The Coffee Table…from Humble Beginnings to Star Status!

Date: 26 Jun 2014
By: Seaside Interiors
Comments: 0

It was a humble beginning for the “low”-ly coffee table in the early 1900s.  But the coffee table has come a long way since then, evolving beautifully with the ever-changing design trends of the times.  Regardless of whether your home décor is traditional, ultra-modern, coastal or otherwise, the coffee table could be deemed as one of the most versatile pieces of furniture in the family living space today!

            Antique tea table                                              1920s coffee table 

Prior to the 20th century, tea was the beverage of choice for any respectable hostess at home.  It wasn’t until the 1920s that coffee began to soar in popularity.  It was around the same time that J. Stuart Foote, president of the Imperial Furniture Company, had the idea to saw the legs off a rectangular wooden table, making it convenient for one to rest a hot cup of coffee on while seated as compared to using the tall tea tables and trolleys of the time.  In that moment of genius, the name “coffee table” was born.  The abolishment of Prohibition in the 1930s brought about the addition of another marketable, yet not as widely accepted name, the “cocktail table.” 

                                                   1950s chrome and glass coffee table 

Over time, coffee tables have morphed into a variety of forms, shapes, and sizes.  The tables have also been created from a number of unique materials, most notable being the chrome plated legs and glass top models, first introduced in the 1950s, yet enduring in popularity for decades beyond.  Coffee tables have also moved way beyond the purpose of merely serving as a resting place for beverages.  

In addition to being the perfect make-shift ottoman for resting your feet, and the best place for serving appetizers and snacks, the coffee table is ideal for many other uses as well, both practical and decorative:  

    1. Playing games– Coffee tables provide the perfect space for playing board games or cards.  If your family is a die-hard fan of one of the more well-known games such as Scrabble or Monopoly, there are attractive, decorative wood versions available that make beautiful display pieces on your coffee table – and as a bonus, are always set up and ready for a spontaneous round of play.
    2. Book Display – The term “Coffee-table book” is widely used these days.  It refers to “an oversized, primarily pictorial book, usually hard-covered, whose place is for display on a table.  It is intended for use in an area in which one would entertain guests and from which it can act to inspire conversation.” (Wikipedia)  For obvious reasons, be sure to select one containing subject matter that is relevant to you or your family’s interests.

                     Table with shelf                                                Wicker Trunk Table

    3. Storage – A coffee table with a built-in shelf underneath provides a handy place for neatly stacking reading material.  For coffee tables with floor space underneath, a large, shallow, decorative basket is also great for containing periodicals, photo albums or even dog toys!   Coffee tables designed as chests are quite convenient for storing lap blankets, games, and other items you use, but don’t want to display every day.  Antique wood or woven wicker trunks can also be repurposed for use as excellent coffee tables.  Not only are they convenient for stashing all sorts of things, but also add a lot of character to a room.
         Reclaimed wood table 1                                       Reclaimed wood table 2
    4. Decorative– The coffee table is often the focal point of a family/living room.  Some coffee tables are designed for practical use while others are designed to be lovely statement pieces.  Glass topped coffee tables, for example, are generally more suitable for looks than for function.  Whether for practical purposes or aesthetics, the surface of a coffee table can still be decorative.  Here are a few suggestions: 
  • Avoid cluttering the top of your coffee table.
  • Use an odd number of items, usually no more than 3 or 5, to create a vignette (decorative grouping of displayed objects.)  TIP:  Start with a dominant piece, such as a plant or flower arrangement and add two other items of differing, yet relatable, height, shape or size.  
  • A large decorative tray is ideal for displaying a simple vignette of a few medium-large objects.  It is also a great way to exhibit a collection of smaller pieces or to neatly contain everyday items such as magazines that can be fanned out on the tray, rather than piled. 
  • Consider the height of the objects on your coffee table. Be sure they do not block the view of people conversing across the room or prevent them from viewing the TV.   Change out the objects on your coffee table seasonally.  Try replacing a plant or flower arrangement with a seasonal one.  You can also convert the look of a favorite everyday piece by simply adding a seasonal touch.  For instance, a tall glass vase, large jars or a decorative bowl can easily be transformed season to season by adding different types of “fillers,” such as seashells, pinecones, shiny holiday ornaments, moss-covered balls, etc.

No matter how you choose to use yours, one thing is for sure…the coffee table continues to be a staple piece in most home, and is not going away any time soon.  In fact, the coffee table as we know it, is about to be revolutionized futuristically in the next 3-5 years.  Microsoft is in the process of developing a touchscreen coffee tabletop for home use. It will contain the same technology already available in the current Microsoft Surface device.  Users will be able to gather around the coffee table to view photos, watch the news, play games and more!  Not only will it make the coffee table even more versatile than ever, but a family favorite and crowd pleaser as well!

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