Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Janus Home Holiday Guide to Dining Tables, Pt. 1

In honor of the impending holiday season, we thought we would take some time to focus on that most important piece of furniture, the dining table. There's a certain je ne sais quoi to a dining table. Part of it is that it's the single piece of furniture that people gather around and eat on. Eating is a big deal, and eating with other people, specifically friends and family, even more so. It's also the centerpiece of a dining room, which sometimes, depending on the layout of the house, can translate into being the centerpiece of the entire house. The point is - dining tables are kind of a big deal - even more so around the holiday season! So, if you're considering thepurchase of a new dining table, there are several things you need to take into account.

  • Shape. Most dining tables are either round, oval, square, or rectangular. However, when paired with their extension leaves, round tables can become oval and square tables can become rectangular.
  • Versatility. Some dining tables, such as farm-style tables and most tables with glass or stone tops, are fixed and cannot expand or contract. Others, usually made of wood, havevarious different types of expansion mechanisms, which we will discuss below.
  • Materials. Wood? Glass? Metal? Stone? Some combination of the above? If wood, what kind of wood?
Perhaps the easiest decision of these to make is shape, as it is largely determined by the shape of your room. In general, rectangular tables are more efficient, space wise, than round or square tables (i.e. you can get more people per square foot around a rectangular table than you can around a round or square table). However, if you have a large square dining room, a big round table might be just the thing you need.

Versatility largely depends on your intended use of the table, and also the space that you have available for the table. Do you have a tiny space, but nevertheless like to entertain and have lots of people over? Then perhaps you would consider a table that breaks down fairly small, but has a number of extension leaves to make it bigger when you are entertaining.

When it comes to leaves, there are several types. You have your basic drop-in extension leaf, where the table pulls apart in the center and one or more leaves simply drop in to make the table bigger. Usually this type of leaf needs to be stored in a closet or somewhere else, although some tables have mechanisms for storing the leaves underneath the table. The advantage to this type of leaf is that sometimes a table like this will have the capacity to get very large, such as the Paul McCobb for Calvin dining set pictured below.

This dining table by Paul McCobb starts out at a very modest 44" round.But, with the addition of 6 12" center extension leaves, the table morphs into a 10' monster, roomy enough to seat 10 comfortably.

Often, a table will actually expand to accept more leaves than actually come with the table - and sometimes leaves get lost, leaving you with a table that will expand to accept leaves, but no actual leaves.

This is a solvable problem, however, because you should be able to find a local carpenter or woodworker who can fashion you a leaf that will fit into the table. Of course, the leaf will probably not match the table exactly, but the fact is that most times when we put leaves in our table to have company over, we put a tablecloth over the table, so the fact that the leaves may not match becomes less of an issue. It's also quite possible to fashion a leaf out of a complementary wood, so that while the leaf may not match, it will contrast nicely with the wood of the table, giving a pleasing aesthetic effect. For instance, just last week, we made a leaf out of poplar wood for a client who purchased a rosewood table from us that had no leaves. The whitish-greenish-yellow of the poplar wood contrasted quite nicely with the purplish brown of the rosewood, and the clients were quite happy!

Another type of leaf that is quote common in mid century tables, especially Danish tables, is the draw leaf. These leaves are stored underneath the main table surface, and pull out from either end of the table by means of runners. This is a very popular design, mainly because it is extremely convenient, as the leaves automatically store right underneath the table. Another advantage of this design is that the leaves are usually very easy to operate, and can be expanded or contracted by one person, making this a smart choice for a single person shopping for a dining table. In contrast, it can sometimes be difficult for one person to pull a table apart to accept a drop-in leaf. Perhaps the only drawback to this type of design is that unlike drop in expansion tables, which can sometimes expand practically to infinity, these tables are limited in the amount which they will expand. However, unless you own a castle and need to seat 24 people comfortably, a large draw-leaf table will usually suffice for the needs of most families. A teak draw-leaf dining table with oak base by Hans Wegner. This view shows the table extended.

A similarly designed teak table by J.L. Moller. The extension leaves fit neatly underneath the main table surface.

One other less common, but still worth mentioning, leaf design is the butterfly leaf. This is a leaf that folds in half and stores under the table, and by means of a mechanical device, pops up when the table is pulled apart. These are very fun, and can be entertaining to your friends and family (especially small children), and also have the advantage of storing underneath the table. The only drawback to this type of leaf is that they are usually limited to a single leaf, so you don't get a whole lot of expansion potential - it is seldom possible to seat more than 8 people at a dining table equipped with a butterfly leaf. A contemporary hand-made Koa wood dining table featuring a butterfly leaf.

However, if you don't plan on entertaining large groups of people, or simply have a small enough space that won't let you open up a big dining table no matter what, a butterfly leaf can be a very viable (not to mention stylish!) option.

Please join us for our next installment, when we will discuss the question of materials. Until then, happy holidays!


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Home Stars said...

Beautiful dining table, thank you for this great post! I love it.
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