Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Why Do We Stoop Over a Coffee Table to Drink Coffee?

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By Bill Primavera

As The Home Guru, I am a fan of the history of all things associated with the home, especially their origins. The things we use every day, mostly without thinking about how they got to be what they are, can be fascinating and sometimes surprising.

For instance, the story of the coffee table has a long history, if you consider first the tea table. History would show that tea tables have a longer history than coffee tables, but this was modified, starting in 1652, when the first coffeehouse opened in London. It was so popular that more coffeehouses soon opened all over Europe, and more coffee was being consumed at home.

The idea of a coffee table came from the need to put down a hot beverage between sips. These tables, or rather the original tea tables, were tall at 27 inches high, compared to today’s coffee tables which are 18 to 19 inches high. In my home, I have both a tea table at the 27-inch height, which I use as a side table for my living room sofa, and a large circular coffee table, in front of the sofa that measures 18 inches high.

Now here’s a question to ponder: Why is the tea table, which requires drinkers to sit erect, higher than a coffee table, which requires that the drinker stoops a bit? Could it be that tea consumption is considered more “proper” in society and demands a more upright position rather than the “rowdier” act of consuming coffee?

One theory, and I’m not sure if I came up with it, is that the coffee table, being lower, invites more social interaction because imbibers can more easily see over the table and its accessories in order to converse with others? And, if that’s the case, would it mean that tea drinkers who might have their vision somewhat blocked by a higher table are more standoffish? Are such musings fun?

There are no documents from the 17th or 18th century mentioning coffee tables, although there are hundreds of references about coffeehouses during the time period. It is speculated that the name tea table was changed to coffee table when coffee became more popular than tea.

 It wasn’t until 1938 that a coffee table was defined in a home magazine as a “low wide table used before a sofa or couch.”

Today, coffee tables still share the same location in the living room in front of the sofa. Yet, the shape, size and functionality have changed vastly. Now it can be used for décor accessories like books and figurines.

In my case, I use the coffee table in front of the sofa as the venue for some of my collected antiques that tend to serve as conversation starters among guests: a brass tea strainer, a candle wax snipper (is that the name of it?), a traveling perfume bottle with a brass top, a pipe stuffer (again is that what it’s called?) a brass traveling quill and ink device, a bowl of antique playing marbles and, more practically, a trivet for resting hot items like coffee and tea pots.  

Full disclosure: I don’t think I ever once used my coffee table for coffee!  Maybe I just don’t like stooping over when I drink my coffee.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest-running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

 

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