The Noguchi table is probably one of the most recognized midcentury modern coffee tables. It has been included in numerous television and movie set designs and copied over and over again by manufacturers. But what is the real story behind this iconic table?
Isamu Noguchi, who split his time between Japan and the United States throughout his life, dropped out of Columbia University to pursue sculpture. He apprenticed with the legendary Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. “Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space I consider sculpture,” said Noguchi. He drew inspiration for his designs from Surrealism, prehistoric bones, and Zen gardens.
Along with large and small sculpture, Noguchi also designed lamps and furniture as well as public spaces, including gardens and playgrounds. His close friends included well-known modernist artists and designers Alexander Calder, Buckminster Fuller, and George Nelson. When Nelson was the design director at Herman Miller, he dropped by Noguchi’s studio one day and found him working on a table he intended to give to his sister, Ailes Gilmour, for her birthday. Noguchi designed the piece using a cut piece of scavenged glass for the top and created a base using two identical pieces of wood fitted together by a single pin. By 1947 the table was part of the Herman Miller collection.
The table conceals nothing and at the same time reveals everything about the nature of simple, good design. One can see the influence of surrealism in the biomorphic top and an echo of prehistoric bones in the wooden base. If you’re looking to purchase an authentic Noguchi table today, beware of fakes. Herman Miller now includes the sculptor’s signature along the longest edge of the glass top and on a medallion on the underside of the base.