A custom coffee table project: ponderings on the origin of the name

drawing-room-side-tableWhile laying out a full scale drawing of my current project (a mission style coffee table), I could not help but ponder where it got its name – and how it evolved.

Apparently the origins of the coffee table are not exactly known.  It is, however, thought that it developed in Britain in the middle of the 18th century.  It is more than likely that the coffee table evolved from an earlier beverage, tea – the tea of choice at that time. Tea tables were taller and placed behind the tall-backed settee of the time.
By end of the 18th century, furniture design and taste shifted to a slightly lower back and this influenced the height of the table. Moved, now, to the front or side of the settee, the tables became lower as well. Once coffee became common in the British isles, the design took on Anglo-Japanese influences with an even lower height. In the listings of Victorian Furniture by R. W. Reynolds & BB Whinery and The Country Life Book of English Furniture by Edward T. Joy, a table designed by E Goodwin in 1868 and made in large numbers by William Watt, Collinson, and Lock, it became known as a coffee table.

Ponderings aside, the gallery below shows the evolution of creating this handmade piece.

Phase 1:  Full scale drawing, list of parts, mill the parts
Phase 2:  Prepare the joinery and dry fit
Phase 3: Glue up
Phase 4: Finish work; with chisels, scrapers and sandpapers; sand top separately, attach the top to the base; apply tung oil

In the course of one week, I began and completed this piece and delivered it to a long-standing customer in Stowe, Vermont. I welcome your comments and am happy to answer questions about creating a custom piece for your home.


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