Coffee Tables

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Along with chairs, lamps, and lounges, coffee tables have consistently interested almost every modern furniture designer since the end of the 19th century. Many of the architects and designers of the Bauhaus produced them, setting a tradition that almost every major designer since would follow. From Mackintosh to Noguchi, coffee tables have been a constant playground for modern designers to exercise their sensibilities.

A Brief Overview of Modern Coffee Tables

Charles Rennie Mackintosh preceded the Bauhaus by about 20 years, and designed salon tables that could be termed "modern" as early as 1903. As part of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain (which heavily influenced the founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius), he sought simplicity and honesty of design that reflected both the character of the materials and the craft of the designer and builder. His elegant, geometric forms and respect for space allowed his tables and chairs to attain a kind of weightlessness that was reinforced by their slender construction and solid palettes.

During the years of the Bauhaus, or from 1919 to 1933, many designers emerged who would tackle the challenges of producing a coffee table that was suitable for modern living. Notably, Marcel Breuer (first a student, then faculty at the Bauhaus) and Mies Van Der Rohe (director of the Bauhaus from 1930) produced two of the most memorable coffee tables of the last century. Both designers produced tables that featured lean, strong panels supported by thin, elegant steel legs--the geometry of weightlessness and standardized construction.

Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese-American sculptor that emerged from a different tradition than either Mackintosh or the Bauhaus. Though he was a student of the Italian modernist sculptor Brancusi, an equal amount of his ideas on design and sculpture may be owed to his heritage and the temperament of America in the early 20th century. Noguchi's coffee table, with its sweeping, lyrical base and svelte glass top, succeeds in having a poetic balance quite unlike the clean stability of the Bauhaus.


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