Noguchi Coffee Tables

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Though Isamu Noguchi wasn't known expressly for his furniture designs, Noguchi coffee tables remain one of the most recognizable pieces of 20th century modern furniture. Noguchi blended his experience as a sculptor, craftsman, and modernist in his coffee table to produce a design that is more organic than many of his contemporaries, but just as simple and just as clean. The Noguchi coffee tables escaped the rigid geometry of modernism just before expressive, curvilinear forms came into vogue.

The coffee table, which was introduced in 1947, was the result of an illustration of Noguchi's that was used in the writings of his friend, George Nelson. At the time, Nelson was the Director of Design for Herman Miller furniture, an American furniture company, and was looking to invigorate the Herman Miller catalog with the work of fresh, modern designers. Nelson loved the design, and persuaded Noguchi to make the table with Herman Miller.

Comparing Noguchi Coffee Tables to His Other Work

You can get a sense of Noguchi's thoughts on form by comparing his table to some of his other sculptural works of the 1940s. Side by side, the only real difference is that the table's black wood balances a pane of glass on the upper edge, whereas many of his sculptures jut and curve take advantage their surroundings, reaching out into space. A similar attitude inhabits many of Noguchi's sculptures of the time (including Noguchi coffee tables) that creates a continuum of line, curve, and plane, among both positive and negative shapes.

Noguchi's vision of "shaping space" is fully realized in this table; the bent form of the base and the thick glass top give order to the space around the table, without disrupting it. He achieves this through the cleanliness of his forms and the character of his lines. The Noguchi table is reduced to the minimum number of elements needed: no joints, one small point of connection, and only three legs make it the foundation of simplicity.

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