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The Lowdown the Low Tables in Art & Design

The history of the coffee table, or low table, is a history tied to consumer behavior and social life. The invention of the coffee table followed the centuries-long tradition of the tea-table. The increase in popularity of this central piece of home furniture was in keeping with patterns of people’s primary choice of hot, caffeinated beverage – coffee. Today it not only serves as the centerpiece of our main living areas, but in its many styles and forms, is also an expression of personal style in the home.

Before the coffee table, the tea table was in fashion for over a century as tea became widely available throughout the eighteenth century, primarily in England. Tea tables were greatly different in appearance to today’s coffee tables. In contrast to tea tables with their tilting tops, central pillars, and tripod legs, coffee tables are lower to the ground, usually at the same height as the sofa cushion, and generally have four legs. This change in form was necessitated by an increase in casual home gatherings and a preference for coffee over tea as American’s choice of hot beverage. This change took place over the course of the nineteenth century; coffee was marketed as the pick-me-up drink of choice for workers and settlers moving west and was primarily consumed in the workplace. Eventually some coffee companies began marketing their product to women at home so that it became routine to brew a pot every morning for their working husbands and serve the drink when friends and family came to visit. This idea is in keeping with a century-old origin story of the coffee table. It is rumored that the president of the Imperial Furniture Company, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, F. Stuart Foote, cut down the legs of a dining table for his wife when she was preparing for an upcoming gathering. The low-to-the-ground coffee table used for casual social get-togethers was born. It is also thought that the height of the table was inspired by similar low tables used in tea gardens throughout Asia and the Ottoman empire. As the twentieth century progressed, Americans eased into relaxed social atmospheres, lounging on sofas over previous straight-back and formal furniture. Furniture makers seized this opportunity to market this new style of table as a must-have in the home.

The first coffee tables were typically made of sturdy wood which recalled furniture forms such as the tea-table. Today, you can find almost any material and style to fit your design aesthetic. Our upcoming Art & Design sale features low tables in a range of styles. You will find traditionally inspired forms such as this Iron Red Lacquer Low Table (lot 247) or the Large Japanese Low Table (lot 318). Glass-top tables, shagreen-covered forms, and geometric-pattern tops provide a more contemporary look. Of course, no coffee table is complete without a stack of coffee table books and perhaps a vase of fresh flowers or other decorative objects. As we continue to invite people into our homes in-person or stage our living areas for virtual gathering, a new coffee table could be just the thing to revamp your space and give it a touch of personal style.

Time & Location

Art & Design
Thursday, March 3 at 11am

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