A room we decorated in Southampton with a white linen wrapped low table.
My thoughts on low tables are somewhat corroborated by Dorothy Draper in her 1939 book Decorating is Fun!. She describes a plain box of a room where she slipcovers the furniture in chintz, paints the walls watermelon pink and then carries the room with a pair of low tables:
The emphasis of the whole room is actually the two big coffee tables before the fire. They were specially designed with the tops of black Carrara glass, the sides and legs covered with dark bottle-green leather. The gleaming black tops act as a deep, inky mirror for anything that is placed on them.
Perhaps no other furniture form can make or break the success of a contemporary room than these tables, known alternatively as low, coffee or (what fun) cocktail tables.
This form first appears regularly in western interiors at about 1900 when Asian eighteenth and nineteenth century examples made their way west to furnish exotic chinoiserie interiors. To this day, they continue to be reinterpreted.
An example of an early coffee table — an extremely rare 19th c. rosewood ‘Coffee Table’ attributed to J. S. Lock of Collinson & Locke cabinetmakers, London, c. 1885, with intarsia inlay attributed to the sculptor Stephen Webb.
I think low tables are pivotal because of their central location in rooms, most often in front of sofas. And, because they are small, they are easily perfected and often enriched.
The library of Brooke Astor’s New York apartment as designed by Albert Hadley (above and below) featured two antique Asian low tables.
In fact, the Asian examples still look great in today’s interiors because they often have added decoration, say a chow leg, or a lacquered surface. It is a fine day when a genuine old Chinese table made before the twentieth century can be found, such as this example we discovered some twenty years ago for a Southampton library.
By being extremely plain, good examples can provide a decorative foil in an elaborate room such as the one in Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s living room on the Rue de Babylone in Paris.
Image from The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé by Robert Murphy
We often use linen wrapped tables of parsons like form. I appreciate their color and simple lines.
A Parsons form low table in the sunroom of Julia Reed’s New Orleans home.
A Philip and Kelvin LaVerne waterfall low table has a clean silhouette but the surface adds texture and dimension. A bridge between the simple and elaborate.
Certainly, as Dorothy Draper pronounces, the lowly low table can be the emphasis of the whole room.