Given their central position in most living spaces, it is little wonder coffee tables capture both the professionals’ and the public’s imagination. Countless architects, product designers and artists have tried to present their own vision of what a coffee table should be and this variety is reflected in the designs themselves; wood, glass, steel, aluminium and leather are combined with an even wider choice of forms.
That being said, one of the enduring icons in this group is the Vitra-manufactured 1944 ‘Coffee table’ designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi, in which two identical, organically shaped wooden elements form a base for a glass tabletop. Karim Rashid seems to have taken inspiration from this and reduced it even further; his 2008 ‘Splash’ for Tonelli is composed of three intersecting glass planes, whose shape is reminiscent of Noguchi’s tabletop. Manufacturer Sovet, however, managed to eliminate all the other parts in their 1988 ‘Bridge’ coffee table, where the glass tabletop bends at the sides to support itself.
A short mention should also be made of modernist architects Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, whose elegant 1928 ‘LC10-P’, produced by Cassina; and 1929 ‘Barcelona Table’, produced by Knoll International, have also become classics and successful prototypes, emulated today by Foster and Partners’ ‘Foster 500 occasional table’ for Walter Knoll and countless others.
Famed furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames also tried their hand at designing a coffee table, with the tastefully understated ‘Plywood Group CTM’ from 1945, and the expressive 1951 ‘Elliptical Table ETR’ soon joined the ranks of classic designs of this product type; both designs are produced by Vitra today.
This of course does not mean that coffee tables are always exercises in reduction. Eileen Gray’s ingenious ‘Menton’ coffee table from 1932, now manufactured by ClassiCon, can be rotated and easily transformed to become a small dining table. In a similar spirit, the 2012 ‘F007 Sidetable’, designed by Richard Schipper for FOUNDED, features a sliding walnut tabletop and two sliding leather shelves underneath, while Ivano Losa’s and Matteo Galbusera’s 2011 ‘Zerino’ for Ak47 accommodates coffee table books in its depths, as well as having a central feature that can even be a small fireplace.