Friday, February 19, 2016


I overheard the salesman at the local furniture store in Madison that goes by a name that starts with a word for a beer mug and ends with a word that rhymes with "awful", ask a matronly customer if she was looking for a coffee or a cocktail table. She peered over the edge of her black-rimmed spectacles and indignantly said, "A coffee table of course." "Oh then you'll want a rectangular or square table, let me show you what we have" he retorted with a straight face and not an iota of sarcasm.
The truth is there's not any substantial research I could find that found any difference between a coffee table and a cocktail table other than the letters that follow "co" in their names. They're both defined as low tables usually placed in front of a sofa used as a convenient surface for placing a glass or a mug.
I haven't done a very large survey and I think over the past several decades my theory has gotten a bit muddled but the difference seems to be more regional than anything else.  It seems most New Yorkers, North Easterners and those on the West Coast refer to it as a "cocktail" table while those in the South and Mid-West give it the daintier moniker of "coffee" table.
So with no preference to coffee vs. cocktail I present some interesting tables I've admired with some special nods to our own designs.
Here's one on the high-end side that clings to the title of "coffee". Peter Sandback has developed a very loyal following for his nail head collection. Using a variety of nail heads hammered into exotic woods each coffee table is battered and patterned into exquisite designs consisting of thousands of metal nail heads.
Simplicity in design forms the foundation for the design of our Flambeau collection cocktail table. A handsome wooden base supports a concrete top that can be tinted in a range of earth tones.
I fell for the clean lines and feather light appearance of the Sawyer cocktail table. The round forged metal base has an inset top of ambrosia maple, the same species used for bowling-alley floors. That's two for cocktail and one for coffee if anyone's been counting.
Speaking of bowling-alleys and evening up the score the Midland Point Woodshop was able to salvage the wood from a bowling alley that was being torn down and used it to make these unique coffee tables.
Not to be outdone in the arena of repurposing, this entry is both functional with its added storage capabilities and exhibits a real sense of humor to boot. Oh, and its classified as a coffee table by its Etsy seller so I'm not so sure this should count in the tally.
Another unique twist on the cocktail table is the River Stone available from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. It's more art than table and comes in either a silver-leaf finish or warm bronze. It gives "Lets get stoned" a whole new meaning.
For a much softer approach Rick has developed the Marcia Nesting Ottoman as part of our Mendota Collection.
This is a very self-serving entry and even though it's never referred to as either a cocktail or coffee table it tends to offer the function of a coffee/cocktail table plus the added benefit of doubling as additional seating.
I can't do a posting on low tables without referencing the most famous table of all - the Naguchi Coffee Table. Originally design for A. Conger Goodyear, president of the Museum of Modern Art in 1939, it was reproduced for the Herman Miller catalogue in 1947 where it was billed as "sculpture-for-use". It has been in production ever since and knocked off by more retailers than I can count.
The Teso Table is billed as a low table by its designers, Foster + Partners, so they'll have to remain sitting on the coffee or cocktail fence competition. The base of the Teso is actually built from a flat sheet of metal that is perforated by a robotic arm creating the mesh that has been strength tested to hold the etched glass top. It is available through Molteni & C  in either a bronze, silver or gold colored finish.
West Elm is offering a three-tiered painted coffee table they're calling the Clover Coffee Table. It combines both wood and metal in a contemporary nod to mid-century modern.
Here are some coffee tables utilizing live edge wooden tops. Aesthetically there's very little more impressive than a huge chunk of beautiful wood. Wood Land Creek makes these one-of-a-kind rich slabs on a metal base they call the Tree of Life. The base for these tables stays pretty much the same but the slabs are custom and the development of the design is a collaboration between the buyer and the designer and the slabs that are available at the time.
A new favorite of ours is the Live Edge Walnut Slab Coffee Table by Chris Jungbluth of Capital Joinery in Madison, WI. It's live edge wooden top cantilevers off an asymmetrical wooden base made from contrasting wood species.
This table comes with no provenance that I could find but the shear beauty of such a big chunk of wood is unbelievably gorgeous. Unfortunately, with no history I can't label it either coffee or cocktail but either one is a dangerous prognosticator of a major disaster via its big divots that could swallow up an entire coffee pot or a shaker of old fashions.
It feels as if coffee might have won out over cocktail but my research has to be rated as highly suspect given the abundance of tables out there and my ability to quantify anything more than a very small percentage of them. I'll leave it up to you to make your choice for either a cup of java or a margarita.
La Palabra es Cosa de Vida o Muerte (the word is a matter of life and death) 2005
Priscilla Monge, photographer
Represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery, NYC

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