Monday, August 23, 2010

Buy It For Looks, Buy It For Life: Selecting Coffee Tables

I love that line from Moen faucets. It makes a lot of sense.

I grew up amidst the most unique furniture. In my grandmother's house, there was a long, heavy coffee table, made of solid hardwood, stained so dark it was almost black. Its base had a small cabinet with sets of doors on either side of the table; a perfect hiding spot for a small child. Atop this massive table sat a great yellow ceramic lion. It belonged to my grandfather, and was the most treasured piece of art in the house. It occupied nearly three quarters the length of the table. It sat there like a sentinel, older than any of the grandchildren,  who were expressly forbidden to touch it. It lorded over that coffee table, so that no legs could be put up on it. In my grandmother's house, this table, and the sculpture on it, was a showpiece in this big, beautiful house in the country.

Meanwhile in the city apartment where I grew up, my parents favored light, cane furniture more suited to the heat of the tropics. The chairs were woven cane pieces, and if you sat on it with your bare legs, the weaving left their marks on the back of your legs. My parents went all out, decking the place in head to toe cane. My favorite piece though, was the coffee table. It was a big square box, hinged on one side. It was woven cane on the outside, lined with wood on the inside. In it my mother kept her precious photo albums. When closed I could sit on it or just put my legs up. It was light, unpretentious and functional. It was not the kind of expensive piece you would have to stay committed to, yet it lived long enough to make its way into the suburban house we eventually moved into.

Eight years ago I bought a relatively cheap pine coffee table. It was chosen first for its low price point, second for its safely rounded corners, and only third, if at all,  for its looks. It sat right smack in the middle of the living room of our first home, and upon delivery day,  my one year old daughter immediately discovered that it was the perfect height for her to grab on to for balance, as she practiced walking around it. What made it more perfect was its big, fat turned legs and rounded corners. It was squat and low, not at all graceful, yet sturdy enough to not tip over. Nothing expensive sat on it, save for a plant and a few books. As the kids grew, they brought with them toy cars and pencils, and all sorts of things that bang and scrape. Like an inexpensive pair of jeans, it was the sort of thing that you would allow the wear and tear. All are welcome on this table. Today, it sits content in our family room, bearing the dents, scrapes and marks of life and use. My kids distressed it for me, and I think its just beautiful. I don't think I will ever get rid of it. It's no heirloom piece, but there are too many precious memories attached to it. 

On the subject of coffee tables and anything else, I stand heavily by "form follows function." Furniture, even the most beautiful ones, should be able to stand up to moderate use. When selecting a coffee table, consider several things before making that purchase. Besides style, some questions to ask are: 

    What is the right size and height for my space?
    What material is best for kids?
    Will I need to store things (books, magazines, small objects) in/on it?
    How long do I plan to keep it?

Here are some of the best, for every form and function.

There is no doubt that no corners means safety for kids. The bonus? Round, oval, or elliptical tables stimulate gatherings, and adds curves and contrast to the straight lines on the rest of the furniture.

Top to bottom, l-r: Dot coffee table,, Metropolitan round coffee table,, Kitaro round cocktail table, Gibson cocktail table,

For Storage
Doubling as storage, these clever tables keep magazines, books, blankets and other items hidden from view yet within reach.  

Top, left and right: Sliding top coffee table and detail,, Bailey cube,

Glass allows light to pass through it and therefore looks light and airy for small spaces. It is relatively easy to maintain and safe for young ones as long as the glass top is framed.

Above: Tanner coffee table,

Large Scale
Large, voluminous spaces call for scale and drama. Imagine a huge pot of long stemmed blooms in the middle of this, surrounded by an assortment of rare and interesting books.

Above: Balustrade salvaged wood coffee table,

A fresh alternative to the standard coffee table. Add a tray to perch plants, books and even drinks on it. 


Above: Norah ottoman,

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