Tables are sometimes treated like the poor cousins to chairs, which have captured the imaginations of Arts and Crafts designers like the Stickley brothers, architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Danish Modern furniture guru Hans Wegner, and Mid-century Modernists Charles and Ray Eames. But tables deserve our respect, too. Whether they were built for decoration like the console tables of the 1600s or for purely functional use like the Shaker seed tables of the 1800s, tables are often the focal points of the rooms they occupy.

One of the first things furniture designers did after they seized upon the idea of raising a horizontal surface into the air via legs was to devise ways to reduce the size of their creations in order to save space. The surface of a tilt-top table, for example, folded vertically, so the table could be stored against a wall when not in use. Drop-leaf table surfaces were designed to be folded down against their legs, often creating a narrow rectangular table that appeared to be wearing a skirt.

Some drop-leaf tables had gate legs (also spelled as one word, “gatelegs”), which could been swung out to support the leaf when needed or collapsed against the stretchers connecting the bottoms of the legs when not. Others revealed a chair when the tabletop was tilted up and out of the way, although the resulting seat was not especially practical.

The efficiency of other tables was more obviously elegant. Side tables such as console tables were meant to be permanently situated against a wall, often between a pair of windows. Sometimes these occasional tables, as they were also called, had drawers to store household items. Side table surfaces could be rectangular, but half-circles were also popular, allowing the table to be placed flush against a wall.

Center tables, as their name suggests, were typically placed in or near the center of a room. Usually round and mounted on a single pedestal attached to a wide or footed base, center tables were favorites of the Georgian and Victorian Eras, when entertaining one’s guests meant gathering around one of these ornately carved and ornamented pieces for a rousing game of cards.

Though not as associated with storage as desks and cabinets, tables were often asked to pull their weight in this department. Hutch tables, popular in rural 18th-century America, contained hidden compartments beneath the table surface and between the wide trestles that supported it. Library tables often had a wide, horizontal stretcher between the table’s trestles or legs to keep books up off the floor and out of the way. Fancier library tables were elevated by small bookcases at either end.

Early examples of dining tables resembled the communal tables found in both monastery refectories and neighborhood pubs, perhaps the only thing those establishments had in common...

When it comes to interior design, though, no table has had a greater impact than the coffee table. Low-to-the-floor painted, carved, or inlaid tables were historically common in Asia. Coffee tables made of exotic woods, steel, glass, and even mirror were a signature of Art Deco. And after World War II, coffee tables were staples of Mid-century Modern.

Perhaps the most iconic coffee table of the 20th century was designed by artist Isamu Noguchi. His IN50 coffee table for Herman Miller, 1944, featured two interlocking curved legs that supported a thick, glass top. Early in the following decade, Charles and Ray Eames placed a narrow, black, surfboard-shaped ellipse on a pair of wire-rod bases, similar to those used in some of their chairs.

Another minimalist, albeit with a more organic orientation, was George Nakashima, whose slab tables reveled in their defects and irregularities, which the designer took pains not to correct. Other woodworkers, though, preferred their tables fully finished. Sam Maloof, for example, riffed on Shaker traditions by replacing straight lines with gentle curves and contours.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Buffalo Architecture and History

Buffalo Architecture and History

Chuck LaChiusa's wonderful guide to the architecture and history of Buffalo, NY, also happens to host an impressive… [read review or visit site]

Chipstone

Chipstone

This beautiful site showcases the collection of Stanley and Polly Stone of Fox Point, Wisconsin, consisting of earl… [read review or visit site]

