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Visiting my sister means remembering a number of arbitrary rules she has created, one of which is "don't put anything on the coffee table." She's afraid of rings, and I don't blame her, as the coffee table is rather nice yet stains easily. After my latest admonishing, I started thinking about how badly designed the coffee table is. Who in his right mind would design a coffee table upon which you cannot put your cup of coffee? Many people, I know, as that is why there is a huge coaster industry, but it occured to me that this was just ridiculous.

A truly good design for a coffee table would be impervious to stains. A good top varnishing, or a nice glass or metal surface could easily be wiped off without a trace. This would allow people to use the coffee table unselfconsciously. Indeed, this would make the coffee table part of the feng shui of the room instead of a psychological stone in the middle of the soup.

Then I began thinking that maybe the form of the table could even accomodate the stains. One could imagine a coffee table in the shape of a giant coaster. Indeed, I would love to have a coffee table whose aesthetics incorporated stains in some way. It could have deep circular gouges burnt into a wood surface, or steel half rings embedded. Really, due to current coffee table culture, one would expect some sort of GuidePost to show people it's alright to put their cups down. Maybe some steel bas relief of a few coffee coasters embedded in the surface for good measure.

In this way, the form doesn't fight with the natural use of the furniture, yet it still remains a form, not content. I think creating objects that fit with our lives is far more interesting than creating objets d'art that are meant to be observed and not used. I think the usage is more interesting--a bunch of friends sitting around a table, drinking coffee, and talking--than the tools used to enable that usage, so I think the best tools aim to be as effective at encouraging the usage as possible. -- SunirShah

Great story, and a wise one. However, Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA recently conducted a survey in people's living habits, and found: a) people eat fewer meals at tables and b) people like to slouch on soft, comfortable things rather than straight chairs. With that in mind, in late 2002 they launched an advertizing campaign in the UK, focussing on "new livings trends", which they have labelled, respectively, "Noshing" and "Schlomping".

Meanwhile, it's been stated (by sociologists) that families spending less time together may have serious repercussions in our society (old-fashioned meals around the table were an early casualty); and the medical profession warns that lower back pain is rife (astounding statistics on the number of days off due to this; dire warnings of a generation who will suffer worsening back trouble in decades to come).

So sometimes, adapting our environment to suit our laziness is bad for us.

See also FormOverContent, ContentOverForm.

-- Anonymous

Back pain is the inevitable result of walking upright and living past 30. Straight chairs won't fix it. All we can do is die sooner, breed later or lay down more. I've been practicing the WikiPedia:Alexander_Technique for 27 years (I started young) and I still have back problems. Evolution gave us backs suited to upright walking for a period of at most 30-40 years. If we delayed reproduction and only let people with no back pain reproduce we could coerce the design a bit, but we don't and we won't. -- EricHodges

A good top varnishing, or a nice glass or metal surface could easily be wiped off without a trace. This would allow people to use the coffee table unselfconsciously.

Perhaps the problem isn't in the coffee table, but in your sister. Given enough time even the most durable materials will wear away and show signs of use. Instead of buying a new artificially damaged coffee table she could put cups on her current coffee table and create her own personal patina of use, yet she chooses to treat the coffee table as something that must be protected and preserved. I think some folks just like to put stones in their soup. -- EricHodges

It's easier to clean the coasters than to wipe the whole tabletop, whatever material it is made of. (glass and metal surfaces are a PIG to wipe clean unlesss you're using some chemical spray that a) stinks and b) is not terribly environmentally-friendly.) So it's a trade-off: minor hassle of using coasters now vs. take it easy now and big clean-up later. And there's a moral there. It's: don't be so damn lazy Sunir, it'll only pile the work up later

Um, what type of glass have you been cleaning? Clean towel, spray with water, wipe dry, and done. Compare to a cork, wicker or cloth coaster...


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