Coffee tables

Coffee tables

The coffee table can be a difficult piece of furniture to get right. But if you forgo one, there's always the problem of where to put that tray of drinks or armful of books and papers.

By Clare Mansfield

Some of us give up on coffee tables as good looking ones aren't that easy to come by, and they can dominate proceedings if your sitting room is on the small side. But they are useful, so Deco's been on the hunt for some fabulous and eco-friendly designs to suit budgets small, medium and large. Pictured above: Made in the Peak District by Indigo Furniture, this zinc-topped FSC-cert European oak coffee table will last forever and is very easy to incorporate into contemporary or more traditional interiors. 3ftx2ft table £859 

Did you grow up thinking that coffee tables were dreary dark brown rectangles that took up most of the floor space in your sitting room?

Did you vow never to buy one...and yet in adulthood find it surprisingly difficult to manage without one - particuarly when people come over and you're left holding a tray of drinks and wondering what the hell you can put it on? 

So, let's face it, a coffee table is a pretty useful piece of furniture. And while some products do undoubtedly make you think immediately of old people's cramped bungalows, plenty of designers have been working hard to re-engage our interest in this somewhat neglected item.

Wood, of course, has been used for coffee tables down through the ages, and it's still the material of choice for many of our talented designer-makers; while British companies such as Raft Furniture use FSC-certified reclaimed teak for their contemporary products.

 

Low Slab stack pippy elm and bronze hand-made coffee table by the brilliant Matthew Burt, £7,000. www.matthewburt.com
Hand made to order, striking Moon glass and steel coffee table by London sculptor Cathy Azria, www.bd-designs.co.uk. From £2,800
Upcycled in lilac, small wood coffee table from shabby chic furniture specialists The Treasure Trove, £95. www.thetreasuretrove.co.uk
For something completely different..shoe last glass topped coffee table, around £600, from White Dove & Wonder. www.whitedoveandwonder.co.uk
Strut solid walnut coffee table by US brand Blu Dot, £645 at Heal's
Cube FSC-cert reclaimed teak coffee table by Raft, various sizes from £277. raftfurniture.co.uk

Matthew Burt is one of Britain's most skilful and creative designer-makers, working at the top of the design tree, so to speak. His Wiltshire studio makes bespoke furniture and Burt is known for his ability to 'make wood do seemingly impossible things.' He likes to use timbers we don't see so much these days, such as rippled ash, tiger oak, pippy elm and quilted maple, and all of the wood he uses comes from sustainable forests. 

The magnificent Low Slab coffee table in pippy elm is, not alas, going to be in everyone's price range at £7,000, but if you have a windfall.. it's a mighty fine contemporary piece that should last a lifetime. 122cm squarex40cm wide, and the two layers allow you to tuck things out of the way.

Still expensive but far less so are coffee tables from UK furniture makers such as Benchmark and Indigo Furniture, and independent designer-maker Jonathan Pearce Fine Furniture. They are investment pieces but they will last for ever with the occasional polish! We like the T620 floating top table designed in the mid '50s by Jen Risom and now made in FSC-certified oak or walnut by Benchmark; clean lined and unadored, it measures L137xH38xD53 and costs £1,210. Or if you like the wood/metal combination, consider Peak District-based Indigo Furniture's Zinc coffee table, hand-made in its workshop from solid European oak with a hand-rolled zinc top which will develop a lovely patina over time. 3ftx2ft table, which is 47cm high, costs £859.

For a similar price you can commission Jonathan Pearce to make you a table. We like his Winding Paths coffee table, which has solid wood inlays through the oak top made from fumed oak, walnut and sapele. Table H47xL98xD52 around £1,200.

BD Designs

If you prefer metal, which while not as sustainable as wood, is completely recyclable, you'll be interested in the striking modern designs of London sculptor Cathy Azria of BD Designs. Her hand-made Moon coffee table is made from mild steel formed to look rather like balls of unravelling wool, with a glass top - but you can choose various finishes and alternative table top materials. Prices from £2,800.

Upcycling

If you have a more modest budget, look out for the great upcycling work that goes on in the UK - one of the most eco-friendly options too. The Treasure Trove in East Sussex specialises in the shabby chic style and upcycles furniture brilliantly using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Owners Emma Trigg and her husband Christian find pieces at auctions and in second-hand shops locally, and they regularly have coffee tables on their books. We like the small lilac painted table with a soft wax finish - an absolute snip at £95.

Max McMurdo at Reestore is a whizz at turning discarded objects into good pieces of furniture. Like many keen-eyed imaginative people, he thinks washing machine drums make great coffee tables - just polish them up and top with a circular piece of toughened glass; and why not illuminate it from the inside using LED rope light...

