Be Creative
Don’t feel you have to use traditional nightstands beside your bed. If you’re working with limited space, don’t be afraid to combine functions. A dresser can serve double duty as a nightstand, just make sure that your headboard is substantially taller than the dresser so the proportions will work and choose a lower profile dresser that you can comfortably reach from the bed.

Guest Rooms
When it comes to guest rooms, they don’t need to be as utilitarian so you can really put your design skills to work. Some of the most successfully designed guest bedrooms I’ve seen use unique items for nightstands. An antique wall-mounted shelf, a stack of vintage suitcases, a trunk turned on end, a tree trunk and a mirrored cube — all great options. My mother firmly believes that if you make the guest room too functional, they’ll never leave. I think she’s right.

Keep the Peace
The last thing to remember for those who share the bedroom with someone else is that we all have different ways of living and, therefore, different ways of using our nightstands. If one person likes streamlined modernity and the other half is a reader who insists on stacks of magazines and newspapers, choose your nightstands accordingly — or at least find a way to keep both halves happy and the room functional.

In this case, for example, have cantilevered shelves on both sides, but on the reader’s side add some modern boxes underneath for holding the reading material. In another instance it may mean that you actually do need two different styles of nightstands. One side could get a vintage dresser with lots of drawers to hide all the stuff, and the other side would have an elegant small table in the same color as the dresser — perfect for holding a single vase full of fresh flowers. Because remember, you can always ask your other half to store your book.



Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.

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