The story of the Coffee Table

I can’t remember who first asked me what I wanted to achieve with Ironfire coffee tables. Sometimes I just get an idea and the logic comes after- and this was the case here.

So, totally untruthfully I can say that I set out to create a design classic that feels organic and timeless and which the customer can personalise to reflect their taste! Rather than just rely on hindsight, it occurs that this might be a good time to explore one of the most important and iconic pieces of furniture we live with – and explain myself a bit more truthfully.

This in turn started me musing about the history of the drink and how it stimulates and facilitates our social interactions.

Someone once said “Humanity runs on coffee” and as petrol fuels our cars, certainly coffee drives much of our lives.

Coffee was brought to Europe when it reached Malta in 1562 with Turkish slaves captured by the Knights of Saint John. The first of a multitude of London coffee houses didn’t however open until in 1632. They became known as Penny universities because the cost to enter was a penny which included a coffee and the conversation was legendary.

So, even then Coffee was a conduit for the exchange of ideas and even originally seen as having health benefits! A contemporary 1661 tract about the properties of coffee says “Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head. Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man’s Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head.” Quotes taken from History Of Coffee

Maybe Donald Trump would have been better looking to coffee as a panacea than gargling bleach?

Strangely, back then, the tables that coffee house clients congregated around were high and known as tea tables. Over time though and as coffee became more and more popular, the furniture became known as a coffee table. The idea of a large, low coffee table placed in front of a sofa apparently only however took off in the mid 1930’s. Since then it has become a staple of family life and a quote from Georgia Toffolo sums that up

“I think a coffee table is one of the most important things. It’s where everything happens”.

That’s so true as most of us see the coffee table as the hub of the living room, somewhere where you put your feet up and this has become so engrained in our culture. The web is full of references to coffee tables that reference how they are a deeply embedded icon of our lives. In no particular order (well apart from the first one which I really like) they create small droplets of insight into the writer’s life.

So without apology lets spend a couple of minutes sharing peoples small asides about a cherished part of their lives.

In10 examples of the good, the fantastic and the downright ugly!

“A girl in a bikini is like having a loaded pistol on your coffee table – There’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s hard to stop thinking about it”. – Garrison Keillor

“I decided one day to put on my tutu and jump on the coffee table and sing Aretha Franklin songs for the painters that were painting the house.” –Phillipa Soo

“I see the same coffee table everywhere. It’s mass marketing” – Douglas Wilson

“I decided one day to put on my tutu“I write almost entirely in bed or on a couch with my feet up on the coffee table. I feel most creative when I’m looking out the window, and my bed and couch have nice views of the New York skyline”. – Gary Shteyngart

“I love detail, like drawing what’s on top of someone’s coffee table. Maybe there’s a little bowl of butterscotch candies on it, next to the four TV remotes”- Roz Chast

“We didn’t have a backyard, so as I child, I would turn the coffee table into a stageand put on shows”.- Julia Stiles

“My living room has an oak-wood floor, Persian carpets, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, a large ficus and large fern, a fireplace with a group of photographs and drawings over it, a glass-top coffee table with a bowl of dried pomegranates on it, and sofas and chairs covered in off-white linen”.- Janet Malcolm

“Sergei Brin has said to me, like, 10 times now, “why do you bother doing books? Why don’t you just put all this stuff up on the internet?” It’s because 10 years from now, my book will still be sitting on someone’s coffee table!” –Rick Smolen

“I like living sparsely. In the main room, there’s no furniture – no tables, no chairs, – not even a decaffeinated coffee table”.- Sebastian Horsley

“The coffee table had once been brightly coloured doors, from a neighbourhood where fuchsia and sky-blue were common.”

“Ted set his mug down, its red glaze echoing the colour of the coffee table beneath. It was as if thousands of sunrises had seeped in and would forever be radiated into the room.”

“The timber for the coffee table had been torn out of the old factory. Posts that once held a high tin roof, now held coffee cups and Saturday morning custard creams. Year in, year out, it sat in the same spot, reassuringly heavy and robust.”

“Looked like it was from the set of a futuristic science fiction movie, sleek metal frames, blackest leather seats, smooth lines, nothing excessive, minimalistic, chairs suspended from steel wires, streamlined, designed to fit into compact spaces”.


