Coffee table

Coffee table

Overview
A coffee table, also called a cocktail table, is a style of long, low table
Table (furniture)
A table is a form of furniture with a flat and satisfactory horizontal upper surface used to support objects of interest, for storage, show, and/or manipulation...

 which is designed to be placed in front of a sofa
Couch
A couch, also called a sofa, is an item of furniture designed to seat more than one person, and providing support for the back and arms. Typically, it will have an armrest on either side. In homes couches are normally found in the family room, living room, den or the lounge...

, to support beverages (hence the name
Coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

), magazine
Magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

s, book
Book
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...

s (especially coffee table book
Coffee table book
A coffee table book is a hardcover book that is intended to sit on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for...

s), and other small items to be used while sitting, such as beverage coasters. Coffee tables are usually found in the living room
Living room
A living room, also known as sitting room, lounge room or lounge , is a room for entertaining adult guests, reading, or other activities...

 or sitting room. They are available in many different variations and prices vary from style to style.
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Encyclopedia
A coffee table, also called a cocktail table, is a style of long, low table
Table (furniture)
A table is a form of furniture with a flat and satisfactory horizontal upper surface used to support objects of interest, for storage, show, and/or manipulation...

 which is designed to be placed in front of a sofa
Couch
A couch, also called a sofa, is an item of furniture designed to seat more than one person, and providing support for the back and arms. Typically, it will have an armrest on either side. In homes couches are normally found in the family room, living room, den or the lounge...

, to support beverages (hence the name
Coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

), magazine
Magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

s, book
Book
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...

s (especially coffee table book
Coffee table book
A coffee table book is a hardcover book that is intended to sit on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for...

s), and other small items to be used while sitting, such as beverage coasters. Coffee tables are usually found in the living room
Living room
A living room, also known as sitting room, lounge room or lounge , is a room for entertaining adult guests, reading, or other activities...

 or sitting room. They are available in many different variations and prices vary from style to style. Coffee tables may also incorporate cabinets
Cabinet (furniture)
A cabinet is usually a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors or drawers for storing miscellaneous items. Some cabinets stand alone while others are built into a wall or are attached to it like a medicine cabinet. Cabinets are typically made of wood or, now increasingly, of synthetic...

 for storage.

The idiom "Gather round the coffee table" is derived from the furniture piece and its proclivity for encouraging conviviality and light conversation.

Origins of the coffee table


In Europe, ,the first tables specifically designed as and called coffee tables, appear to have been made in Britain during the late Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

.

Prior to the late 18th century, the tables used in Europe in conjunction with a settle
Settle (furniture)
A settle is a wooden bench, usually with arms and a high back, long enough to accommodate three or four sitters.They are commonly movable, but occasionally fixed. It shares with the chest and the chair the distinction of great antiquity...

 included occasional tables, end tables, centre tables, and tea tables. By 1780, the high backed settle was being replaced by low back sofas and this led to the development of sofa tables which stood against the back of the sofa and could be used by anyone sitting on the sofa to put down a book or a cup.

According to the listing in Victorian Furniture by R. W. Symonds & B. B. Whineray and also in The Country Life Book of English Furniture by Edward T. Joy, a table designed by E. W. Godwin
Edward William Godwin
Edward William Godwin was a progressive English architect-designer, who began his career working in the strongly polychromatic "Ruskinian Gothic" style of mid-Victorian Britain, inspired by The Stones of Venice, then moved on to provide designs in the "Anglo-Japanese taste" of the Aesthetic...

 in 1868 and made in large numbers by William Watt, and Collinson and Lock, is a coffee table. If this is correct it may be one of the earliest made in Europe. Other sources, however, list it only as 'table' so this can be stated categorically. Far from being a low table, this table was about twenty-seven inches high.

Later coffee tables were designed as low tables and this idea may have come from the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

, 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.

From the late 19th century onwards, many coffee tables were subsequently made in earlier styles due to the popularity of revivalism, so it is quite possible to find Louis XVI style coffee tables or Georgian style coffee tables, but there seems to be no evidence of a table actually made as a coffee table before this time.
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.

Also, the use of similar tables has been recorded in the ancient Greek era, following the Roman conquest of North-East Africa.

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