Ideas for Unique and Distinctive Asian-Design Coffee Tables

Chow Coffee Table

To offer Asian style coffee tables is slightly disingenuous, as coffee has only become popular in Asia over the last 100 years. A “tea table” is a more traditional beverage serving accessory in East Asia but is used interchangeably with the more modern term “coffee table“.

In Chinese, Japanese, and various Asian wood working and furniture-making traditions, an array of furniture has been used as coffee tables including: benches, low tables, altar tables, low cabinets, blanket trunks, and linen chest.

Refined Coffee Tables, Rustic Coffee Tables

Here we review and compare categories of interesting and distinctive imported Asian furnishings well suited for coffee tables; traditional, refined, and elegant designs, as well as casual, natural, and rustic styles.

Also, we suggest matching pairs of rosewood or ceramic stools, cube shape chests in wood or rattan, and square shape low tables that work as appealing alternative design coffee tables. Beautiful in front of a sofa or love seat in a living room, family room, den, or professional office.

Wood Grain Coffee Table Designs

In both Japanese and Chinese furniture craft traditions, there are lovely, richly grained wood design low tables, chests, cabinets, and trunks that can make wonderful coffee or cocktail tables for a variety of traditional and eclectic interior design styles.

Japanese Low Table Designs

Japanese Coffee Table

Smaller sized, simple and beautifully finished; usually golden brown or oak color stained “low tables” are a traditional table design in Japanese wood working.

The table top is usually thick wood planks, set on a solid apron and legs configuration. Double rungs pierce the legs in classic Japanese style joinery, in the way the lower rung of a Japanese Tori Gate cantilevers the vertical posts.

Korean Double Sided Cabinets

Double Sided Coffee Table

An interesting and distinctive alternative coffee table design, finished with a warm wood grain finish. The configuration is usually set with small drawers on each side, as well as a center cabinet.

A variety of unique brass hardware, including corner covers, hinges, and hasps, either round medallion or whimsical butterfly designs decorate this style of cabinet. With the Asian style “wing top” and Ming base, such cabinets create a comparatively tall coffee table design.

Chinese Rosewood Coffee Tables

Rosewood Qing Coffee Table

Since the Ming dynasty, Chinese wood workers have created beautiful tables, cabinets, chests, and trunks from various hardwoods available throughout the Asian continent. Offered in round, square, and rectangular designs and in rich, dark, medium, or light Cherry color stains, with medium gloss lacquered finishes. Chinese Rosewood furnishings, with the distinctive “Ming edge”, have been imported by discerning interior decorators in Europe and the coastal cities of the United States for over one hundred years.

The legs of most rosewood table designs are either reinforced by rungs or a lower shelf. Most Rosewood table tops are built with the distinctive “floating panel”, to avoid cracking or splitting as moisture fluctuates with the season.

Black Lacquer Coffee & Cocktail Tables

Lacquer ware and lacquered furniture and accessories have been popular in Asian arts and crafts traditions for a thousand years. Not only is the smooth lacquer strikingly beautiful, but artisans paint or carve elegant, sublime decorations on the top of lacquered wood tables, benches and stools.

Rectangular Table Designs

Black Lacquer Coffee Table

Rectangular shaped coffee table designs, with straight Ming legs or claw foot pediments, in black, red, or elegant gold leaf lacquer, are still hand crafted in China and exported to the US and Europe, some with fine hand carved mother of pearl applique.

Unique Scroll, Shinto, and Scalloped Designs

Shinto Coffee Table

Among lacquered low tables, well-proportioned for coffee tables, are distinctive scalloped edge Queen Ann style designs. Striking scroll shaped coffee tables in black or gold leaf lacquer, and subtle, beautiful Shinto style bench designs hand painted with simple, subtle, mountain landscape decoration.

Considering the nature of the craftsmanship required, these remarkable designs offer extraordinary value and exceptional beauty at extremely affordable prices.

Chinese Antiques Make Beautiful Coffee Tables

Antique Carved Black Coffee Table

China developed large furniture production capacity in the second half of the 1800s, and there continues to be a stream of refurbished Chinese antiques from that time, in black, red, yellow, green, and blue lacquer finishes, still shipped to the U.S. and Europe.

