Surprise is the point of accent pieces

Even if you are only in the initial stage of furnishing a room, it's not too soon to go shopping for so-called "accent pieces." But before setting out, be sure you know what you're looking for.

Let's be clear about the definition of accent furnishings. First of all, they must not be confused with accessories or with frivolous, incidental items. An accent piece, in general, ought to serve a useful purpose, particularly in a small room. In spacious settings, however, where all essential functions have already been provided for, something that's more beautiful than practical can certainly qualify as an accent piece.


Whatever the situation, an accent acts mainly as a contrasting element. It can thus be a flash of madness in a conservatively furnished room, or a touch of classical elegance in an exotic setting. Surprise is the objective. And that's why I find it so hard to convince the faint-hearted that they really ought to add an accent piece.

In living rooms, a coffee table often serves as the accent piece. That's because it's an obvious means of introducing a new and different note without adding a great deal of dissonance to a traditional composition. In fact, in a period setting, it's just about impossible to find a perfectly matching coffee table, since that type of furniture simply didn't exist until this century.


A classically designed brass-and-glass parson's table may not turn many heads in a contemporary living room. But it succeeds as an accent piece in a room filled with 18th century mahogany furnishings, precisely because it's out of sync with everything else.

Furnishings of Asian origin are almost guaranteed to work as accents, in either traditional or contemporary settings. This is hardly an original insight. For centuries, homes in America as well as Europe have used lacquered tables, ebonized cabinets and silks and ceramics from Asia in order to relieve the tedium of brown wooden furniture. Because of their simplicity of line and often unusual finishes, pieces from China or Japan will also work well with most of today's minimalist interiors.

The table shown in the photo could readily serve as an accent piece, especially in a small room. Big enough to hold a plant and a lamp at the same time, it's certainly a useful addition. This Baker Furniture piece also has an Asian flavor. Its top is made of Mactan, a fossilized aquatic stone from the Philippines. Leather bindings further enhance a design that's transitional between East and West.

A piece like this would look great with wicker or rattan furniture. But the fit is so comfortable that the table could not be considered an accent in such an arrangement. It would stand out much more in a room with plushly upholstered chairs and sofa.