In an undated handout photo, the Blu Dot Modu-licious Bedside table ($499). The company's online catalog notes that Modu-licious can hold magazines and multiples of a particular bondage accessory. (Handout via The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH STORY SLUGGED BEDSIDE TABLE DEVICES BY PENELOPE GREEN. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED.


Bedside table has evolved with our technology

  • New York Times
  • April 2, 2013 - 10:03 AM


Consider the bedside table, a modest domestic surface that nonetheless offers as concise a portrait of human aspirations, anxieties and appetites as one could hope for in 2013. It’s a mess.

Look at the tangle of electronics that hums next to the head of David Rose, 46, a visiting scientist at the MIT Media Lab, as he sleeps — or, more often, doesn’t. Rose, the inventor of what is known as “glanceable technology,” which embeds digital interfaces in objects like light bulbs and cabinetry, has a Zeo sleep monitor, a Philips Sleep light (it dims as he gets ready for shut-eye), a cordless phone, an iPhone, a Bose speaker dock that his wife uses as her phone charger, a wristwatch and a few paperbacks. All of that is jammed onto the 18-by-24-inch landscapes of a pair of Ikea nightstands that he and his wife have had for decades.

The addition of new technologies has roiled this already crowded space. And designers and manufacturers are puzzling over how to mediate the mess.

Sleep surveys confirm the digital invasion of the bedroom. In the most recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to “sleep health,” conducted in 2011, 72 percent of respondents reported that they take their phone to bed with them; 49 percent said they take a computer or tablet; and 13 percent, an e-reader. In 2010, a Pew Research poll found that 90 percent of those between 18 and 29 slept with their cellphones next to the bed.

And it appears these devices are augmenting all sorts of bedroom behaviors. In a recent GQ magazine feature on decorating the bedroom, readers are cautioned not to check their smartphones after sex. “We know that looking at your phone is the new smoking after sex,” reads the caption, “but at least wait until she leaves the room.”

Decorators struggle with order in this area in part because they prefer to flank a bed with drawer-free tables (Celerie Kemble, a Manhattan designer, said, “I like bistro tables, cabriole tables, even outdoor furniture”) instead of actual nightstands.

But that affinity, Kemble said, “leaves the conundrum of how do you hide the electronics? The iPad and the Kindle, most clients have both. And the iPhone and the BlackBerry. Don’t forget the Invisalign, the night-grinding guards, the sleep apnea masks and the birth control. You have to have the conversation about birth control before you shop for the table. Single guys have to have someplace to put the condoms. And what about the meds, the Ambien and the Viagra? Or earplugs? And for late-night worries, you need a place to put a pad of paper and a pen.”

To corral all this stuff, Kemble has used silver trays, antique tea caddies or boxes, small chests and even desks with surge protectors fitted into the drawers. For significant equipment issues, she suggested, “How about a skirted table and a big tray you can whisk everything onto and slide underneath?”

Tiffiny Johnson, a senior buyer at Design Within Reach, said it’s a particular challenge for modernists or anyone for whom a drawer-less side table and a single paperback is an aesthetic ideal. “The new devices have made us think about what the customer really uses it for,” she said. “Books are going away. Everyone has their books on their devices, and the devices are getting smaller. And there’s cord escape. We have to be thinking about where is the power source.”

A new collection designed by Jeffrey Bernett and Nicholas Dodziuk and out this August, offers three scenarios: a bed with storage underneath and a small round table that clips to its side; a bed with a large headboard and floating nightstands with drawers; and the third, “a wide, grand bed,” Johnson said, “and a more traditional nightstand, with open and concealed storage, for stuff that’s more private.”

William Georgis, an architect who designs glamorous modern environments, said he occasionally puts hidden drawers in the bedside furniture he creates for clients. In one instance, in the single drawer of a parchment-covered nightstand with bronze feet that he designed for a family with young children, there was a pullout tray concealing a drawer-within-a-drawer, like an 18th-century desk might have had to hide love letters.

“It takes you to the next level,” Georgis said. “We are designing for the toys.”

Modern storage

Maurice Blanks, one of the principals of Blu Dot, the contemporary furnituremaker in Minneapolis, was equally upfront about all the gear his company’s bedroom furniture is designed to accommodate. In Blu Dot’s online catalog, you will read that the Modu-licious nightstand ($499) can hold six copies of Architectural Digest and multiple numbers of one particularly fearsome bondage accessory.

“Most of our conversation focuses on closed storage,” Blanks said. “People are spending more time in their bedrooms, and their bedroom behavior has changed. And modernism has gotten less dogmatic in the last 10 years. People are wanting modern to be more functional. The perfect little pedestal table with one book is maybe not as appealing.”

Technology is changing so fast, Blanks added, that it is best for furnituremakers to address it in only the most general ways — with cord management, for example, usually a hole in the back of a drawer or shelf, but nothing as specific as a docking station — so that the pieces will be relevant a decade from now.

Social scientists say that bedrooms are honest spaces, because they are private. If you show your best self, or who you hope others see you as, in your living room, your real self can be found on that nightstand.

Sam Gosling, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You,” said, “Look for disconnects: Is there Plato, Shakespeare and Goethe on the living room shelves and trashy novels on the bedside table?”

Of course, Gosling added, we show our aspirations in the bedroom, as well — for example, in the stacks of books we hope to read but never quite get to. “My stack of books not only lets you know that I read, but tells you something about my aspirations,” he said. “And how unrealistic I am about my expectations.”


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