Why is a coffee table called a coffee table?

Apr 18, 2013|

Why is a coffee table called a coffee table?

The coffee table: a short, small rectangular table that sits in front of my sofa.  This table holds so much more than my coffee.   In fact, at any given time you can probably find a magazine, coasters, a cup, and multiple remote controls.    So if this table isn't just used for coffee why do we call it a coffee table? 

I asked some colleagues and they simply shrugged their shoulders.  No one seems to know!   We all work in the coffee industry and have a piece of furniture in our homes whose name pays homage to our favorite beverage, yet we have no idea why!   I started my search for an answer at the place where most of go to find an abundance of information- the internet.

I was amazed to find that the design of the coffee table is said to actually be derived from the tea table.  (I was equally shocked to learn that there is such a thing as a tea table!)   A tea table is a tall, round table where a tea service can be placed on it to serve guests.   These tables were popular throughout Europe as far back as the seventeenth century and were traditionally placed besides a chair or in a seating arrangement. 2  

Similar to the tea table, the coffee table is usually placed in a seating arrangement.  However, the traditional coffee table as we know it is usually rectangular and lower to the ground.   This type of coffee table is rumored to be invented by J. Stuart Foote of the Imperial Furniture Company in 1920.  Foote said he was helping his wife prepare for a party and lowered the legs on a regular table and created the first coffee table. 1

So why is it called a coffee table?

It is suggested that the lower height of the table combined with the shape made it easy for guests to set down their coffee.   Additionally, speculation suggests that during the 1920s coffee was gaining popularity, and perhaps this led to the name.2

While many different stories exist about the origin of the coffee table, this piece of furniture has become a staple in many American homes.  However, today's coffee table design varies from the traditional rectangular design, to more contemporary designs like an aquarium coffee table, or foosball coffee table.

Do you have a unique coffee table in your home?  SHOW US on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/BUNNFANS.

Look at some unique coffee tables we found in BUNN Employees' homes!




Glass Coffee Table









Printed Fabric Ottoman used as a Coffee Table













 Leather Ottoman with a tray used as a Coffee Table








Traditional Wood Coffee Table









  1. Imperial Furniture Co.  HistoryofGrandRapids.org. http://www.historygrandrapids.org/article/2361/imperial-furniture-co
  2. McRae, Shelly, "History of the Coffee Table". eHow.com.  http://www.ehow.com/about_4600337_history-coffee-table.html


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