The Noguchi Table: a True Work of Art

Nov 2, 2022

esigned by American artist and landscape architect, Isamu Noguchi, the Noguchi table has been described as “the marriage of sculptural form and everyday function.” It was introduced by Herman Miller in 1947 and we are celebrating 75 years of the classic table this year.

Noguchi was born in 1904 in Los Angeles to Japanese poet, Yone Noguchi and Leonie Gilmour, an American writer. Isamu’s mother nurtured her son’s artistic abilities encouraging him to always have a hand in the arts. While enrolled in Columbia as a premed student, she urged him to partake in evening classes at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, where he excelled. Noguchi eventually dropped out of Columbia and held his first exhibition only three months after enrolling. He spent the next few decades of his life traveling and moving around while continuing to design outdoor spaces and produce sculptures and art. While in Hawaii in 1939, he was asked to design a model of a coffee table for furniture designer T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings. “I designed a small model in plastic and heard no further before I went west,” he explained.

In 1942, Noguchi voluntarily entered a WWII relocation camp for Japanese-Americans. He was under the impression that he was invited there to promote the arts and design recreational areas within the camp. Unfortunately, administrators were suspicious that he was a spy and had no intention of letting him leave. He spent seven months there and once he was finally free, he decided to focus only on art. However, his time there would inspire him to create his famous table.

In the interment camp, Noguchi saw an adaptation of the model table he had created in Hawaii for Robsjohn-Gibbings in an advertisement. He vowed to recreate the table, only better. “In revenge, I made my own variant of my own table,” he stated. In 1947, Noguchi connected with Herman Miller and later, Knoll. Both relationships proved to be successful ones, but in the furniture world he is probably best known for his namesake coffee table. “In a long lifetime of creative work, Isamu Noguchi designed gardens and plazas, fountains and murals, furniture and paper lamps, and stage sets for modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. But he said that of all the furniture designs he created, the table that bears his name represented his only true success."

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