Have you ever stopped to give some thought to the coffee table? Probably not. Almost every living room features a sofa or couch, some chairs, perhaps recliners… and a coffee table. A coffee table is a low table that sits in front of a couch. Of course, it’s the obvious place to set a drink upon. But why is it called a coffee table? Why isn’t it called a soda table or water table? Actually, in some areas, a coffee table it referred to as a cocktail table, another sort of drink altogether!
The coffee table does have some known history that helps explain its own unique story. Before there were coffee tables, there were tea tables. Tea tables were taller, the height of a regular dining table, and had a small top. Sometimes they had hinged leaves that could be extended for a larger surface. Tea was an important part of life in the 1700’s, and many living rooms of the period had tea tables, or tea carts, which had wheels, allowing them to be brought into a room at tea time with all the necessary ingredients.
In the mid to late 1800’s, the Anglo-Japanese style was hugely popular in Europe. Keep in mind that the custom in countries such as Japan and India is to dine at low tables, much closer to the ground than the dining tables we are used to. And, right about this time, in 1868, the first table named a “coffee table” was designed and produced in large quantities in England. In fact, even though coffee tables didn’t come into being until then, due to the popularity of revivalism, they were often made in the Louis XVI style or Georgian style.
Today, coffee tables are common place and a nice addition to almost any living room. They hold our drinks and snacks, perhaps some magazines or books, and are often the spot that is chosen for the array of remote controls that most American homes have need for, for everything from the television to the game console or surround sound system. Coffee tables can be modern and sleek, made of glass and steel, or they can be rustic, made from weathered wood and wrought iron. They can be contemporary or classic, from rich wood like cherry or a nice solid oak. Next time you glance at your coffee table, take a minute to think about its interesting story in the history of furniture
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