So, you get the idea? A coffee table is an integral part of our lives, a sort of inanimate but loyal pet! Just like animals, they too come in many shapes and sizes – stolid or whacky, delicate or lumpy, wooden or metal, glass top or not, They range through lots of different shapes and sizes as well; from an extra large coffee table or a small side table. They can be paired with Console tables as narrow table placed against a wall or as Occasional tables as handy tables at the end of sofas or they can sit all alone as the focus of the room. Then there’s all about what goes on your coffee table! Copies of Vogue and an Orchid or pizza boxes and an empty four pack and that’s not counting the people that use their coffee table as a seat! (no risk of breakage if you use an Ironfire coffee table as a chair).

Whether you are a student or a fashionista or one of the myriads of different people between them, that table standing steadfast in front of your sofa says more about you than you realise! Of course, during the lockdown your living room furniture has become even more part of life than before, as we gloomily sit glued to the latest Covid updates! 

It’s been a long intro to talking about the Ironfire take on the great British coffee table but I got interested in the history and relevance of this characterful piece of furniture!

Whilst we all like the unusual and sometimes think that we want something stylish and disruptive in our living room; do we really want the rusted tail of a DC10 elbowing into a space meant for chilling in? So, don’t forget that you are going to have to live with whatever you choose – for a long time.

So, whilst you want to express your personality you also want something that is going to be a bit like a good marriage – still bearable once the first flush of passion passes!

Here’s a couple that fit into that “Why would you” category for me

Glass top on a white pottery base small coffee table

I know it says that it’s a trekkie homage but to me it looks like a dead dog on its back!

Bright blue square large illuminated fish tank coffee table

Cast away? I think it should be!

Brass snake supporting a piece of glass to make a coffee table
Ridiculous jokey small coffee table made of legs

What a leg-end! Enough, enough I hear you say!

The point I am making is – a coffee table needs to fit into your room design but without dominating it. I love quirky as much as the next guy but I don’t want to feel as though I’m sitting behind a piece of furniture that looks like Grayson Perry on his way to a party, while I’m watching the football. To me that means that I want a classic design that has proven itself but with the ability to adapt it to my own taste.

Image of Grayson Perry in lurid clothes

And that is exactly what Ironfire set out to do, design a strong and long lasting classic that customers can personalise in lots of sizes and finishes. We have a house style that is solid with a hint of industrial and this works well in nearly every room design from stark modern through city flat to country chintz! We think that there are too many internet sites that offer ranges of generic furniture produced in low cost economies and then shipped around the world. We believe that this is environmentally unsustainable and that there are lots of British artisans that are worthy of support.

Our commitment to sustainability also means that it can be kept in repaired and kept in good condition and upgraded to reflect a change in your taste whenever you like.

Selling only on the internet enables that to be easily accomplished and keeping retailers out of the loop means that you can have a unique piece to your specification at a really affordable price and get to talk to the people that actually make it from sustainable materials.

Here’s a couple of our coffee tables but there’s many more on our website so please do go and have a dig around and we are always pleased to hear what you think about Ironfire.

The first table is our No 2 finish – Douglas Fir Burnt and cleaned before being finished with a rich water and heatproof protective surface

Ironfire shou Sugi ban coffee table


The second example is a Glass topped rectangular coffee table with Douglas finished in Our Popular colour No 5. To create a light feel the top shelf is glass supported on an edge of white wood. You can select a similar shelf below or a solid wood one.



Glass Top Large Coffee Table in a living room

Our Third example is that old favourite the square or rectangular coffee table – large or small. Ours is English natural Oak and we look for rustic material that has plenty of interesting patina but a traditional Oak presentation. Again we finish this so you can put hot cups on it and spill water without marking the wood. That is of course limited to reasonable use so don’t expect there not to be a mark if you use a naked flame on it. Having said that, all is not lost if you do mark an ironfire table. To allow for natural movement in wood we connect all of the boards together so that they can expand and contract. That also makes it really easy to replace a single board and if over time gaps open up to move them back together again!

Rectangular Oak Coffee Table in a field

We might be biased but even we know that Ironfire is not the only firm trying to improve the choices of quality coffee tables and to prove the point here are some examples of our favourites

rectangular solid wood coffee table with glass insert

We look forward to talking about how we can make you a small or large coffee table that’s rectangular or square and show you how it can be matched to other Ironfire beauties to make bespoke comfortable rooms. We hope that (using the Marriage analogy to death) you will love and cherish your Ironfire ‘til death do you part!