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What is a table? All about your home’s most important piece of furniture

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Sheryl Novak
Sheryl Novakhttps://www.solutionsmexico.com/
Sheryl Novak is an expat Canadian and owner of SOLutions Mexico, an online furniture store in Mexico. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Tables take many forms and serve many functions, says Sheryl Novak. Photo: Courtesy

One of the most used items of furniture in the home is a table. Whether the table is in the kitchen, dining room, living room or outdoors, no home is complete without one.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word table comes from the Latin word tabula, which means “a board, plank, flat top piece.” 

The practice of using a table for eating took hold in Greece and Rome. Most tables were one complete piece, made with marble, wood or metal. These tables had one solid piece in the center. Later, the Greeks and Romans made rectangular dining tables in two parts — the platform separate from the pillar. No doubt this made transporting or moving it much easier than the heavy one-piece table.

Throughout history, tables have been used, starting as low platforms to keep food and other items off the floor. The earliest platforms were made from stone, although archeologists discovered wooden tables in tombs. Therefore, we know that tables date to 2500 BC. Other locations where there is evidence of tables used for eating and writing, and painting include China and Mesopotamia. The Egyptians utilized small tables and taller platforms for board games. 

During the Eastern Roman Empire, we see another change to the design of the dining table. Tables were made with four feet and linked by stretchers in the shape of an “X.” Large, round or semicircular tables were popular and used for dining. Most tables in this period were made from wood or metal. More sophisticated joinery, using intricate designs to hold wood together, is evidenced starting in the 15th century.

In the middle ages, the refectory table was a common type of table used for banquets in great halls of castles and monasteries. The refectory table is known for its great length and width since it was meant to seat many people at one time.

Today, we use tables for more than just eating and dining. In our living rooms, we use coffee and side tables to put refreshments and display decorative items. We situate night tables beside beds where we place lamps, an alarm clock and charge our phones. We see board room tables, drafting tables, and other specialized pieces of platform furniture in the work environment.

Other types of tables include workbenches, which have elevated platforms and can be used while standing or with a high stool. Workbenches are excellent for doing assembly and repairs or any work that might require precision. Workbenches are not the same as a worktable. The worktable was initially designed for women who sewed and held everything needed for creating clothing, drapes, linens and other household fabric goods.  

Console tables, which are also called pier tables, are designed for placing against walls. Console tables used to come with brackets, which allowed you to attach them to the wall, although this is not common today.

Pembroke tables became popular in the 19th century. This table design included drop leaves so they could be stored or moved easily when not in use. When needed, you could easily create a full-size dining table by simply raising and supporting the leaves. Sofa tables are like Pembroke tables in that they both are designed to be longer and narrower. Although we use sofa tables today primarily to hold lamps or décor, their original purpose was for serving tea. Tables are also used for billiards, chess, table tennis and poker or card games.

Since Victorian times, the dining table has been more than just a place to have something to eat. Parents used mealtime to educate their children on manners, proper conversation and religion. It also became a place where all family members would come together regularly to share what happened during their day. The family dinner’s ideological concept was reinforced through popular TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s in programs like “Leave it to Beaver.”

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