History Of Coffee Tables

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Coffee Table Origins

In Europe, the first tables specifically designed as and called coffee tables, appear to have been made in Britain during the late Victorian era.

Later coffee tables were designed as low tables and this idea may have come from the Ottoman Empire, based on the tables in use in tea gardens. However, as the Anglo-Japanese style was popular in Britain throughout the 1870s and 1880s and low tables were common in Japan, this seems to be an equally likely source for the concept of a long low table. The use of similar tables has been recorded in the ancient Greek era, following the Roman conquest of North-East Africa.

 Joseph Aronson writing in 1938 defines a coffee table as a, "Low wide table now used before a sofa or couch. There is no historical precedent...," suggesting that coffee tables were a late development in the history of furniture. With the increasing availability of television sets from the 1950s onwards coffee tables really came into their own since they are low enough, even with cups and glasses on them, not to obstruct the view of the TV.



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Tea Or Coffee?

The idea of a table specifically used for serving hot drinks or putting down one's cup between sips predates the coffee table in Europe by some time. In Britain in 1750 tea drinking was at the height of fashion and there was increasing demand for tea tables. There were pillar and claw tripod tea tables with a round top that were later hinged and were taller than present day coffee tables. There were also examples of tea or china tables that were rectangular. Other forms of tables in use at this time which could be placed near to a sofa were called occasional tables, end tables, and centre tables.

High backed settees used in the latter part of the 17th century and the early part of the 18th century were gradually replaced by low back sofas around about 1780 and these sofas were sometimes used in conjunction with sofa tables. Sofa tables were designed to stand at the back of the sofa, a development that had been made feasible by the lower back. They might have a candle on them and could be used to put down a book or a cup of tea or coffee between sips. All of these tables to some extent could be considered to be the predecessors of the modern coffee table.
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