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    

19thc Antique Empire Era Victorian Sewing Stand Old Spool Chest Coffin Top TableOld Primitive Tall Cream Color Wood Bench Great Side Table American Find AafaAlvar Aalto Bentwood 3 Leg Stool Side Table Mid Century ModernChinese / Japanese Colonial Parcel Gilt Solid Silver Battleship Table Box C.1900Beautiful English Antique 1904 Solid Sterling Silver & Wedgwood Jasper Table BoxAntique Cut Glass Dressing Table / Powder Pot Guilloche Enamel Silver Lid 1913Beautiful Antique French Demi Lune Marble Top Console Table, Inlaid & OrmoluAntique Hanau German Solid Silver Dolls House Miniature Table Furniture French Empire Silver Birds Swan Salt Dish Art Nouveau Antique Table WarePair Mid Century Modern Metal Hairpin Bullet Planter Plant Stands Table EamesBeautiful Large Antique Chinese Carved Hardwood Stand Table, 13 Inches Wide.Vintage Pair Of Cast Iron Sewing Table Legs 21¾ Tall 11" Wide Vintage Sewing Box Table Eames Danish Mid Century Modern Teak Art Deco 50s 60sAntique Solid Oak Extending Table And Six ChairsSterling Silver Table Or Desk Cigarette Box, By Bravington's 1932Vintage Drafting Table Work Bench Swing Out Trays Industrial Drawer Cast IronGorgeous Quilting Antique C1880s Red & White Star Crib Table Quilt 28x27Antique Edwardian Chester 1908 Sterling Silver Drum Mustard Pot Table CondimentFine Calccutta Indian Sterling Silver Table Salt Mustard Pot Pepper CondimentAntique Industrial Cast Iron Table Legs Vintage Sewing Machine Stand Parts 2160Microscope Accessory: Ringing Table Vintage Retro Original Mid-century Modern German Table Plant Stand 4 TieredLarge Solid Silver Top Dressing Table Box Embossed Wing Cherubs Sheffield 1904Vintage Birmingham 1926 Sterling Silver Mustard Pot & Liner Table CondimentSolid Silver Mappin & Webb Antique Glass Dressing Table Jar + Two OtherVintage A.h.mcintosh Nest Of Table Retro Metamorphic Teak Coffee Table 60's ChicAncient Celtic Stone Ritual Pedestal Table, Circa 100 Bc. Rare Ceremonial StandFine Antique Pair English Hm Sterling Silver Dining Table Open Salt Cellars 1904Brunswick Antique Cast Iron Lion Pool Table Legs All Four Made In 1880'sMid Century Modern Brass & Wood Side Cocktail Coffee Table Eames Mccobb Era 1960Very Unusual & Intricate Vintage Hand Embroidered Throw / Table Cover 76" X 76".Mid Century Danish Modern Arthur Umanoff Walnut Spindled Table, Formica Top, NrAntique Old Vintage Jewellery Box Dressing Table Trinket Ring Watch Box KeyBeautiful Victorian Antique Silk & Silver Thread Embroidered Table Cover.Antique Cast Iron Metal Scales With Weight Table Top Counter Top ScalesAntique Cast Iron Legs Base Table Heater Stove Primitive IndustrialVintage Middle Eastern Islamic Brass Scripted Table Top 15" UkAntique Victorian Sterling Silver & Glass Dressing Table Jars X 3Italian Vintage Inlaid Marquetry Sewing Musical Jewellery Box Console Side TableAntique Pennsylvania Scales Table Top Mercantile Scales 3lb ScalesEarly Antique Pine Blanket Chest Trunk Coffee Table Metal HandlesAntique Original Cast Iron Industrial Table Legs-fred J. Swaine Co.Man Of The Mountain Heavy Carved Italian Oak Dining 1800 (dining Table #3)Antique Hamilton "champion" Drafting Table Industrial Age Steampunk Cast IronAntique 1916~~ 3 Leg Ornate Cast Iron Water Tank Stand Flower Pot / Table BaseAntique Regency Period Mahogany Table Base*est* 6 Antique Solid Sterling Silver 925 Table Salts Salt Pots Dishes CruetJens Risom Conference/dining Table And 6 Jens Risom ChairsGorgeous Antique Edwardian Lace Oval Table CentreSmall Very Old South Asia Alter Table Beautiful Intricate Mother-of-pearl InlayAntique Glass Claw Foot Spiral Leg Wooden Table / Plant Stand8 Vintage Mid Century Modern 13 3/8" Tapered Wood Furniture Stool Table LegsLot Of 16 Brass Wheels & Foot Cap For Vintage Antique Furniture Table Desk StandAntique Original Cast Iron Industrial Table Legs-fred J. Swaine Co.Vintage Mid-century Danish Modern Teak 4 Long Leg Side Table Pedestal StandFolk Art Primitive Americana Star Patriotic Heart July 4th Flag Table DecorationBrass Table Box Lion Paw Feet Lion Mask & Ring Handles C1900Midcentury Modern Wooden Table Legs - Vintage - 1 1/2" X 14" TaperedAntique Embroidered Table Cover.Antique Dressing Table Jar With Silver Lid London 1876 Ref 96/5