A diligent interior decorator  can find and make use of sturdy, beautiful, refurbished Chinese antique tables, chests, benches, and stools for an elegant and unique coffee or cocktail table.

Rattan & Woven Fiber Coffee Table Designs

Rush Grass Coffee Table/Ottoman

Rattan and wicker (and more recently, sea grass, rush grass, and other woven plant fibers) are crafted into a wide selection of bedroom, dining room and bathroom furnishings as well as inexpensive living room coffee tables.

Rush grass and spun plant fiber cord furnishings tend to accept dark dyes beautifully, providing a wide range of rich, beautiful colors. Round, square, and rectangular design tables and pediments, as well as classic rattan and natural fiber trunks and chests, also make practical and rustically beautiful coffee tables.

Rattan, wicker, sea and rush grass, and all natural fiber coffee tables must be finished with a heavy nautical finish, lacquer, shellac or polyurethane, to tolerate weather as outdoor furniture. Most natural fiber style coffee tables are for indoor use only, unless made from plastic or water proof fiber.

Bamboo Coffee Tables

Japanese Bamboo Folding Bench - Dark

Bamboo is actually a variety of grass, not a tree, and a field of bamboo, though often called a bamboo forest, matures in six years. As a building material, for furniture like coffee tables, it’s lightweight and as hard as oak. Bamboo is considered a particular sustainable alternative to tropical wood. It finishes beautifully, either as a sturdy, engineered plywood laminate or butcher block material, or crafted into simple, rustic design bamboo pole furnishings, in natural or bleached colors.

Oriental Trunks and Chests as Practical Coffee Tables

Trunk with Cranes Design

Rectangular blanket or hope chests and rattan design trunks are approximately the same dimensions as a rectangular coffee table; between 30 and 36 inches long, 18 and 24 inches wide, 16 and 24 inches tall.

Trunks crafted from Rosewood, black lacquer, carved camphorwood, or bamboo parquet can create elegant, distinctive alternative coffee tables. Woven plant fiber trunks, like rattan, rush grass, or banana leaf make unique, rustic, tropical style casual design coffee tables.

Its convenient storage in the center of the living area can be very practical, great for storing toys for small children. Also, keeping pillows, afghans, and bolsters in a coffee table chest can make the sofa an extra cozy spot for reading or watching TV.

Cushion top trunks, great for holding either a plate of food or a pair of crossed legs, designed with beautiful decorative finishes. A pair of

Rattan & Woven Fiber Coffee Table Designs

Rush Grass Coffee Table

Rattan and wicker, and more recently, sea grass, rush grass, and other woven plant fibers are crafted into a wide selection of bedroom, dining room and bathroom furnishings, as well as unique, beautiful, lightweight, and inexpensive living room coffee tables included.

Rush grass, rattan, and spun plant fiber cord furnishings accept dye beautifully. Natural, rustic design coffee tables finished in Black, Burgundy, Cream, Mocha, and Dark Beige as well as traditional White are available in furniture stores and on the web, including round, square, and unique staple shaped designs, as well as trunks and chests.

Note that rattan, wicker, sea and rush grass and all natural fiber coffee tables must be finished with a heavy nautical coating to tolerate weather on a deck or patio. Most natural fiber coffee tables are in door only.

Alternative Coffee Table Ideas

Olde-Worlde Vintage Ottoman/Stool

Professional home decorators sometimes use matched pairs of square lacquered Ming tables, classic Chinese coromandel stools, Asian design cube shaped wood or bamboo parquet chests, square Rosewood chow tables, or Chinese barrel stools for alternative coffee table designs.

Also, unique and attractive matched pairs of elegant Chinese porcelain garden stools make for an interesting coffee table.

Japanese Lantern Lit Coffee Tables

Hokkaido Geometric Design Coffee Table Lamp

Traditional Japanese lanterns, designed to the dimensions of coffee tables, and crafted with wood frames and lattice with washi paper lamp shades add soft, warm, indirect light.

Using standard American light bulbs, and UL approved wiring and hardware, these accessories can make the coffee table the decorative focus of the living room, family room or TV room, adding light and interest to the center of the room.

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