Skip to Content

Dresser vs. Nightstand

This is a luxurious bedroom with a dresser and a nightstand.

Furnishing a bedroom from scratch or renovating an old bedroom is a really fun task, especially if you can afford to buy some new furniture. Depending on your space and budget, you could get a whole bedroom suite or just update a couple of pieces. Two common bedroom items are a dresser and a nightstand. Do you need both? What’s the difference between a dresser and a nightstand?

A dresser and a nightstand are both bedroom furniture. A dresser is a horizontal chest of drawers, often with a mirror on top, to store clothes.  A nightstand is a bedside table or cabinet for storage and display and usually holds a lamp and other items needed at night or early morning.

Before spending ages shopping online or wandering through furniture shops, it’s helpful to know the function of different pieces of bedroom furniture. Sure, a bed is straightforward. But you also probably use your bedroom for relaxing in bed and for getting dressed. How can a dresser and nightstand work best for you?

The Difference Between A Dresser And A Nightstand

This bedroom has a dark brown wooden dresser and a small nightstand that matches the bed.

Although dressers and nightstands are both items of furniture you’d commonly find in a bedroom, they differ in terms of function, which influences their size, shape, and design.

Dresser Vs. Nightstand: Different Functions

The biggest difference between a dresser and a nightstand is their function.

The Function Of A Dresser

Progressive Furniture Willow Drawer Dresser with Mirror, Distressed Pine

Click image for more info

The term “dresser” is a little confusing as it refers to different kinds of furniture in American and British English and refers to more than one item historically.

The word “dresser” in American English comes from the British term “dressing table,” which is a low table at which usually a woman sits to put on her make-up and do her hair. Often, this item of furniture is called a vanity table or a lowboy in American English.

However, the function of a dresser is more than just a dressing table – most bedroom dressers are slightly taller than vanity tables. They have several wide, horizontal, stacked drawers for storing clothes.

A dresser differs from a chest of drawers, bureau, or highboy, a taller and narrower set of stacked drawers. Most dressers are only waist height and have a space for a mirror on top of them, often an attached mirror, harking back to their function as a dressing table.

Dressers are common in the bedroom, but in British English, a dresser is an item of kitchen furniture – instead of the mirror above, it has a series of open shelves for storing plates and crockery.

The Function Of A Nightstand

Prepac Sonoma Tall 2-Drawer Nightstand, Black

Click image for more info

A nightstand or bedside table is a small piece of furniture designed to stand at the head of the bed to hold items you need at bedtime or during the night. As with any item of furniture, you can use a nightstand for display purposes as well.

Most people put a lamp on their nightstand and often store and charge their mobile phone there overnight. Bookworms will keep their current book or to-be-read pile on the nightstand, while others will have their IPad at hand, while many people keep a photograph of a loved one nearby.

You might want to place an alarm clock, tissues, a glass of water, any medication to be taken in the evening or early morning, and perhaps hand cream or a sleep mask on the nightstand as well.

Dresser Vs. Nightstand: Different Shapes And Sizes

This is a bedroom with a small wooden nightstand and a large wooden dresser.

Because of their differing functions, dressers and nightstands have come to have different shapes and sizes to meet the user’s needs.

The Shape and Size Of A Dresser

Walker Edison Mid Century Modern Grooved Handle Wood Dresser Bedroom Storage Drawer Organizer Closet Hallway, 6 Drawer, Caramel

Click image for more info

Whether you want a dresser to use as a vanity table or simply to store your clothes, you will need to choose the right shape and size.

  • Horizontal dressers or standard dressers are waist-height with a series of three to six horizontal drawers for storing clothes, toiletries, etc. They do not have a mirror attached but a flat, table-like surface to place a mirror, store books, or display flowers or a collection of beautiful perfume bottles.
  • The bachelor’s chest is a small, narrow single-column dresser. Instead of a mirror above, these dressers originally had a slanted top surface for use as a desk.
  • Double dressers are the same height as standard dressers but double the length, usually with a double column of drawers and a matching mirror. These are large items of furniture, useful for a couple. However, you will need a large bedroom if you want to include a double dresser.
  • Combo dressers combine columns of horizontal drawers and cabinets with doors and shelves and can be at home in either a bedroom or a dining room. These dressers are sometimes a little taller to include both types of storage space.

The Shape And Size Of A Nightstand

VECELO Modern Night Stand, End Side Table with Storage Space and Door, Nightstands with Flip Drawers for Living Room,Bedroom,Lounge,Set of 2, Rustic Brown

Click image for more info

Nightstands vary from simple low tables to miniature chests of drawers. There is an enormous variety of shapes and sizes of nightstands to choose from, but the main element to take note of is height: nightstands are usually as high as the mattress or a little taller, so it will depend on how substantial a bed you have.

  • Bedside tables are low tables placed next to the bed. Round or square tables make the simplest kind of nightstand, especially if you have a minimalist approach to your bedroom. These tables offer very little storage space but are often the least expensive option.
  • Miniature chests of drawers with a single column of drawers are also popular as nightstands. These little chests stand as high as the mattress and are useful in offering additional storage, especially if you have a small bedroom with little storage space.
  • Bedside cabinets are another shape of nightstand, offering a combination of table surface, drawers, and a cupboard or open shelf space for storing larger items (or piles of books).
  • Small dressers can also function as nightstands, especially if you have space and want additional storage. However, the dresser will stand a little higher than the mattress.

Dresser Vs. Nightstand: Different Designs

This is a bedroom that has a Baroque style dresser and nightstand.

Once you have decided on how and for what you want to use your dresser and nightstand for and what size and shape you like, you can then explore the world of furniture design and aesthetics.

Most people want their bedroom furniture to match, so they would choose a similar design for their dresser and nightstands – there is a design to suit every taste and budget.

Popular nightstand and dresser designs include:

  • Baroque: Furniture in this ornate, extravagant style is typically made in mahogany or dark wood and includes intricate carvery and gold embellishments and handles. Sometimes this design is also called Louis IVX, after the French King in the fifteenth century.
  • Georgian: A simpler style, early American furniture brought from England was in this elegant style, also similar to Queen Anne and early Chippendale styles. This furniture had curved legs and ball-and-claw feet.
  • Shaker: A true American style, the Shakers created minimalist furniture, where the beauty of the pale wood and the simple shapes come to the fore. Wood sometimes combines with wickerwork.
  • Mid-century modern: The fifties’ style is edgy and vintage and has stood the test of time. This retro look with interesting angles and shapes is still popular.
  • Contemporary: Up-to-date design varies enormously but is characterized by clean lines and unusual materials, including metal.


Dressers and nightstands are useful bedroom furniture items and differ in function, size, and shape, although their design can be similar. Both items are for storage and display. A dresser is larger, with wide horizontal drawers to contain clothes and a mirror for doing hair and make-up, while a nightstand is a small bedside table that holds essentials for the evening and early morning.


Madison Seating: Know Your Furniture: Dresser, Armoire or Chest of Drawers

Home Stratosphere: 21 Types of Dressers & Chest of Drawers for Your Bedroom (Great Ideas)

Home Stratosphere: 30 Different Types of Nightstands for Your Bedroom (Buying Guide)

Wayfair: Dresser and Chest Style Guide

More House Plans