Coffee tables enter a ‘golden age’

Design as a place for work, tech and rest combine

McClatchy NewspapersApril 3, 2012 

LIFE HOME-COFFEE-TABLES KC

Technology uses, tastes in interior design transform the familiar coffee table. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/MCT)

ALLISON LONG — MCT

  • Source book

    These manufacturers sell products through local and national retailers, but their coffee tables and other furnishings can be viewed in their online catalogs.

    • Currey & Co., Atlanta: curreycodealers.com

    • Four Hands, Austin, Texas: fourhands.com

    • Global Views, Dallas: globalviews.com

    • Hickory Chair, Hickory: hickorychair.com

    • Lexington Home Brands, Thomasville: lexington.com

  • 3 tablescaping tips We asked N&O Design Team pro Lisa Stewart to help us create a pretty tablescape. Here’s her advice:

    • Make sure you are comfortable using your coffee table no matter what you put on it. My coffee table has to fit my lifestyle and that means leaving enough free space for putting drinks down and feet up!

    • Spark conversation by displaying things that are meaningful. On the lowest tier of my table, I’ve placed a framed ancient manuscript: the newspaper published the day I was born.

    • Reduce stress, be practical and protect valuables from dust, spills, little fingers and paws by using shadow boxes, frames, trays and glass apothecary jars in differing heights. If you’re comfortable with your coffee table, chances are, your guests will feel right at home and comfortable too.

    Lisa Stewart Design, Raleigh; 919-275-2212

Coffee tables with two levels have been popular for a while. Because people want places to set their laptops, tablet computers and smartphones, you’re starting to see coffee tables designed with three levels.

So much is happening with this key piece of furniture that Cosmo Kramer needs to update his coffee table book on coffee tables.

During the 1990s “Seinfeld” era, the coffee table was mainly a place to set drinks and remote controls – and maybe rest your feet when mom wasn’t looking. The ubiquitous clunky wooden table was a far cry from the 1950s cocktail table, limbo-low at 16 inches tall with a sculptural wooden or chrome base and a discreetly elegant round glass top.

Home furnishings design forecaster Michelle Lamb is seeing a return to artistry in coffee tables, and more function than ever.

“Not only is it a place to set your drinks and the remote, it’s a place for laptops, tablet computers and smartphones,” said Lamb, who regularly travels to trade shows to study how furniture makers are responding to changing lifestyles. “It’s a place to play and work.”

Wireless devices have influenced coffee table design. Some tables have built-in charging stations and, because we’re working more from home, file cabinets.

Technology also is playing a role in the number of coffee tables we’re using. Furniture makers are introducing the concept of grouping three small tables. Global Views, a Dallas-based furniture maker, offers a trio of varying height marble-top tables with gold-finished iron bases. An iPad could be placed on one, a drink on another and reading materials on the third.

“It’s combining sculptural art pieces with multiple functions,” said Rick Janecek, creative director and lead product designer of Global Views.

Space planning also is a reason for having more than one coffee table. Two small coffee tables rather than a single large one prevent the person sitting in the middle of a sofa from becoming trapped, said Bobanne Kalkofen, an interior design professor.

Measurements can determine coffee table choice and placement. To reach drinks easily, the table edge should be 18 inches from the sofa. But to allow a person to comfortably get up and walk is 24 inches. In her living room, Kalkofen uses a side table for drinks because her coffee table is cube-shaped. The space underneath a legged table gives feet clearance, so it’s a more practical choice if you want to use it for drinks.

Kalkofen is a fan of small ottomans with flip tops: One side is a tray, the other upholstered. They function as tables, storage and extra seating. Lamb is seeing furniture makers such as Norwalk make an ottoman/coffee table hybrid. The top is similar to an upholstered bench, but a lower wooden shelf serves as storage.

Because more of us are downsizing, smaller coffee tables are growing more popular, said Cameron Cook of Four Hands, a Texas-based manufacturer.

As an increasing number of homes contain hardwood floors instead of carpet, customers have turned away from brown wooden tables and toward pieces with metal, glass and stone. For wood, gray-washed surfaces are in style, Cook said.

Coffee tables evolved from taller sofa tables during the 20th century, to help anchor conversation and the room. Janecek considers the 1960s the heyday of the coffee/cocktail table. Shapes became organic. Materials included plastics, metals and glass. But a surge of design innovation is recurring now.

“We just might be entering a new golden age,” he said.

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