James Swan: Cocktail Conundrum

June 12, 2012

“A girl in a bikini is like having a loaded pistol on your coffee table–there’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s hard to stop thinking about it.†–Garrison Keillor

A circa-1920 black Chinoiserie low-top table. Chic and timeless.

That could be how it works for Mr. Keillor, but we designers might well be more concerned with the table than either the girl or the gun. In my newly minted position with the Boston- and Los Angeles–based Carter & Company, I’ve been included recently in the hunting party as we’ve searched for the perfect cocktail table for a number of clients. Those quests (including, I’m afraid, the occasional despairing moment) have prompted much discussion about these low-lying elements in our rooms for living, and I’ve gathered these few thoughts (and a short list of our current favorites) to share with you.

Dennis & Leen’s Macau Table, with just a touch of the Far East and loads of western style.

The thing about cocktail tables is that they’re relatively new to the club of interior design staples. Any design professional worth his or her weight in feather-down will counsel you to run quickly from any purveyor of antiquities who’s prepared to sell you a cocktail table “used†by Marie Antoinette in her sublimely furnished chambers in the Petit Trianon. And any auction house floating the idea that the wine-barrel contrivance you’ve set your eyes on is attributed to a king of England should be avoided like your neighbor’s Herculon-clad sofa. These things just ain’t so, kittens. Opinions vary as to when the first cocktail was placed on a table made for just such a purpose, but it was closer to my date of birth than to Henry the Eighth’s, I assure you.

The “Create Your Own†cocktail table by Karl Springer. Resplendent in a white lacquer finish, this table offers endless possibilities.

So what of these remarkable tables made with alcoholics in mind (and, of course, their twelve-stepping cousins’ coffee-bearing versions)? Aside from the enabling of both hot and cold drinks consumption, they have shouldered responsibilities far beyond original expectations. Now they coddle collections and cradle literary masterpieces; they collect junk and commandeer assortments of errant remote controls from every room in the house. They’re best when they offer storage; a shelf, drawer or hidden interior can spell momentary relief from clutter for cadres of otherwise helpless homemakers doing battle with their teenage children and seemingly still adolescent spouses.

Dennis & Leen’s Gothic Folding Table. Stone and iron have never looked so elegant.

High or low, grandly scaled or minuscule, properly positioned (fifteen to eighteen inches from the upholstery, please) or out in left field, what would we do without these dedicated supporting cast members? The thought of life without them is enough to drive one to drink. Now just imagine the dilemma–for exactly where would you then set that cocktail?

A rare cocktail table designed by Tommi Parzinger for Parzinger Originals. Few worries about spills with this one.

–James Swan

James Swan is an interior designer at Carter & Company in Boston, and author of 101 Things I Hate About Your House. He is also currently in charge of outfitting the new Carter-Dayton Home store in Wellesley, Mass., set to open in October 2012–a store which, he assures us, will be well stocked with sublimely chic cocktail tables.