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    

Rare Late 17th C Pilgrim Century Table Board In Red Oak In The Best Old SurfaceVictorian 19thc Solid Mahogany Storage/workbox- Lock & Key- Large Table Size BoxAntique Art Nouveau Era Bronzed Lion Bust Figural Plant Stand Victorian TableAntique Late Victorian Edwardian Tiger Oak Table Desk Top Stationery Writing Box19th Quality Antique Chinese Deep Carved Table Display Mission San Juan Capistrano Taylor Tile Spanish Revival Table & Malibu TileRare Large Size English Antique 1903 Solid Sterling Silver Pot Pourri Table Box Modern Danish Design - Small Teak Table By Hans J. Wegner/ Andres TuckAntique Ornate Cast Iron Table LegsVtg 54" Jens Risom Walnut Floating Coffee Table Top Danish Modern Mid-century ExVintage 1930's Bedside Cabinet Table Burr Walnut Queen Anne Legs Art Deco ChicPair Antique Cast Iron School Desk Legs Boston Steampunk Table BaseMid Century Tea Coffee End Table Dovetail Top Small Danish ModernVintage Silver Epergne Or Table Centre Piece Three Trumpet Form1962 Broyhill Brasilia Dining Room Table W/leaf Eames Mcm Nr Best Deal On EbayRose Point Sterling Silver Tea Strainer-finest 1934 Wallace-clean & Table ReadyVtg Gorgeous Mid Century Modern Metal Side Table Industrial Steampunk 1960sAntique Bronze Art Nouveau 6 3/4" Desk Table Night Candleholder Candlestick NrPair Of Silver Dressing Table Boxes Chester 1903 Ref 38/3Antique Cast Iron Industrial Machine Age Table Legs Stamped1970s Brutalist Signed Silas Seandel Coffee Table Interlocking Flat Nails Antique - Industrial Age - Anco Bilt Architects Artist Drafting Work Table - VgWooden Table LegsSuperb 1906 Meiji Era Imperial Exhibition Table Medal Japan Badge JapaneseGateleg Table Antique Pair Funeral Home Casket Parlor Coffin Table Chrome Cast Iron Ornate Vintage 1950s Slat Bench Table Mid Century ModernA Pair Of Fine Quality Sheffield Sterling Silver Dining Table Comports 369 GramsAntique Victorian 1900 Sterling / Solid Silver Topped Dressing Table JarA Vintage Sterling Silver Dining Table Salt Pot Birmingham 1924 Docker & BurnAntique Oak Table Gothic Style W Arches Open In The Back Church Altar CounterVintage Industrial Metal Rolling Drop Leaf Typewriter Table/standAn Antique Possibly Chinese Turned Plain Dressing Table Jar & Screw Cover Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Boy Hold Mechanical Table NrBird Table Decoration East Asian Sterling Silver Circa 1900D&m Tile Wrought Iron Table Vintage Mid Century Wooden Traditional Spool Thread Cabinet Sewing Table Chest4 Vintage 13.5" Wood Turned Legs ~stool-bench-table ~antique Wooden ~Antique Christofle Silver Plated Butlers Table Crumb BrushVintage Hand Embroidered Irish Linen Table Centre~bright Bold Coloured FloralC5531:japanese Wooden Big Long-legged Table Garden Tub Flower Vase StandY Shaped Pair Cast Iron Stands, Steampunk Table Chair, Vintage School Desk BasesAntique Singer Treadle Sewing Machine Cast Iron Base Stand Table SteampunkLathrop School Of Mechanical Trades Kansas City Kansas Antique Folding TableRalph Lauren Dalton Leather Trunk Coffee Table W/drawers On The Ends.Italian Coffee Table Oval(4) Mid Century Danish Modern Wood Unique Tapered Table Legs 14" Screw InTable Bay Cape Of Good Hope South Africa 1760 Bellin Antique Copper Engraved MapCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Cat Fish Mechanical Table NrLane Altavista Va 2 Tier Coffee Cocktail Table Mid Century Modern Mcm 24" X 24" Collectible Table Decorate Handwork Old Copper Carve Eagle Open Wings StatueEdwardian Dressing Table Bottle With Silver Collar Birmingham 1906 Ref 21/31890 Vintage Original Swedish Painted Pine Gustavian Desk Dressing Table SwedenVintage Round Oak Dining TableBabee Tenda, Child's Safety Chair And Play Table.Mid Century Modern Lane Acclaim Dovetail Side Table2 Antique Satin Stitch Hand Embroidered Linen Table Toppers, Dramatic & Lovely!Antique Vintage Patchwork Quilt Table Pad, Red And White, Navy Blue Star BorderVintage Table Centre Hand Embroidered With Red Berries- Chinese Exquisite Manual Mosaic Jade Wood Table