The origin of the coffee table dates back to the late 18th century during the Victorian Era. During this period, they were actually used for placing cups of tea-because that was the de rigueur drink of the time. At the height of fashion every one drank tea.
This led to an increasing demand for tea tables. These were generally taller than today’s low slung coffee tables. As time progressed and as the high backed settees (so popular during the second half of the seventeenth century) were replaced by low back sofas, what we now know as coffee tables were put into use.
These tables were expressly designed to stand at the back of the sofa, and they were used to place books, candles, and coffee or tea. The very first coffee/ tea tables were designed in Britain and were made out of wood.
Again, these were generally higher than our contemporary coffee tables. The low height may have come about with influence from the practically floor level Japanese tables in tandem with the Ottoman-styled table found in tea gardens. Coffee tables are a relatively new invention. The coffee table developed with the increasing availability of materials and with the rise of mass production and thus affordability. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, wooden furniture making was eventually industrialized.
From the Victorian era, through art deco, bauhaus and many others design styles tables changed with interiors. These movements influenced modern styles, which were becoming more and more eclectic. More materials, such as combinations of wood and glass and chromium plating as well as acrylic were used.
Today’s vast range of coffee table styles reflect its somewhat long and varied past. These days you can find simple, round coffee tables that echo today’s modern minimalistic aesthetic; however you can also find a treasure trove of assorted styles mirroring history. There are faux Victorian style, clean and sleek Bauhaus affairs, and even retro 60’s kitsch. There are futuristic inspired tables with lego legs and glass tops. You can find tables made out of old bathtubs or doors. There’s really no limit when it comes to designs. There's no limit to where you can put down your coffee cup.