Home & Building, Volume 12 Number 6 (June-July 1950)
all manner of tables
In contrast to the cabinets which are the permanent dwellings of our odds and ends, tables are temporary places of abode for the same things. Of course we can use anything with a flat top for putting down things for the short moment when we close the door of a cabinet, and for this reason any level spot may usurp the role of a table. Sometimes even curved or uneven surfaces have to do, for instance the domed top of the refrigerator (may one ask why are they domed?), our crossed or uncrossed knees at a fireside supper, or the broad arms of the chesterfield suite. So tables of various sorts are actually only specific constructions to support our articles of use while we are using them. This is the first consideration in table design.
The second consideration is that of the way we want to use the things so ably supported by the table. It matters more than some furniture designers think whether we want to use a table as closely to ourselves as possible, in which case we have to consider not only the height, but especially, the position of the legs, or whether we are content to use them without our knees under them, in which case not only the height may be more or less than the standard thirty inches, but the posiion of the legs can also be more freely decided. This all looks rather commonplace, and comparatively well thought out in the case of dining tables, but just think of dressing tables or work benches!
I think I have to modify the above compliment to the dining tables' designers. When we buy a table seating, say six persons perhaps expandable to 8 and 10, it seems obvious that all persons should have an equally comfortable seat, i.e., no table legs in front of them nor knobby ornaments to hurt their knees. Bruised legs tell a disappointing story of anybody's experiences.
The dining table is, like the dining chair, a true jack-of-all trades in the household. It can only serve the Various purposes it is required for if it is made adjustable.
Its height is about the only measurement which does not vary (although I have seen some doing that trick too, and to great advantage), its width is mostly limited to seat one person (although I have seen some forced to do far more, and to great disadvantage), but the lengthwise expansion is an essential feature, and there are many ways of doing this. Perhaps the simplest way is the drop-leaf table, where the extension leaf is hinged to the end and supported in open position either by brackets sliding back under the top, or by another leg swinging out from under the top, the so-called gate-leg table. Neither of these solutions is satisfactory, because of the loss of seating in the "down" position. The early gate-leg tables made no pretence of being useful tables in the folded-down position at all, they were simply shoved out of the way when not used, and opened only when needed. They practically disappeared when not in use, and so served their purpose beautifully. Their modern counterpart is the card table with folding legs, it is a pity that so little attention is paid to adapting this principle to the dining table and thus keeping our floor area clear.
original position when the side leaves are drawn; this method does not permit an extension greater than double the original length minus a few inches, but seems to be sufficient for the average household. Another more complicated type is the so-called telescopic table, where the original table top is split in the middle, and a number of rails appear when the two parts are separated. The extensions are stored between these or in extremely elongated cases even in the spare room, and laid onto the exposed rails. This type mostly requires some steel or bronze machinery for smooth operation. The shape of the table top naturally has a great influence upon the possibilities of table extension, a circular table is suitable for the telescopic system only producing the so-called "oval" table when extended. (I have however, heard of one construction performing the seemingly impossible feat of extending a round table into another round table of greater diameter by a simple revolving operation on a principle of the segmental stop on a camera. The construction was of course, enormously involved and correspondingly expensive.) The simplest system I know is that of the extension fitted simply into apertures provided in the end rails of the table, and stored elsewhere when not in use—in which case you have to find a handy place for the spare leaves.
When discussing the legs of the dining table, we must mention the best solution of all, the central single leg, which cannot be in anybody's way, but has the disadvantage of adding substantially to the bulk of the table. Failing this, the best method seems to be to put the legs right in the corners with little or no overhang of the top. This gives maximum kneespace for a given top size. It is also advisable to keep the size of the legs down to a minimum, for the same reason. As to the materials used, the polished wooden top seems to be on the way out, due to the "rings" caused by hot dishes, especially since the growing popularity of table mats as against the large table cloth made the use of felt covers impossible, and industry produced such excellent new materials as glass and heat resisting plastic sheets. A fully transparent glass top has the immense advantage of eliminating the darkness under the table and giving even a small space an airy and spacious character—the main aesthetic requirement of our day.
It involves of course careful design and finish of the "innards" of the table mercilessly exposed. What a challenge to neat construction.page 71
Nothing that has been said about dining tables need necessarily apply to the large and varied group summed up 'as occasional tables, in all shapes, sizes, and materials. The heights are lower, much lower than for dining tables, therefore no need for careful calculation of leg spacing, no need for putting the legs into the corners—in fact they are better set back. The chief requirement seems to be stability as they are generally low and small, they are only too easily upset with the small and often liquid things on them. They can be of light construction, as their loading is light. Perhaps the only kind which really requires disciplined shaping are the sets of nesting tables, they have to fit together well. You can't put your knees under these low tables, so you can use the space to put a handy shelf there, and here again the glass top comes into it's own. You can also sink a flush cigarette box into the top, complete with ashtrays; you can even put a recessed source of light into it, reflecting onto the ceiling; in fact there is very little you can not do with them as long as you keep in mind, that it is not the single top you are designing, but a cog in the machine, a part of the whole.
Writing desks are also tables, designed for work in much the same fashion as dining tables, because you sit at them in a similar way, and move your arms above them just like when eating. The main difference is, that they are designed nearly always for the use of one person only, and the required kneespace is therefore less. The balance of the circumference can therefore be used for storage. Most households will however prefer a writing cabinet, which has been discussed in an earlier article. The function is the same.
Also dressing tables have been briefly touched in this series, from the point of view of the usual storage for toilet articles connected with them. Of course the essential thing for a dressing table is the mirror over it, and as this is preferably a full-length one (otherwise the dressing table would be merely a make-up table) the table under it should be low, not even knee-high. Really we should speak of dressing and make-up tables as of two entirely different things and anybody wishing to buy or build one should also note the difference. The "Kidney Shape" dressing table is a good shape, but why should it be smothered in grandma's crinoline?page 72
In the previous article the writer made a strong plea for building-in as many pieces of furniture as possible. He feels that this plea should' be somewhat qualified when applied to tables. Of the incomplete list of various tables discussed above, the category of occasional tables is the only one which has to be 'exempted from the built-in list, although the sets of nesting tables may well be made a removable part of some cabinet fitting. Writing desks and toilet tables on the other hand are best built in, as they are usually in a well-determined position along a wall. It is a bit more difficult with dining tables, once we accept the principle of extension tables as the most elastic space-' saving device, we may as well go a step further and make the whole table an extension from the wall, either as a folding-up unit for larger size, or as a drop, leaf for a small? size, as is often required in a kitchen. This is in fact the only sensible use of the drop leaf. It is of course very important to remember that as soon as we build a table in, the total planning of the room is involved, and this aspect transgresses the limits of this article.