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The Interesting History of the Coffee Table

by | August 24, 2020

Coffee tables are an almost essential part of the modern living area. Without them, you’d be left without a place to rest a mug as you curl up with a beloved book—and you’d undoubtedly find yourself lacking a space to display your favorite coffee table anthologies. The thought has left us with one question—where did the idea of the coffee table come from, and how did we arrive at the piece of furniture we know and love today?

Early Life—the Tea Table

The original concept behind what we now know as a coffee table began life in early 17th-century Europe. Tea tables of the time were placed in front of a group seating area or beside a chair. Designed to hold a full tea service for easy access by hostess and guests among the day’s high-backed settees, tea tables were somewhat higher than the modern coffee table—around 27 inches high rather than the modern 18 or 19 inches.

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Most tea tables were round and had tops that could be folded down to lie flat against the wall and out of the way. In the 18th and 19th centuries, as furniture heights decreased, some tea tables were replaced by tea trolleys that sat lower to the ground. These trolleys, too, could be moved near furniture during tea time and then wheeled away when not in use.

Transition to Coffee Table

Although it’s difficult to determine an exact date when the switch occurred, sometime in the mid-19th century Americans began to favor coffee over tea. Conveniently, the rise in popularity of coffee in the United States coincided with the advent of lower, rectangular tables in Victorian-era home design. By 1920, the Imperial Furniture Company was selling tables designed to be placed in front of a settee—perfect for resting a coffee cup and saucer.

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The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 is also thought to have made a mark on the industry. Low tables were marketed as cocktail tables and became fashionable to place among seating groups to provide a convenient place for houseguests to rest alcoholic beverages. An increase in the production of large-format books and magazines, too, made finding an ideal place for display within the home a key design consideration.

Coffee Tables Today

Today, coffee tables can be found in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes, and under many different names. No matter what you call your table, however, it’s important to find one constructed of quality materials that fit your unique design sensibilities.

Find the right coffee table for your space at Heritage House Furniture—our selection of high-quality home furnishings from a variety of manufacturers ensures that you’ll always find what you need. Stop by our showroom or contact us today.