Top Ten Coffee Tables of the 20th Century


A coffee table forms the heart of any sitting space. It’s a place to convene and a spot to display a few of your favourite treasures. It also opens up an opportunity to express your personal style and sensibility. The 20th century produced no shortage of iconic coffee table designs that we still see in many curated interiors today. From Noguchi to Knoll, we’ve gathered a few of our favourites that continue to inform good design in all its varied forms.


Laccio Coffee Tables – Marcel Breuer

Laccio Coffee Tables by Marcel Breuer (1925)

When it comes to iconic 20th century designs, Marcel Breuer’s work rarely misses the cut. His flowing, curvaceous forms temper the sleek and stark qualities of his chosen materials. As an early pioneer of Modernism, many of his designs incorporate chrome-clad tubular steel, taking full advantage of its mutable yet strong nature. In the case of the Laccio nesting coffee tables, he uses his trademark curvilinear forms to define space with a light touch that still resonates nearly a century down the line.


Mesa Coffee Table – T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings

Mesa Coffee Table by T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings (c. 1952)

Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings was born in England before he set off for Paris to study design. He eventually settled in America, where he opened a shop on New York’s Madison Avenue which would launch his career. He was deeply inspired by the awesome landscapes of his adoptive country, infusing his work with elements of biomorphism and sticking primarily to wood as a material. His Mesa coffee table is the distillation of his style and a reflection of the deeply American aesthetic sensibility which he cultivated. He conceived of the design while peering out the window of an airplane flying over the American landscape. He zeroed in on the mountains of the southwest, interspersed with plateau rock formations. The result is something of an antidote to the stark Modernism of the era, which recalls elements of the Studio Craft Movement. It tells a story of mid-century design as it crossed borders and transcended styles to incorporate a newly naturalistic focus – and it looks rather wonderful doing it.


Florence Knoll Coffee Table – Florence Knoll

Florence Knoll Coffee Table by Florence Knoll (1954)

Florence Knoll’s work is best known as a collection of office chic designs that have since graduated into Modern classics. Her orientation toward workspaces was a sign of the times in post-war America, where the capital-C Corporation was a burgeoning power, and all things were to be orderly and efficient. Florence Knoll approached the design of this and her other tables as scaled-down renditions of Modern architecture. She worked in boxy, geometric forms, mostly using materials that wouldn’t be out of place on the façade of a towering office building. She incorporated glass and marble, as well as tubular steel, finishing it in a polished chrome effect to create a pleasantly spartan appearance. The coffee table is a perfect expression of the rationalist principles this maven of Modernism picked up from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It’s designed to serve a need in the simplest, most straightforward manner possible, while using functional materials that, when expertly combined, hold an undeniable lustre.


Tulip Coffee Table – Eero Saarinen

Tulip Coffee Table by Eero Saarinen (1957)

Eero Saarinen is perhaps best known for his elegant Tulip designs, which reimagined the classic conformation of a table. The idea took five years to develop as he sought a solution to the “slum of legs” which he detected in other table designs. He did away with the four-legged norm, instead introducing a pedestal base with a much softer, more streamlined effect. The resulting form is an instantly recognisable design classic with something of a space-age style that still feels fresh today.


Moebius Coffee Table – Unknown

Moebius Coffee Table (1957)

The Moebius coffee table is something of a design mystery. It was originally discovered at a flea market in Parma, Italy and to this day, we’re unsure who designed it. Its fluid form held an instant allure, inspiring its reproduction, which has continued ever since. It was named for its reminiscence of German mathematician, August Ferdinand Moebius’ mind-bending optical riddle. The Moebius Ribbon remains an object of fascination explored throughout art and design (it appears countless times in the work of M. C. Escher, for example). The table is, in and of itself, a riddle, which continues to captivate the eyes and minds of contemporary design afficionados.


LC10-P – Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Pierre Jeanneret

LC10-P by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Pierre Jeanneret (1929)

Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Pierre Jeanneret were three parts of a formidable design trio. They began working together in 1927 and would continue to collaborate for a decade. The LC10-P is one of their early designs as a group and was first exhibited at the 1929 Salon d’Automne in Paris. It actually began as a desk before Perriand recalibrated the dimensions to suit a modern lifestyle. It was made into a more multi-functional tool for living, which would help save space in the shrinking living quarters of the time. The design itself is characteristic of the trio’s style, taking shape in glass and glistening tubular steel. The result is thoroughly Modern and a true expression of simplicity at its finest.


Platner Coffee Table – Warren Platner

Platner Coffee Table by Warren Platner (1960s)

Warren Platner was brought on as a designer at Knoll in 1960, where he quickly got to work with his own innovative approach to familiar materials. He used steel wire and glass to dismantle space, blurring the lines between interior and exterior. The effect is illusionistic, creating a funnel of air for the crystalline top to rest on. The futuristic form became Platner’s signature, introducing a hint of 1960s spirit into countless living rooms across the globe.


Noguchi Coffee Table – Isamu Noguchi

Noguchi Coffee Table by Isamu Noguchi (1944)

Isamu Noguchi’s iconic coffee table is a beautiful reflection of his belief that “everything is sculpture”. It combines warm wood and crisp glass in total aesthetic harmony. The table was born when the Japanese-American designer was on the road working with artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. Noguchi was approached by the aforementioned T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings to design a coffee table for his home. He sent his plans over and heard nothing, considered the project closed, and continued on his way. It wasn’t until he spotted his design in an advertisement that he realised it had been stolen. He resolved to beat his own personal best, improving on his initial idea so as to surpass its popularity. In hindsight, it’s clear he succeeded in spades, producing one of the best-loved coffee tables of all time.


Barcelona Table – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Barcelona Table by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1929)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe requires little introduction. His Barcelona collection in particular, is heralded the world over for its elegant lines and virtuosic combination of materials. Each piece is united by a use of flattened and chromed steel, creating a crisp character which retains its allure nearly a century later. The collection was made for the Weimar Republic’s pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Industrial Exposition. Mies van der Rohe wanted to create furniture fit for the King and Queen of Spain, using design as a bridge between old-world luxury and forward-facing innovation. Though the monarchs never actually tested his designs, one could argue that he succeeded in his mission. The coffee table has continued to draw accolades over the years, clinching the MoMA Award in 1977, for example. With its masterful treatment of proportion, rhythm, and space, it’s plain to see why.


Risom Amoeba Coffee Table – Jens Risom

Risom Amoeba Coffee Table by Jens Risom (1943)

Jens Risom’s organically shaped coffee table was part of the very first collection designed and manufactured by Knoll. It helped in no small part to establish the company as a pioneering force in early Modern American design. The table combines angular geometry and soft, organic shapes, indicating something of the Danish designer’s Scandinavian roots. It was designed to skirt around wartime material shortages and restrictions, allowing the piece to be produced in America using spare timber and discarded nylon webbing from parachute factories. It was born of a collaboration between Risom and Hans Knoll, who were both in their early twenties at the time. They shared a conception of design as a mechanism for problem-solving, Risom remarking, “design is a creative effort to successfully solve problems; ‘good design,’ therefore, is a ‘good solution’ which must satisfy the many requirements”. Time moves on and styles change, but that core truth remains, weaving a thread through generations of ‘good design’.




Text by Annabel Colterjohn