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The not-just-for-coffee table

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 10, 2022 5:00 am

As we have spent more time in our living rooms, next to the sofa, the coffee table is easily one of the most important pieces of furniture we cannot do without — for beverages, snacks, the remote, newspapers, magazines, laptops, gadgets, and yes, coffee-table books. It can also be a platform for decorative objects, from flowers to art pieces to keepsakes. That said, let’s give it the attention it deserves.

F. Stuart Foote of the Imperial Furniture Co. in Michigan claimed to have invented the coffee table in the 1950s while helping his wife prepare for a party by shortening the legs of an existing dining table to create a centerpiece from where she could serve coffee. This is heavily disputed, of course, since tables for tea and other drinks have been made since the 1700s. The first ones specifically designed as and called “coffee tables” were made in Britain in the late Victorian era. A table designed by EW Goodwin in 1868 could be the first one, but far from being a low table, it was 27 inches high.

Different textures are always welcome, but they have to harmonize with the overall color scheme of the other furniture and the interiors.

Later, they were designed as low tables, probably influenced by the Ottoman tables used in tea gardens or the Japanese ones, which influenced the Anglo-Japanese style of the 1870s to ’80s. When TV sets entered the home in the 1950s, the average height of 18 inches may have been established so that it was low enough even with cups and glasses so that the view was not obstructed.

The height now hovers from 16 to 19 inches high, less than the 27 inches of a tea table, and around one to two inches lower than the seat of the sofa. The coffee table is usually two-thirds of the sofa’s length, with a space of 14-18 inches’ legroom in between, but of course you can make variations based on aesthetics, the floor area and how you utilize the space with your other pieces of furniture.

Do a floor plan first

Demir round coffee tables of Triboa Bay Living from Betis Pampanga

As in any space, you have to devise a floor plan so that you know how big the furniture pieces will be and also what kind of sofa and seating will suit you before you decide on the coffee table.

Choose a shape

Square tables go well with a square or U-shaped seating layout.

An elliptical coffee table with decorative objects, placed diagonally for a long L-shaped sofa

Rectangular tables work well in front of a single sofa or when used between two sofas opposite each other. An elliptical option can provide dynamic contrast to the angular lines.

Round coffee tables from Cassina

Round tables work with L-shaped sectionals and can be a good foil if you have too many square and rectangular shapes existing in the design and layout. Round nesting tables are also a good option, especially when entertaining, so you have more flexibility to expand your serving space.

Eileen rectangular coffee table with drinks tray and book, from Kassavello

Multiple small tables in other shapes like squares or hexagons can also add flexibility to suit your needs, as well as to break the monotony of traditional geometric furniture arrangements. These can come in the same height, which allows you to group them together to create a larger table or in different heights, which are more interesting to look at.

Choose a design

The Marlo coffee table in mahogany from Philippine furniture exporter Mejore has legs perfect for sofas upholstered all the way to the floor.

Natural materials in a country look from Malaga-based Guadarte

There are many to choose from in different materials, from marble to wood, metal and glass. Different textures are always welcome, but they have to harmonize with the overall color scheme of the other furniture and the interiors. The style also matters, like if your sofa has legs, maybe it’s better to choose a table without legs; and if your sofa has no legs and is upholstered all the way to the ground, a solid, massive table without legs would make the look too heavy. It’s ideal to play with contrasts in styles and eras, like modern vis-a vis Baroque antiques and Orientalia. A plush ottoman with legs may be a good option, adding warmth and texture and veering away from the usual table designs. A tray in lacquer or silver can be used on top for a stable platform for drinks.

Oriental coffee table setting

Baroque coffee table setting

A tray is also helpful in keeping things together on a big table where you can have a floral arrangement in a vase, a candlestick and/or different objets d’art that act as a centerpiece. Crystal or Lucite stands and stacks of small books can be used to showcase pieces. Whatever you choose, be adventurous in combining the different elements, as it’s all part of the fun of decorating. As the coffee table is used through time, you can see what works for you and the look will certainly evolve, just as the layout and interiors change with your style of living and entertaining.