Design Icon: The Noguchi Coffee Table Seen in The Big Bang Theory, Conan, and More TV Shows
You’re likely to have spotted this iconic coffee table somewhere, whether it’s on Pinterest boards, on screen (The Big Bang Theory, Conan, and Homeland, to name a few), or at the museums. With a clear glass tabletop and an interlocking wooden base, the sculptural masterpiece is none other than the Noguchi coffee table.
The well-celebrated piece is perhaps one of the most renowned mid-century designs, with a rich history and distinct silhouette. The chic table presents a deft harmony of form and function with its distinctive configuration. An exemplar of exceptional craftsmanship, it highlights the beauty of simplicity—concealing nothing and revealing everything.
The Noguchi coffee table on the Conan talk show (Photo: Courtesy of TBS)
The coffee table also made a brief appearance on Spanish psychological thriller film The Skin I Live In (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Spain)
The Noguchi coffee table gained its namesake from its creator, Japanese-American artist and industrial designer Isamu Noguchi. From a young age, the designer had a keen interest in sculpting; he briefly worked for sculptor Gutzon Borglum after high school, and took evening sculpture classes under sculptor Onorio Ruotolo at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art during university.
In the 1940s after World War Two, he set up a studio in New York City where he fervently explored the extensive possibilities of working with new materials and methods. The Noguchi coffee table is said to be an evolution of The Goodyear Table, a 1939 design that Noguchi did for Anson Goodyear, the then president of the Museum of Modern Art.
The sculptural base caught the eye of American manufacturer Herman Miller, which was then under the leadership of modernist design powerhouse George Nelson. Noguchi partnered with Herman Miller to design an evolution of The Goodyear Table, with a freeform sculptural base and a biomorphic glass top.
The Noguchi coffee table eventually debuted in 1947. The ingenious base consists of interlocked pieces of solid wood that support an organically-shaped top. With its playful personality and functional form, the table was an instant hit and grew to become one of Herman Miller’s most successful designs.
Pictured here at the Salone del Mobile in 2017, the Noguchi coffee table embodies the best of form and function (Photo: Courtesy of Vitra)
The coffee table (pictured at the bottom left) exudes a timelessly chic appeal (Photo: Courtesy of Vitra)
Today, the Noguchi coffee table is distributed worldwide by Swiss furniture brand Vitra, with the exception of the North American region, where the coffee table is still distributed by Herman Miller. The digital era has spawned a plethora of Noguchi-inspired pieces on the market; to indicate the table’s authenticity, Herman Miller etched each coffee table with the designer’s signature on the table's edge and base.
The Noguchi coffee table itself perhaps best embodies the designer’s belief and design philosophy that constantly blurred the lines between art and design; he once famously said, “Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.”