How to make a table

“Everything is sculpture,” said Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. And he created sculptures out of anything he could get his hands on—stone, metal, wood, clay, bone, paper. Unwilling and unable to be pigeonholed, he created sculptures that could be as abstract as Henri Moore’s and as realistic as Leonardo’s. “To limit yourself to a particular style may make you an expert of that particular viewpoint or school, but I do not wish to belong to any school,”he said. “I am always learning, always discovering.”

Legends about a legend

A Noguchi occasional table with a freeform glass top and curved wood base in a medium finish.

The story behind the Noguchi table is a fascinating one, and Noguchi tells it in his autobiography. “I went to Hawaii in 1939 to do an advertisement (with Georgia O’Keefe). As a result of this, I had met (T.H.) Robsjohn-Gibbings, the furniture designer, who had asked me to do a coffee table for him. I designed a small model in plastic and heard no further before I went west.” 

A Noguchi occasional table complements an ivory-colored Goetz Sofa and black Eames Lounge Chair.

By “went west” Noguchi meant his internment, as a Japanese-American, in an Arizona concentration camp during World War II. During his time there, Noguchi said he was surprised to see a variation of the small model table he had done for Robsjohn-Gibbings published as an advertisement for the English designer. “When, on my return, I remonstrated, he said anybody could make a three-legged table,” said Noguchi. “In revenge, I made my own variant of my own table.”

Close view of the 3/4-inch glass top on a Noguchi Table.

“Anybody can make a three-legged table.”

The “variant” that Noguchi designed was used to illustrate an article, written by Herman Miller designer George Nelson, called “How to Make a Table.” The table in the illustration became his famous “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.

Isamu Noguchi's signature on a medallion that's affixed to every Noguchi Table as a mark of authenticity.

“Art should become as one with its surroundings.”

More about Isamu Noguchi

Designer Isamu Noguchi