Black iron shelves and simple, straight lines make the Burke console table a serious piece, but it can easily be dressed down with a potted plants and colorful books. “Tucking a couple baskets underneath a console does wonders for visual layering,” Corrie says, “not to mention storage” ($499, (Pottery Barn)

Decorating a small space can be like packing for a weekend trip. There’s room for only the essentials, so every piece should be useful, versatile and worth its weight. If space is a commodity, the console table is one of the most valuable pieces on the market.

Not to be confused with boxy side tables or curved demilunes, console tables are narrow and typically rectangular pieces designed to stand against a wall. Although they’re usually used in entryways and halls to hold picture frames and flowers, they can fit just about anywhere. Therein lies their beauty.

“I have a 19th-century walnut trestle table in my guest bedroom,” said Paul Corrie, a Washington designer who found the table through an antiques dealer in New York. “It’s a little bit deeper than a standard console, so I use it as a desk.”

The console’s slender build makes it an easy piece for playing with layouts, so designers encourage experimenting with them. It works as a bedside table or entryway catch-all, or it can be pulled up to a kitchen island or the back of a sofa. Corrie recently used a console table as a buffet for clients in a one-bedroom condo near U Street. When it’s time to entertain guests, the clients slide it next to the dining table and use it to hold wine.

With two roomy drawers and a bottom shelf, the Threshold Windham console table can easily serve as a makeshift entertainment center or sofa table to hold books and movies. Choose a color that contrasts the wall paint for added dimension ($120, (Target)

At just 10 inches deep, the Mill console table is perfect for decorating an empty hallway. That’s what Schuneman did when he moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles and was faced with cramped quarters. “It’s so light and thin,” he said, “but it adds so much” ($299, (CB2)

Kyle Schuneman, a designer who wrote a book about decorating small spaces called “The First Apartment Book,” relies on console tables to define spaces when there aren’t walls to do the job. “When you’re working with small spaces, a lot of times the door opens and you’re in the living room,” he said. “You don’t get a generous foyer, so I use a console table to define the entry.”

Schuneman’s 700-square-foot Los Angeles apartment has a “big eyesore A.C. unit” by the front door. His solution was to place a console table on top of it, making it a home for his keys and a “place to pause” when he walks in.

The console is also about the only piece that can dress up a naked hallway. For this, Corrie recommends choosing tables that reach about 30 inches high, or “dining height,” so that they’re level with most dining tables and countertops.

“Anything higher will feel obtrusive in a tight hallway,” he said. “You need breathing room.” Although console tables don’t have a standard depth, the majority extend 18 to 24 inches from the wall.

The one thing console tables lack is storage space, but even that problem can be solved with a little creative thinking. Capitalize on the console’s open underside and layer smaller tables or slim cabinets underneath the main slab. Together, they’ll function like makeshift nesting tables and offer two or three times the amount of display space.

Buerger is a freelance writer.