In a previous essay I gave a brief overview of the various types of what are commonly referred to as “occasional tables”. Now I’d like to go into greater depth concerning what I deem to be the king of all occasional tables, namely the coffee table.
In times of yore the entire family would often inhabit a single-roomed cottage. The hearth was the source of warmth, light and the place where cooking was done. When the meal was prepared all would gather around and partake of it there. Over time living conditions improved in modern civilization, and houses grew larger. A distinction was created between the cooking and dining areas. In addition, the dining and living areas were separated, thus creating the kitchen, dining room and living room, not to mention the family room or den, which is often a less formal space for intimate family lounging and entertainment. Today the coffee table is almost always placed in the living room, directly in front of and parallel to the sofa.
It is my contention that in our modern lifestyle the coffee table fulfills many of the primordial functions of the ancient hearth, but in a subliminal fashion. The coffee table provides a surface upon which refreshments and even entire meals are served. When we lounge on the couch the coffee table is our companion, as it were, providing us with a place for food and drinks, reading material and the remote controls for the television and audio system. In many ways the coffee table actually overshadows the dining table in importance. We tend to spend considerably more time, engaged in a variety of activities, enjoying the benefits of the coffee table in the living room, than we do in the dining room.
This, then, presents us with a bit of a dilemma: When designing custom furniture should we design the coffee table to comfortably fit in with the casual atmosphere which often reins in the living space? Or should we grant the coffee table a privileged status, and see it as the most important representation of our design aesthetic when hosting and entertaining? Whatever one’s view is in this matter, I believe that it’s important to devote considerable attention to the design of the coffee table, in order to achieve the perfectly matched piece for one’s lifestyle.
In my opinion the coffee table provides us with an opportunity to create a conversation piece of fine custom made furniture. It allows us to be a bit less anticipated and to show off our more creative side. Various examples of such coffee tables can be seen in my web site (click custom coffee tables).
In summary, we have seen the crucial roles the coffee table plays in setting the ambiance for our living area. Given the critical functions it fulfills we must realize that the coffee table is worthy of our attention and respect.