 

T620 mid century modern style oak coffee table from Benchmark Furniture, £1,210
London Cows' smart flat black cow hide stool, from £400. Hides from Colombia, product is made in the UK. www.londoncows.com
Luxor palm wood coffee table, £910 from Australian brand Pacific Green, which is new to the UK. www.pacificgreen.net
Established & Sons' funky and moveable Spin table, £660. Made in Italy from wood, laminate and steel fixings, H40xL90xD60cms. www.establishedandsons.com
Danna deep buttoned stool, perfect to work as a coffee table, from The Sofa and Chair Company. Choose your wood and fabric. From £600
Jonathan Pearce Fine Furniture - the designer hand makes this Winding Paths coffee table from oak, fumed oak, walnut and sapele, around £1,200. H47xL98xD52cm
Reclamation - two tier 60s' Formica coffee tablem with hibiscus and cornflower print metal frame with wooden top, £225.00, Lassco Ropewalk. www.lassco.co.uk
T620 mid century modern style oak coffee table from Benchmark Furniture, £1,210
Greg Klassen is a furniture maker on the US west coast who uses fallen trees for his River Collection of tables that have clear glass running through them. Very expensive...around from £5,000 for a coffee table. Alas they're not shipped to the UK..yet..
Washing machine drum coffee table with interior light and frosted glass top by Max McMurdo at Reestore. You can make similar yourself...
A mid century classic from Vitra - the Noguchi coffee table, designed in 1947 by Isamu Noguchi. black ash and glass. £1,813.20 at Vitra

(a bit) Weird but wonderful and made to last

If you like eccentricity and love shoes and Britain's industrial heritage in equal measure, consider commissioning a glass-topped shoe last coffee table from White Dove & Wonder, an extraordinary wife-and-husband venture that is putting Britain's supply of vintage wooden shoe lasts to new use as decorative and functional homewares. Founder Susan Gaston's father worked in the shoe industry, hence her inate love for the wooden lasts which today have been largely replaced with injection-moulded plastic ones. 

'The vintage lasts are part of our industrial heritage,' says Gaston, 'they are pieces of master craftsmanship and I don't them to go to waste. So yes, this is a wacky business and our coffee tables, lamps and bookends are quirky and you either get it or you don't!.

'But we've been delighted by the response to our designs and we're incredibly busy, so other people do share our enthusiasm, which is wonderful.' Prices from £350.

Palmwood from Pacific Green

Less wacky, but not your run of the mill coffee table either, the two-tone Palmwood Luxor bench-style table from Australian brand Pacific Green has a smart-casual appeal and a lightness of being.

Pacific Green, founded 40 years ago but only recently arrived in the UK, has very strong eco credentials: to reduce dependency on tropical hardwoods, it's developed Palmwood from the stems of coconut trees that have ceased to produce fruit (which they do at around the age of 70). Luxor bench: L152xD85xH43cms.

Benches and ottomans 

Of course in grand country houses, trays of hot beverages were more often than not placed on large ottomans - and lots of us continue to prefer the ottoman/footstool to a traditional coffee table, as it's comfortable to sit on too.

London Cows offers footstools upholstered in linen but it's known more for its chic well-priced cowhide furniture and rugs. Vegans won't like the latter but founder Gabrielle Harris believes her products are environmentally sound because she is using a by-product of the meat industry that would otherwise have to be disposed of.

Her hides come from cattle raised in Colombia on twice-yearly shipments and products are made in the UK. 'Cow hides are a natural product and the cattle have lived in the fields of Colombia, not in confined spaces,' says Harris.  

She says from a practical perspective hide footstools make great coffee tables because any spillages and you just wipe them clean. 'And obviously if you don't like animal products they won't appeal, but I think cowhide brings a certain shabby chic luxuriousness to a room.'

You can also find good footstools and ottomans at The Sofa & Chair Company, which manufactures in the UK. You choose the wood and the fabric you want, so your piece can meet high eco standards if you opt for, say, a linen or organic cotton and a horsehair filling. Prices from around £600.

Go modern with Established & Sons

For strong contemporary design, the Spin table from London-based Established & Sons is fun, with its four mismatched colourful castor wheels which have impact against the wood composite black laminated table top. Made in Italy from recyclable materials, £660. H40xL90xD60cms.

Mid-century/vintage

Vintage furniture fairs are great places to hunt down classic pieces. A coffee table that looks as modern today as it did when it was designed by Japanese architect Isamu Noguchi in 1947 is the glass topped Noguchi table, now made under license by Vitra. Choose from black ash, walnut or maple legs. It's fairly pricey at £1,813.20 but again, it's a piece you'll never want to part with..

How how should a coffee table be?

Deco's resident interior designer Paul Warren says for the modern Eastern minimal look, go for a table around H30cms, and ottomans/footstools are often best at this height too. But he says your sofas and chairs will dicate the most comfortable height for your coffee table, as you don't want to have to stoop too low to pick up a cup...  40-45cms is average. 'Much over 50cms and it's moving out of the coffee table domain..' he says.

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