The Ubiquitous Coffee Table

For sure, one home accent we can’t seem to live with out is our beloved coffee table. Not just for coffee but the ultimate solution for displaying that $80 coffee table you picked up at The Strand, propping up your feet and piling up the remotes. (Is your table a bit light in the book department? Check out the 20 Greatest Coffee Table Books of All Time.)

The golden age of the coffee table was most certainly the mid-century. Coffee clatches were de riguer amongst Suzy homemakers in neighborboods across the U.S. Furniture designer Joseph Aronson writes in 1938 about a “Low wide table now used before a sofa or couch. There is no historical precedent…,” suggesting that coffee tables were a late development in the history of furniture. With the increasing availability of television sets starting in the 1950s, coffee tables really came into their own since they are low enough, even with cups and glasses on them, not to obstruct the view of the TV.

sally edelstein collage

The coffee table is now getting its due with updated materials, such as vintage and repurposed objects, modern new shapes and creative sizing. For anyone who truly loves interior décor, a coffee table is not just another surface to collect stuff. It can now be viewed as the centerpiece of your living area.

repurposed suitcase as coffee table

(Re-purposed vintage suitcase make a unique coffee table with storage to boot! From Redesign Revolution.)go home ltd. coffee tables

(From GO Home Ltd.’s coffee table selection, Rockwell Coffee Table inspired by vintage art storage drawers, the Strip Coffee Table and The Throwback Coffee Table taking its cues from an industrial factory cart.)

Coffee tables were thought to initially be constructed in Renaissance England. In Europe, the first tables specifically designed as and called coffee tables, appear to have been made in Britain during the late Victorian era. According to the listing in Victorian Furniture by R. W. Symonds & B. B. Whineray and also in The Country Life Book of English Furniture by Edward T. Joy, a table designed by E. W. Godwin in 1868 and made in large numbers by William Watt, and Collinson and Lock, is a coffee table. If this is correct it may be one of the earliest made in Europe. Other sources, however, list it only as “table” so this can be stated categorically. Far from being a low table, this table was about twenty-seven inches high.

Later coffee tables were designed as low tables and this idea may have come from the Ottoman Empire, based on the tables in use in tea gardens. However, as the Anglo-Japanese style was popular in Britain throughout the 1870s and 1880s and low tables were common in Japan, this seems to be an equally likely source for the concept of a long low table.

From the late 19th century onwards, many coffee tables were subsequently made in earlier styles due to the popularity of revivalism, so it is quite possible to find Louis XVI style coffee tables or Georgian style coffee tables, but there seems to be no evidence of a table actually made as a coffee table before this time.

The coffee table… possible one of the greatest home accents ever. Could you do without yours? Talk amongst yourselves!

(photo credits: The Vida Coffee Company, Sally Edelstein Collage, Redesign Revolution)

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