The Coffee Table

March 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm · Filed under Industrial / Product

Coffee Table anticipatory web announcement; 500px. x 250px. + / 2001 (Click to see the announcement as it appeared on my web site.)

In my entire life, I have had the equivalent of about one cup of coffee, all before I was in high school. Lured by the sheer “adultness” of it, I wrapped paws around a few of those thick ceramic handles but my young palette was far too immature to appreciate the bittersweet complexity of the fabled bean and never did I finish a pour. I also have an annoyingly low tolerance for burning my mouth on hot things, which basically sealed that deal. When I was older and more likely to enjoy it (“coffee” had easily become my favorite flavor for anything that named it), I refrained from the temptation, prophesizing that it could become an unwieldy daily expense, and boy, would I have been right.

Nevertheless, there is something so damn cool about coffee that I could never deny. Luckily for me, it has very little to do with the drink, itself. Coffee’s transcendence from mere beverage to cultural phenomenon is perhaps superseded only by that of alcohol, but coffee’s affect (and effect) bears a decidedly more conscious flavor: an enduring symbol of learned European Modernity, a catalyst for artists and philosophers exchanging roles in Bohemian cultural movements, an enabler of late-night epiphanies and an antidote for the mornings after. A solitary indulgence or a shared experience for the aware.

The objective devotions to the ritual of coffee are as deliberate and rich as the blends. Enormous, industrial machines used to whistle down the most potent formulae at a preciously drizzling pace, sculptural carafes of glass, aluminum and plastic, and of course the myriad cups. But the piece most concretely symbolic of the dedication to all that coffee represents is its forum: the coffee table…

In my young twenties, I moved into my own apartment for the first time, and beginners’ luck showed brightly on me. Situated at the nexus of Belltown, the urban class epicenter of Seattle, the tall, slender unit alit the southwest corner of a vintage brick building that itself crowned a steep hill down to the bay a few blocks below. The arched keystone windows let in beaming views of the water, the mountains, the city skyline, the historic Pike Place Market, the sunset and the multifarious reverberations of the dot-com-boom bustle below. If ever there was a time and a place that beckoned a coffee table, this was it.

Aside from quality craftsmanship, the most elusive and expensive feature of any piece of furniture is a right-angle. The everlasting obsession with antiquity has allowed for the permeation of meaningless scrolls, patterns, cherubs, anthropomorphic legs and other superfluous decoration that, in most cases, does little more than make cheap furniture seem like it’s not. Thus, I’ve always loved those heavy Italian rectangles from B&B Italia, Cassina, Porro, and so on. But even if I could have afforded such extravagance, I’m not sure I would have bit. Alas, I had something a bit different in mind.


Coffee Table plans: (clockwise from top-left: wide side view [at 90º], top view, front view, narrow side view) / 2001

My apartment was small. Almost all of my furniture had to serve more than one purpose. My coffee table would have to serve me dinner as well any beverages and large-format books customarily associated with such a piece. The distinguishing extra angle piece, then, is primarily for my plate and silverware. But it also works well for magazines, laptops, new albums, or whatever else may need close attention at the moment. When dinner is through, one can easily slide over a few inches and walk out freely from the table without ever having to move it. Two people can sit close in the opening or each can use the table differently. The extra angle also works well to keep a glass close at hand when relaxing crosswise on the neighboring sofa.

Of course, I have a million kooky ideas like this. The only reason this particular plan ever came to fruition is because IGT Heavy Industries (my dad) graciously took on the task to actually build the thing. It’s constructed primarily of plywood, with a perfect Formica top surface to keep it clean. The wood is all painted white, except for the black feet, meant to ground the piece and visually lower its profile.


Coffee Table; plywood, Formica, fastening hardware; 48in. x 24in. x 16in. / 2001 (photo taken 2008)


Coffee Table (detail) / 2001 (photo taken 2008)

There were tentative plans to build a complete system, including a desk and even a loft bed (that had to serve more than its named purpose, too). For the desk, the extra angle would serve as a mouse range, while my Mac G4 would sit within the base. On the bed, the angle would have served as a night stand platform, from which climbing rungs would have hung.


Desk (A) plans (clockwise from top-left: narrow side view [at 90º], top view, wide side view [at 90º], back view, front view); In this version, my computer would sit completely within the desk structure, which would have small ports for cooling and access to peripherals. / 2001


Desk (B) plans (clockwise from top-left: narrow side view [at 90º], top view, wide side view [at 90º], back view, front view); In this version, a hidden platform would have sunken the computer partially into the rear portion of the desk. / 2001

The other pieces in the system might have been interesting, but they wouldn’t have had the life of the coffee table. With each move from my Belltown flat, my spaces have shifted significantly, and the tailored set wouldn’t have made as much sense in subsequent apartments.


Coffee Table (detail) / 2001 (photo taken 2008)

But, since I took delivery of the coffee table from the showroom (my parents’ house), I’ve moved three times and across the country, and I have acquired a few choice, museum-quality pieces from Vitra and the like. But my coffee table is still my favorite piece of furniture. It’s (multi-) functional, it’s unique, it’s well-built, and it makes for a great point of discussion, which seems pretty cool to me, even if it never sees an actual cup of coffee.


  1. Lloyd Johnston said,

    March 4, 2008 at 12:15 am

    We here at IGT Heavy Industries appreciate the credit for construction of your very creative coffee table design. Since it was quite a bit larger than a breadbox, it was somewhat outside of our usual size range. Nonetheless, it provided us with hours of enjoyment and we are pleased that the table has done the same for you.

  2. Jen Paur said,

    March 5, 2008 at 12:27 am

    I feel obligated to correct you, Dan. I am Bohemian, capital B, because my great-grandparents emigrated from Bohemia. The bohemians you refer to are lower case b. They are the bohemians who came from a coffee shop. Us Bohemians don’t take kindly to being confused with bohemians. We’re a proud bunch, and now that our country of ancestry ( is no longer in existence, we’re a defensive bunch too.
    Nice coffee table.

  3. Daniel P. Johnston said,

    March 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Yes, Jen, I am well aware of the origins of Bohemia, the historical geographic region. That’s where the term “Bohemian” (and its various interpretations) came from (hence, the capital B). Recent times have seen some lower the B when not talking specifically about the historical region, but, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s still capped pervasively. Nice heritage.

  4. Jen Paur said,

    March 6, 2008 at 12:51 am

    yeah, Oxford _English_ Dictionary. The British are the ones who brought Bohemia down! You trust that shit?

  5. Daniel P. Johnston said,

    March 8, 2008 at 4:41 pm


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