Coffee Anyone?

I am embarking on a new furniture project for a client on the Eastern Seaboard: a coffee table. We’ve already moved through the design phase and, with the pricing and timetable agreed upon, the project can commence within the next week. This table will be made of bubinga, with a plate glass top. I expect that construction and finishing will take about two months. Again, the table is envisioned as a fully-joined piece, with little to no use of adhesives or metal fasteners.

In considering the space in which the table will be placed, during an in-house consultation I did with the client, a coffee table of roughly rectangular configuration made the most sense. The client quite likes polygonal shapes, like octagons and pentagons, etc., so that was something I was keeping in mind. A rectangular table suffers from corners which can catch the shin, so my first thought was actually to change the plan into an elliptical form. That idea, in quick succession, suggested to me a table frame composed of 4 elliptical sections which come together with re-entrant corners. I sketched out a few rough impressions on a scrap of paper, and then upon return home later on I started some drawing work proper on the computer.

Here’s the plan of the table top that I came up with:

Some would say that the form is the tsuba-gata, or sword guard form, however that is more of a coincidence since my design proceeded strictly from playing about with standard geometrical forms. Call it a sword guard shape if you like though!

Here’s a view showing the table frame profile, at least at the current stage of design:

The corner joints will be the ‘standard’ mitered wedge-locked arrangement I always go with, though I haven’t decided if they will be of the single- or double-tenoned variety, or if the wedges will be exposed to the front or not.

A better look at the frame moulding profile:

As you can see, the 1/2″ (12.7mm) plate glass is intended to stand proud of the wood by about 1/4″ (6.35mm) and will have a rounded chamfer (not illustrated). The glass tint is yet to be decided.

The client wanted a shelf to store magazines and the like, and in our initial discussions a pedestal sort of support structure was considered. Later thinking about them matter, and my own desire to construct the piece out of solid wood without recourse to laminated or steam-bent legs, and to want a piece that was not tippy, led to the idea of a dual pedestal support. Then, in thinking further about the shelf location, I abandoned the pedestal idea in favor of four legs. My first go-round with drawing the leg shape gave me a result, somewhat surprisingly, that I was immediately pleased with – and so was the client:

I tend to find that designing legs and getting their shape right quite a challenge – on the previous Ming-inspired table, I had to wring the design of the legs out over half a dozen iterations. This one seemed to come together almost right off the bat, though at this stage the details are not in place- just the overall sweeping curved form. I have yet to settle upon how the legs will terminate – with hoofs, or ??? The legs will likely have some beading and profiling, though I have left off trying to draw that in SketchUp, because frankly, it’s a hassle.

Plan view:

Oh yes, and the project scope includes painting white overlapping circles on the client’s wood-planked floor and tying the table down with black cordage.

Just kidding!

Here’s the long side elevation view:

And the short side elevation:

Note that the legs will not be of one-piece construction, but will be scarfed of two sections.

The client expressed to me that she like the form so much that maybe the shelf would be an unnecessary complication(?). So I decided to draw that shelf in to see how she might like it:

Fortunately, the client really liked the shelf – actually, I view the shelf as a very necessary structural component to support the legs. In keeping with my client’s expressed liking for polygonal forms, and some interplay between curved and rectilinear surfaces, I made the shelf a stretched octagon in plan. This shape makes sense from a practical perspective as well, as it affords a clean orthogonal connection between the shelf frame and the back of the legs, and gives a useful surface are upon which to stack a few magazines – or, hey!, perhaps a coffee table book on coffee tables:

Here’s a run through of the other views of the piece, long side elevation:

Short side elevation:


I will be heading to the lumberyard in a few days to obtain some material, with the tricky piece being obtaining a wide piece of wenge for the shelf panel. Like the Ming table recently completed, the shelf panel will be relatively thin and reinforced with dovetailed crosspieces.

I’ve got some good ideas percolating for the leg in terms of their feet, and have come up with some solutions for the joinery which I think readers may find of interest. The next post in this series should follow in another 3 or 4 days.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. –> on to post 2

2 Replies to “Coffee Anyone?”

  1. Chris, I've read almost all of your blog over the past 6 months and saw some of your work (Boston children's museum/bench) and your knowledge and dedication is great. However, with the heavy glass top, that coffee table may be too easy to push over if pressure is applied on the long side of the top. The feet are close together. Does the client have children (or parties?) Let me say that if I ever commissioned a custom coffee table from you, I would not put magazines, coffee table books, or remotes on it. Maybe a suitable piece of art or a beautiful carving or bowl! This Normite says thanks for documenting your work and studies, it's very cool.

  2. Hello Anonymous Normite,

    your concerns about the issue of the table being prone to tipping is one which I have given some thought to already, and I should say that the legs are not finalized in design yet. I intend to bring them out further yet, and will be revising the lower termination of the legs at the floor. At the stage in which the concept sketches are shown, above, I have merely gotten to the point where the overall form of the legs has been established. Stay tuned for further work on that aspect of the design.

    Thanks for the comment BTW – and glad you like the blog!


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