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To understand the history of the coffee table, one must peer into the past. European interior designers (housewives included) have used the tea table since the 17th Century at least. The tall, round tables allowed for group seating and gave hosts the ability to set up tea service in close proximity to guests. The 18th and 19th Centuries saw the tea table evolve into the rolling rectangular tea trolley. The old-fashioned tea trolley inspired the modern coffee table. MBW Furniture offers a great and varied selection of coffee tables.
Descendants of the tea table, modern coffee tables were intensely marketed to Americans at the beginning of the 20th Century by a business called Imperial Furniture Company. President J. Stuart Foote claims to be the inventor of modern coffee tables as of 1920. He said he sliced the legs off a table by happenstance, and the results inspired him. Foote reported immediately knowing the stunted table would be perfect for coffee served in front of the sofa.
Seating areas complete with tea and coffee tables have adorned parlors and living rooms alike since the Victorian era. Imperial Furniture’s coffee tables of the 1920s are reminiscent of their modern counterparts. Demand for coffee surpassed that for tea in the United States during this period, and the European tea table became known as the American coffee table. The 1930s saw the repeal of Prohibition and the growing popularity of cocktails in need of a serving surface.
Whether bearing tea, coffee, or cocktails, modern service tables reside in many of today’s homes and hosting spaces. Eventually, coffee tables became the center of at-home entertainment, displaying magazines and books as well as housing party provisions.