Monthly Archives: April 2000

A Brief History of Coffee Tables

The history of coffee tables dates back to the late 18th century during the Victorian Era. During this period, they were actually used for placing cups of tea-as that was the de rigueur drink of the time, at the height of fashion–every one drank tea.

Burbuja coffee table  ingot coffee table


This led to an increasing demand for tea tables. This were generally taller than today’s low slung coffee tables; however, as time progressed and as the high backed settees that were so popular during the second half of the seventeenth century were replaced by low back sofas, what we now know as coffee tables were put into use.


  Strike Coffee Table

These tables were expressly designed to stand at the back of the sofa, and they were used to place books, candles and coffee or tea. The very first tables to be called as such were designed in Britain.These were constructed out of wood.


Again these were generally higher than our contemporary coffee tables. The low height may have come about with influence from the practically floor level Japanese tables in tandem with the Ottoman-styled table found in tea gardens. Coffee tables, then are a relatively new invention. The coffee table developed with the increasing availability of materials and with the rise of mass production and thus affordability. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, wooden furniture making was eventually industrialized. During the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, there was a desire to restore hand crafted furniture, in particular, the individual style of the craftsmen. During that time coffee tables were made, but examples are hard to find. During the Art Nouveau period, which grew out of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a variety of styles emerged. The coffee tables of this period stayed away from the ornate embellishments so favored by the Victorians; instead, clean, simple lines and emphasis on natural forms were encouraged. Art Deco combined contrasting points of inspiration; artists of the era were influenced by primitivism and modern technology, such as airplanes and locomotives. Followers of the movement adhered to geometric shapes and curves, as well as straighter lines, more attuned to the machine age. The coffee tables of this era utilize formica laminate, which was discovered at that time. In design, they tend to be simple and streamlined. The Bauhaus movement which emerged out of Germany valorized purity of form. They often used glass and steel within their works. These movements influenced modern styles, which were becoming more and more eclectic. More materials, such as combinations of wood and glass and chromium plating as well as acrylic were used. Today’s vast range of coffee table styles reflect their somewhat long and varied past. These days you can find simple, round coffee tables that echo today’s modern minimalistic aesthetic; however you can also find a treasure trove of assorted styles mirroring history. You’ve got faux Victorian style, clean and sleek Bauhaus affairs, and even retro 60’s kitsch. There are futuristic inspired tables with lego legs and glass tops. You can find tables made out of old bathtubs or doors. There’s really no limit when it comes to designs.

Author: Bill William

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