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

This huge online database from the Speed Art Museum is a rich trove of beautiful photos and reference information o… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1960s Danish Modern Teak Storage Table Chest Mid Century VintageVintage Sewing Box Table Eames Danish Mid Century Modern Teak Art Deco 50s 60sSupurb Antique Stag Bone Japanese Netsuke Of Warrior Figure On Table.Taylor Tile Table Top Vtg Catalina California Orange Aqua Yellow All OriginalHm1950 Solid Silver Table Top Cigarette Case Box Jewellery Casket Trinket 483g Mid Century Modern C Jere Spray Green Twist Table Marble Base Sculpture EamesAntique Chinese Scholars Bamboo Brush Pot Table Item, Qing Dynasty Provenance.19c Gorham Sterling Silver Table Butler Crumb Catcher Engraved PatternVintage Guilloche Enamel Lidded Birmingham Solid Silver Glass Dressing Table JarAntique Industrial Cast Iron Table Legs ~ Vintage Sewing Machine Stand PartsAntique Indian Good Repoussed Solid Silver Table Box, 7.3cm, 89g, Lucknow C1900Rare Mid Century Heywood Wakefield Model M933g Champagne End Table 1954-1955Antique Cast Iron Treadle Sewing Machine Base ~ Vintage Industrial Table Top Vintage Mahogany Side Cigar Smoking Table Copper Lined 1791 English Antique Sterling Silver Georgian Brightcut Sugar Tongs Table Ware 1930`s 40`s Beautiful Art Deco Waterfall Nightstand / End Table W/ CabinetAuthentic Knoll Saarinen Base For Side TableBeautiful Quality Antique Silver Filigree Miniature Sewing TableUnusual Antique Fringed Woven Tapestry Table Cover Many Roses 2 Birds In CenterAntique Silver Top Glass Jar Pot Hm Chester 1921 Children Angels Dressing TableFine Chinese Scholars Table Object Carved Antique White Jade On StandAntique Side TableVintage Large Silver & Enamel Circular Dressing Table Box, Andersen, NorwayAmpere Table For Scientific Experiments Hans Friedinger Luzern C1900Vintage Type Table Claret Jug Glass & White MetalAntique Silver Plated Coat Of Arms Armorial Table Cigarette /trinket BoxAntique Dressing Table Bottle With Reynolds Angels / Birmingham 1908 Ref 307/6Art Deco Sterling Silver & Wood Lined Table Top Cigarette Trinket Box Dated 1936Small Antique Silver Top Jar / Pot Hm Birmingham 1921 Ladies Dressing TableVintage Art Deco 1930's 40's Waterfall Wood Night Stand Table CabinetAntique Miniature Table Pin CushionAntique Dressing Table Tidy With Reynolds Angels / Birmingham 1910 Ref 307/7Gorgeous Large Vintage Irish Linen Table Topper ~ Hand Embroidered Whitework.Rare 100+yrs Old Alhambra Beautiful Table Inlaid Andalus Inscription IslamicVintage Mid Century Modern Coffee Table With Lucite Plastic Legs And Glass TopVictorian Giraffe & Palm Tree Silver Plated Table Centrepiece- Old Country HouseGreat Vintage Mid Century Wrought Iron Metal Hairpin Table Or Chair Legs, 4Antique Dressing Table Box With Silver Lid Birmingham 1906 Ref 738/3A Good Quality Antique Sterling Silver Dining Table Salt Pot Birmingham 1909 #1Old Numbered Salesman's Sample Miniature Drop Leaf Table With Screw In Legs Vintage Antique Chinese Sterling Silver Rickshaw Style Table Cruet 76.1 Grams19thc Antique Victorian Cast Iron Repousse Greek Warrior & Sphinx Table PlaqueAntique Chinese Table Cover Embrodiery DamagedVintage Art Deco Table Top Hat StandBombay Company Stand TableVtg Small Curio Display Wall Table Cabinet #2A Pair Of Fine Quality Sterling Silver Table Salts Birmingham 1899 George UniteVintage Unsorted Table LinenStunning Vintage Hand Embroidered Lace Edge White Linen Table Setting For SixSolid Silver Dressing Table JarOak Candy Twist Side Table Merklen Furniture Co Llivingstone Manor New York UsaA Good Quality Antique Sterling Silver Dining Table Salt Pot Birmingham 1909 #2Vintage Mid-century Modern Brutalist Ceramic Lidded Box Made Italy Coffee TableSolid Silver Dressing Table Jars Lovely Silver Fiddle Back Hallmarked Table 1825 London W BatemanMid Century Modern Paul Mccobb Planner Group Low Coffee Table Bench Eames EraAntique Oak Round Table And Hall TreeAntique Domestic Sewing Machine Treadle Legs Table Base SteampunkAntique Cast Iron Sewing Machine Treadle Industrial Age Table Legs Base FeetWonderful Sevres Hand Painted Blue & Flowers Porcelain Cabinet Table Vanity Box