Coffee Table, Cocktail Table, Where for Art Thou?

Sandra Oster

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Square, rectangular, round, oval, one large, 2 medium, wood, metal, glass — or do you prefer an ottoman with a tray?  We’re talking about coffee tables, also referred to as cocktail tables. Why do we call this important piece of furniture a “coffee” table?  Why not an entertainment table? After all, we have “entertainment” centers, right?

When your shopping for this particular table, the nomenclature is special — the  “Industrial Retreat” Table, “Burma” Table, “Calligraphy” Table — and then we kick our feet up, slam a cup of coffee atop, and it just becomes a generic old coffee table.  We don’t say “put the pizza on the Burma Table” do we?

Photo courtesy of Sandra Oster

Could you, do you live without a coffee table? And is that really living? Do you style your table, keep it casual for ultimate relaxation, or do you mix it up? 

Is your coffee table a vignette, embellished with “coffee” table books & silver trays proudly flaunting precious collectibles and your favorite candle?  Or perhaps you like to kick your feet up and read the latest edition of the daily news while enjoying your butter-laden bagel.

Maybe mealtime activities revolve around your favorite television shows, transforming this coffee table to a dining table?  Or is it empty, just waiting for daily action?

Photo courtesy of Sandra Oster

When you really think about it, in an informal setting this table is reminiscent of the kitchen — it’s a place where people gather around to relax, play games, read books, watch movies. It holds all the little comforts that make life pleasurable. Without it, where would you put your drinks, treats, paperwork, books, magazines…on the floor?  Sure side tables are great too, but there’s nothing like a good old 60 x 30 table that acts as your Sherpa while you’re visiting this place.

Then enters the “formal”, perhaps “Regal” table — in the elegant, white carpeted room — beaming with glittery accessories and valuable treasures, only to be admired by one’s eye…never touched!

Then there’s my favorite, the semi-formal table, propped lightly with books and collected memorabilia leaving plenty of room for a pair of feet, a cocktail and your evening’s companion of comforts. But, when you’re done, all the extracurricular goodies are taken away, leaving the table clean & tailored — ready to receive its next visitor with their array of consoling possessions.

When you’re styling your coffee table be sure to take the space into consideration; the flow of traffic, ease of movement and utilization of the space.  You don’t want to jeopardize breaking your expensive wares if you have to shimmy around a table, or it’s heavily trafficked.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Oster

Scale your objects to stay in proportion with the table. Don’t go crazy and overwhelm your design with a giant 24” urn filled with branches on a 24” table if this is an area where the conversation takes place — you don’t want to wrench your neck trying to see the forest (guests) through the trees. By the way, the same rule applies at a dining table as well.

Go with the flow, and by that, I mean color, texture, style. Create harmony with objects that will enhance the feel of this room. Balance everything so they are visually pleasing. Do as the artists do — arrange, step away, observe, edit, rearrange, step away — until it’s the perfect masterpiece.

Know proper placement and arrangement according to usage. If you’re using the table in a more casual space consider messiness and spillage. How many of you have heard your husband or kids complain “does this really need to be here?”  You don’t want to walk on eggshells in a space that is meant to be disheveled.  Don’t place easily damaged items here, save them for another location.  Use items that are more indestructible — a heavy urn vs. a crystal vase, a plant vs. a bouquet that requires a vessel filled with water, every day reading books vs. valued book collection, and so on. 

Photo courtesy of Sandra Oster

At a minimum, have fun creating your coffee table palette. It’s a great way to change the look of your décor on a regular basis and doesn’t require movers and enormous amounts of money — think of it as a continually evolving art project. It’s a wonderful creative outlet.

As I sit here writing this at my very own coffee table, laptop on my lap, feet propped, tasty beverage & chocolate at arm’s length, I admire all my beautiful items juxtaposed among these temporary visitors, and I’m thinking, this is a very happy place — my casually elegant Sherpa table.

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