Coffee and occasional tables

The coffee or occasional table as an item of furniture has no parallel in past centuries in the West, although low tables, used mainly for dining purposes, have been in use for many centuries in the Far East. The low table has, therefore, no need to reflect the images of past centuries and can thus afford the designer considerable scope, and has become an item of furniture much favoured by the designer-maker and amateur alike.

As a result, in recent years the coffee table has developed for beyond being a mere surface from which to serve tea or coffee to become an important focal point in many interiors. To meet this new situation, low tables are now often quite large, bold items of furniture, as able to accommodate the buffet supper, large bowls of fruit or flowers as the delicate tea or coffee service. They are increasingly becoming more artistically designed, devised to be looked at and admired in a static position, almost items of sculpture in their own right, rather than flimsy articles to be picked up and used in a flexible way. Flexibility, however, is still an important requirement in many households, particularly in smaller rooms, and hence the popularity of the nest of tables. These tables are light enough to be picked up with one hand and used individually by guests when necessary, but for most of the time they take up very little floor space against a wall.

389 Side table

390 Small side table using contrasting coloured veneers. Designed and made by John Coleman

Construction and materials The constructional methods employed on these tables often echo those of taller dining, writing or side tables. The main point to remember is that, unlike many items of furniture, there are no rules that apply to low tables. They can be circular, square, rect­angular or free-formed; the height can be 10 in (25 cm) or 20 in (50 cm), and the top almost any size; the top surface can be of glass, slate, marble, leather, wood or plastic, and it can involve intricate veneer or inlay work, bold use of colour, or simply be a slab of unadorned solid wood; and the possibilities for the structure that supports the surface, are endless. The following pages of line drawings and photographs illustrate the wide variety of possible interpretations.

A table with interior illumination (397) is included to show the principles involved. Figure 397:1 is a plywood box jointed by any suitable method and edged on the top with wider boards (397:4). The sides of the box are cut away at the base as 397:1 to provide ventilation, and an obscured glass inner top is held in position by wood spacers (397:3, 4) to allow for free circulation of air, for most light fittings emit some degree of heat. The 12 in (300 mm) strip light is fixed to a cross-bearer across the centre of the box (397:2, 5), and hidden by the

391 Coffee table in Zebrano veneer, 4 ft 3 in x 1 ft 6 in x 1 ft 2 in (1300 x 450 x 375 mm) high. Designed and made by John Coleman.

Photo by Tim Imrie

obscured glass inner top. The main top is 6 mm or 9 mm plate glass with four shallow recesses drilled out to provide seatings for the stub metal locating dowels (397:4). The light can be coloured by using any stained glass for the inner top.

Dining table, Edward Zucca, U. S., 1982. Mahogany, maple, satinwood and ebony.

30 x42 x78in (76 x 107 x 198cm)

Writing desk, designed and made by Rupert Senior and Charles Wheeler-Carmichael, U. K. Wenge

Chest of drawers, John Coleman, U. K. Sycamore and coloured Tapered chest of drawers, 'The Great Art Deco

veneers. Access to the drawers is by rebated finger pulls on the Explosion". John Cederquist, U. S. Bird's-eye maple

outside edge of each drawer and colorcore. 64in high, 40in wide, Win deep


Continuous arm chair. Thos. Moser, U. S. The seat and chair back are cherry, the spindles and legs white ash. 41 in high, 23in wide, 17in deep (104x59 x43cm)

Ball and cone chair, Norman Petersen. U. S. Purpleheart wood, lacquered wood, gold and aluminium foil painted leather. 33x22x21 in (84 x 56 x 53cm)

Lady's workbox, designed and made by Edward Hopkins, U. K. Solid pine

Fan-back Windsor arm chair, Michael Dunbar, U. S. Three coats of paint aged to simulate an antique finish

393 & 394 These two large tables were designed and made by Jeremy Broun. The top one has an interesting and intricate top surface built of thin strips of Columbian pine bonded to a fixed core. Simple black inlaid lines complete the design. The

one below, in contrast, is of solid wood construction throughout but uses narrow sections glued together, a method that has been exploited in the bold corner and centre joints.

398 Glass top on pedestals of mahogany and Indian laurel. Designed and made by Martin Grierson

399 Display table in natural and stained sycamore. Designed and made bv Neil Henderson

400 Table in solid oak by Desmond Ryan

401 Circular table in solid cherry with five veneered panels. Designed by Robert Williams for Pearl Dot

402 Nesting tables in solid elm by Jeremy Broun

403 & 404 Two nests of tables designed and made by Neil Henderson, one (below) in natural solid sycamore, and the other (facing page, above) cut from four pieces of MDF mitred at the corners and sprayed with coloured lacquer

404 Neil Henderson - Linear '3 in 1' set of tables. Semi-matt coloured lacquer with contrasting line around legs

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