Take a break from the electronics and break out the classics: chess for the cerebral, poker for the thrill-seekers, Monopoly for those of us who couldn’t be bothered to learn the rules of either of the above. No matter your game of choice, a vintage gaming table can be a game-changer—literally. While standard dining tables are often too large for intimate game nights, game tables are built for them. In addition to their smaller scale, game tables usually feature ornate board inlays and built-in storage for gaming accouterments like dice and cards. If you’re looking for something more versatile, consider a gaming table that passes as a side table or dining table, but with a flip or swivel of its top, transforms into a proper players’ battleground. Convinced you need one? Consider this your game table playbook! Read on for tips and tricks that will take the guesswork out of how to choose a vintage gaming table, plus score ideas for how to style one in your space.

A colorful backgammon table atop an eclectic game table makes for a chic game area
Design by Tom Scheerer / Photo by Francesco Lagnese/OTTO

What is a game table?

Simply put, a game table is a table featuring painted, inlaid, or needlework designs mapped out for games. Game boards may be concealed by a removable top, a flip-top, or a swivel top. The multifaceted nature of these tables is due in part to their protracted evolution.

Dating as far back as 3,000 BC, people played board games like backgammon on gaming tables. Originating in Persia, tabletop games spread to Egypt, Rome, Mesopotamia, and China. By the 14th century, game tables had reached England, causing quite a commotion among the aristocracy. The nobility began to forbid gaming tables (although such prohibitions weren’t strictly enforced), believing gambling to be sinful.

Nonetheless, gaming tables continued to flourish. In France in the 18th century, furniture makers designed the trictrac table, a multipurpose writing desk and card table that had inlays for trictrac, chess and checkers sequestered underneath the top. The game table continued to evolve. Victorian-era card tables have a thick columnar base and either a flip-top or swivel top. In the mid-18th century, designers also developed a table for both gaming and tea serving. These tables usually have four legs, storage space (sometimes in the form of a secret compartment!), and a polished rectangular top. More recently, gaming table designs have expanded to include diversions like pool and foosball.

A pair of gold pendant lights provide dramatic lighting over a pool table
Design by Cullman & Kravis / Photo by Eric Piasecki/OTTO

Do stylish game tables exist?

Despite their casual purpose, vintage gaming tables often come in sophisticated and alluring styles. Authentic antique game tables can be found in the English-derived and ornamentally exquisite Queen Anne style as well as the American Chippendale style. These tables often feature smooth cabriole legs, sometimes with ball, pad, or claw feet.

More modern game tables iterations showcase no shortage of glamour, either. 1970s-era Lucite game tables with simple, square silhouettes and contemporary acrylic card tables with leather tops will also add luxury to any game room. Chairish’s collection of game room tables is a one-stop-shop for unique antique and vintage game tables that range from the fun and funky to the dignified and majestic.

How do you decide what kind of game table is right for your space?

There are a few questions to ask yourself when locating the right spot for your game table: What kind of games do you like to play? And how often? How many people would you like over for game nights? Does the idea of a dedicated game room excite you? Or would you rather have your game table be part of the periphery of your living room? Understanding the answers to these questions can help you visualize what sort of space you need to accommodate for your gaming table.

A narrow backgammon table provides the perfect space for two wicker chairs.
Design by Katie Ridder / Photo by Eric Piasecki/OTTO

How do you design a stylish game room?

If you’re going all-out and dedicating a basement or attic as a game room, consider a larger game table. Foosball, ping pong, and pool tables are all crowd-favorites that require a good amount of space. Poker tables are also perfect for game rooms—they provide that singular space designed for you to get in the zone and make your best bet.

Whether you utilize a foosball, poker, or chess table, focus on seating and textiles to make your game room feel like an authentic room that’s worthy of spending time in. Opt for comfortable side chairs that are light enough to move around, should you need more seats at the game table. Textiles in the form of rugs, curtains, and wallpapers will also elevate any game room into a refined and intentional-feeling space.

Just like when you design any other room, lighting is also key in a game room. Layered lighting (discover designer lighting tips here) adds dimension to any game room. If you want to spotlight your game table with direct light, look for a table, desk, or floor lamp.

Is it possible to work a game table into a living room or bedroom?

If you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated game room, small game tables can be efficiently shoehorned into the corner of a living room or bedroom. Best suited for tête-à-têtes, smaller game tables are usually carved out of specimen wood and come with flip tops that conceal game board inlays. Their covert nature makes these small game tables ideal double-duty decor. Use one as a side table or desk in between games of gin rummy. When it’s game time, simply bust out your game pieces and reveal your board!

To lend bedroom and living room game tables a more casual air, try outfitting them with non-traditional chairs, like ottomans. Below, designer Sherry Shirah uses ottomans to dress down the look of a game table tucked into the corner of a living room. A throw rug makes the area feel intentionally designed, while a distressed urn offsets the chess table’s gravitas.

Two ottomans surround a small game table shoehorned into a living room corner
Design by/Photo courtesy of Sherry Shirah / Photo by Jacqueline Marque

Can a dining table work as a game table?

The short answer is: of course! But because dining tables—especially stately, hefty ones—can feel austere, integrate more casual seating to make it feel more like a game table. A built-in banquette or bench can create balance and add a more relaxed and friendly feel. Having something as dignified as an antique dining table also presents the opportunity to have some fun, using color and playful detailing. In the room below, the Chicago-based firm James Thomas Interiors accents a round dining table with a bright orange Windsor chair, a custom banquette featuring an awning-like scallop detailing, and patterned throw pillows. The result is a casual and cozy game room-like space, perfect for some friendly competition!

A dining table turned game table is surrounded by a banquette and a bold accent chair
Design by James Thomas Interiors / Photo by Richard Powers

Your Cheatsheet to Decorating with Vintage Game Tables…

  • Vintage game tables are perfect for competitive game nights. They’re usually smaller and have flip or swivel tops that conceal game board inlays.
  • Game tables have a long history. They first appeared in 3,000 BC.
  • Antique Queen Anne or Chippendale game tables are excellent choices if you’re looking for a traditional game table.
  • For those who are more partial to retro design, vintage iterations like 1970s-era acrylic game tables are available.
  • To decide on the right game table for you, consider what games you like to play, how many people you routinely like to play with, and the size of the room your game table will be used in.
  • To design a game room, focus on seating, textiles, and lighting.
  • Use comfortable side chairs that are light enough to be moved around in a game room.
  • Dining tables can be used as game tables. Introduce playful color and pattern to make a dining table feel more like a proper game table.

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Lead image design by Kerry Joyce / Photo by Trevor Tondro/OTTO


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January 4, 2022

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