Why Is It Called A Coffee Table: 3 Historical Explanations

Why is it called a Coffee Table, when this piece of furniture is used for much more than just holding your coffee cup? In this article, we’ll explore the history and evolution of the coffee table and uncover the origins of its name.

Answered: Why Is It Called A Coffee Table?

Historical Context

The coffee table has a rich history that dates back centuries and has evolved over time. Here are some sub-sections to help you understand the historical context of the coffee table.

1. Early Origins of the coffee table

An old Ottoman Empire Building with blue sky

The coffee table’s early origins can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century. The Ottomans would gather around low tables to drink coffee and socialize. These tables were called “coffee gardens” and were typically made of wood and brass. Nowadays there is also the coffee table variant, ottoman.

💡Background Information

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was a vast state founded in the late 13th century by Turkish tribes in Anatolia, which grew to cover much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa over six centuries, lasting until World War I. It reached its peak during the 16th and 17th centuries under rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

2. The evolution of tea tables in Europe

tea table 29 sep 2023

Tea tables were first introduced in the early 17th century in Europe. They were placed in front of a group seating area or beside a chair and were used for serving tea. They were small, tall tables that were used to hold tea sets and other items for tea service. Tea tables were typically higher than coffee tables and had high sides to prevent spills.

As coffee became more popular in the 19th century, tea tables began to be replaced by lower tables that were more suited to holding coffee cups. Coffee tables were used to support a tray containing multiple mugs, a coffee pot, creamers, and sugar during social gatherings.

💡Background Information

Changes in Design

As lounge seating became more popular in the early 20th century, coffee tables evolved to meet the changing needs of consumers. They became lower and wider to accommodate the lower seating height of sofas and chairs. This design change also made them more accessible for placing drinks and snacks while lounging.

3. Naming Theory: Marketing

A Man sitting in a couch with a laptop surrounded by plants

When it comes to furniture, the origin of names can be a bit of a mystery. The coffee table is no exception. While there are a few theories about why it’s called a coffee table, there’s no clear consensus.

Another theory is that the name “coffee table” was a marketing ploy. As coffee became more popular in the early 20th century, furniture makers may have started promoting the use of a low table specifically for coffee-centered socializing. This theory is supported by the fact that the term “coffee table” didn’t become popular until the 1920s, around the same time that coffee became more widely consumed in the United States.

Coffee was seen as a modern and sophisticated beverage, while tea was seen as more traditional and old-fashioned. As a result, furniture makers may have chosen to name their new low table after the more fashionable beverage.

Coffee Tables Across Different Cultures

Do you have some time left? Now, that the answer to the question “Why is it called a coffee table” is somewhat clear, let’s explore some other interesting furniture pieces from different cultures, which are similar to our western coffee table.

Different names and usages around the world

Coffee tables are not unique to Western culture. In Japan, they are called “chabudai,” which literally means “tea table.” Compared to coffee tables used in the West, chabudai are typically much lower to the ground and are used for a variety of purposes beyond serving tea. For example, they are often used as a dining table for Japanese families, who sit on the floor to eat their meals.

A light brown wooden chabudai table with two white cups and a flower
IG: crapo.furniture

In Morocco, coffee tables are known as “tangia.” These tables are often made of brass or wood and are used to serve traditional Moroccan mint tea. The tangia is typically placed in the center of the living room, and guests are served tea and snacks while they relax on cushions or low seating.

In India, coffee tables are called “chowkis,” and they are used for a variety of purposes, including as a dining table, a work surface, or a place to play board games. Chowkis are typically low to the ground and are often made of wood or bamboo.

Variations in design based on cultural preferences and needs

Coffee tables around the world vary in design based on cultural preferences and needs. For example, in China, coffee tables are often made of lacquered wood and feature intricate carvings and designs.

In the Middle East, coffee tables are often made of brass or copper and feature intricate geometric patterns.

In Africa, coffee tables are often made of wood and feature traditional African designs, such as tribal patterns or animal carvings. These tables are often used in outdoor settings, such as on a patio or in a garden.

In South America, coffee tables are often made of natural materials, such as bamboo or wicker. These tables are often used in outdoor settings, such as on a balcony or in a garden.

Other Furniture Items with Interesting Etymologies

Ottoman: The ottoman is a type of padded, upholstered seat or bench without arms or a back. It is believed to have originated in Turkey in the late 18th century. The name “ottoman” is said to have come from the Ottoman Empire, which was a powerful Islamic state that lasted from the late 13th century to the early 20th century. The ottoman was often used as a footstool or as a seat for guests in Turkish homes.

Dark wood Ottoman with green and white textile
IG: byannaelizabeth_

Settee: A settee is a type of sofa that is typically long and narrow, with a high back and arms. The name “settee” is believed to have come from the Old English word “setl,” which meant a long bench with a back. The word “setl” eventually evolved into “settee” in the 17th century.

Green wood Settee
IG: charles_andrew_whitham

Chaise longue: A chaise longue is a type of long, upholstered chair that is designed for reclining. The name “chaise longue” is French for “long chair.” The chair was popularized in the 18th century and was often used in boudoirs and drawing rooms.

Chaise longue before and after
IG: anitarockea

Armoire: An armoire is a type of tall, freestanding cabinet that is used for storing clothes or other items. The name “armoire” is derived from the Old French word “armoire,” which meant a chest or cupboard for storing arms or armor. The word eventually evolved to mean a cabinet for storing clothes.

White French Armoire and a natural wood Armoire on the right
IG: taylorgreyhome

Were we able to answer your question “Why is it called a Coffee Table?” and satisfy your curiosity? If you want to learn more about coffee tables, we’ve also created some inspiring blog posts where we share ideas on how best to paint your coffee table.

Does your coffee table already have a cool color? How about some tray decoration for your coffee table then?

FAQ – Why Is It Called a Coffee Table?

Why is the coffee table e called coffee table?

The origin of the coffee table’s name is somewhat unclear. Coffee tables were originally used to support a tray containing multiple mugs, a coffee pot, creamers, and sugar during social gatherings. Other sources suggest that the coffee table was named for its resemblance to a low table used in the Ottoman Empire for serving coffee.

Why are coffee tables so short?

Coffee tables are typically shorter than other types of tables because they are designed to be used while sitting on a sofa or chair. The height of a coffee table is usually between 16 and 18 inches, which is the ideal height for reaching the surface of the table while seated.

What is another name for a coffee table?

Coffee tables are sometimes referred to as cocktail tables, although there is a slight difference between the two. A cocktail table is typically taller than a coffee table, with a height of 20 to 22 inches. Cocktail tables are also often used in formal settings, while coffee tables are more casual.

If you liked our historical dive into the question “Why Is It Called a Coffee Table?”, don’t forget to leave us a comment down and share your thoughts on this topic.

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Wadim Urbanowitsch

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