Coffee Tables, Both Simple and Diverse

Real Estate Sales Representative with William Raveis Real Estate

The classic sitcom Seinfeld may rival Shakespeare for the number of neologisms it has given us—“low talker,” “regifting,” and “anti-dentite” among them—and it has also brought us the holiday Festivus and the career of The Original Soupman. But there is still one area of the Seinfeld universe that has yet to come into being: I am still waiting for my coffee table book about coffee tables.

Okay, granted, Alexander Payne published The Coffee Table Coffee Table Book, a collection of a few avant-garde coffee table designs, but it didn’t seem to measure up to the all-encompassing exploration that many of us envisioned Cosmo Kramer producing. It also did not unfold into its own coffee table shape.

The original coffee tables were actually tea tables, developed in the late 18th century in Europe and Britain. These tables were quite a bit higher than the coffee tables we are used to today, and they initially were placed behind the sofa. Human nature being what it is, eventually other items found their way to this new open surface; lamps, books and other amusements.

These early examples evolved into the lower models that made their way to the front of the sofa, although the history of this transition remains unclear. Two possible cultural influences on the Victorians may be the chabudai, a low table found in traditional Japanese homes, and the tables used in tea gardens in the Ottoman Empire.

With the mechanization of manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution, the basic design was standardized to the low and unadorned form we know today. J. Stuart Foote, president of the Imperial Furniture Company, claimed all the credit for inventing the coffee table himself in 1920, and marketed their functionality to Americans with vigor. Some have even theorized that the introduction of television into the average suburban home helped solidify the basic design of these fixtures, the low profile of which could accommodate beverages and TV dinners without obstructing the view of the screen.

Every design trend has created its own version of this simple fixture, including the return to a handmade esthetic in the Arts and Crafts movement, the strong geometric shapes of Art Deco, and the industrial-inspired use of glass and steel with purity of form in the Bauhaus movement. Perhaps the simplicity of the form of the coffee table helps give designers greater freedom in their creativity.

The ingenuity of interior designers in more recent times has made the coffee table multifunctional, with shelves and drawers built in underneath for storage. With the individualized artisan movement of today, it’s not uncommon to go online or watch a competivite show about flea market finds and see either coffee tables repurposed into other objects, or other objects repurposed into coffee tables.

To read the rest of this column, click here. Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester ( His real estate site is, and his blog is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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Debbie Gartner
The Flooring Girl - White Plains, NY
The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers

Thx for all this history and trivia.  You may be interested to know that we know the inventors of "Festivus" as they went to our high school, Horace Greeley.  And, yes, they invented it back then.

Oct 25, 2015 09:05 PM #1
David Gibson CNE, 719-304-4684 ~ Colorado Springs Relocation
Colorado Real Estate Advisers LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Relocation, Luxury & Lifestyle residential



It will be interesting to see how the lowly coffee table continues to evolve. Wireless recharging for our devices, a built in tablet, etc.

Oct 26, 2015 02:32 AM #2
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