Early History of the Dining Table
The origins of the word “table” are in the Latin word “tabula”, which means a “board” or a “plank”.
The Egyptians made the very early dining tables. Strictly speaking, they were not dining tables. These tables were no more than platforms and used to keep objects off the floor. They were made of stone and people did not usually sit at them.
The Greeks and Romans started using the tables for eating. However, in Ancient Greece tables were pushed under a bed when not in use.
Materials for making tables included marble, metal and wood. Very often, tables had x-shaped stretchers and ornate legs. The Romans were first to bring a semi-circular shape, which you can now see in some console tables, like this one from our traditional collection.
Not many classical designs survived into the early Middle Ages, because of frequent wars and invasions.
Small trestle tables became a necessity, as they were easier to move from place to place and erect just before meals. They were simple boards on trestles. The modern-day trestle tables are similar in design, with simple legs and top.
The ever-popular refectory table is the direct descendant of the trestle table. Refectory tables first appeared in the Middle Ages in monasteries. Monks used these large tables in dining halls and refectories, hence the name. These oak tables were narrow and long.
In the late 16th century the refectory table moved to central and northern Europe. Nowadays, the term “refectory table” applies to pretty much any table with four legs, connected by a stretcher. The word “refectory” means a dining room in a monastery or any other institution. It is interesting to note that early on the stretchers of dining chairs were positioned rather high off the ground. One theory is that this was to prevent the feet from touching the floor and avoid the vermin or the drafts.
The height of the table itself was different from what we are used to now. The dining tables were much higher. Up to the start of the 17th century, the typical table height was between 86 and 87 cm. This was mainly due to the fact that most people sat on joined stools rather than chairs. And stools were higher than the chairs, usually about 55 cm. Tudor Oak cabinetmakers can make you a replica of such a carved wooden stool using many traditional methods.
The other feature of these tables was the width. The original refectory tables were narrower than the modern dining tables. With modern dining tables, diners sit opposite each other. However, people would sit along one side of the refectory table. The other side was used for serving.
Elizabethan era (16th century) brings more elaborate and decorative designs. Carving is very popular in the later period, especially on wall panels, beds, boxes and tables. Refectory table acquires bulb legs with heavy hand-carved motifs. At Tudor Oak, we have several models, which demonstrate this style. One of our favourites is the table from our Elizabethan Collection.
In the Stuart period of the 17th and 18th centuries, chairs became more popular and wide-spread. At the same time, the height of oak refectory tables decreases to what we are used to today. Standard height of a Tudor Oak dining table is 76 cm. This allows enough room for one of our standard dining chairs.
Timeless Designs of Dining Tables
Another classic style worth noting is a drop-leaf table. This wooden table has a fixed section in the middle and a hinged section on either side. This table originates in England in the late 16th century. The drop-leaf table later evolved into a gateleg table. Gateleg tables are still very popular, mostly due to their versatility.
They can fit in any size dining room. Our cabinetmakers will be happy to make you a Gateleg refectory table which combines two classic designs.
Circular dining tables go back centuries. In the past, circular tables were used only occasionally. The construction of these tables was simple. Large boards of solid oak or elm on top of central supports with pegs, which can be removed. Thus, the table could be taken apart. Later on, we see tables with fixed legs and heavy stretchers. Understandably, these tables were extremely heavy to move.
Winchester Castle Round Table
One of the oldest round tables to survive today dates back to the beginning of the 13th century. It is displayed in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. This striking table is steeped in history. Notably, this table is connected to King Arthur and his knights.
At the moment, only the tabletop is displayed, on the wall. The top is 5.5m in diameter and weight 1200 kg. Originally it had twelve legs and large central support to carry this enormous weight.
Most likely, the table makers used very large English oak trees to make this table. Like Tudor Oak furniture, it was built to last.
In the Middle Ages, people huge gatherings and opulent feasts were very popular amongst the rich and the noble. Cabinetmakers of the 16th century came up with a solution, which reduced the need for making huge and heavy dining tables to accommodate all the guests. They introduced table extensions. Importantly, this new feature of dining table design is still widely used today. Originally, this was a draw top and would allow making the tabletop twice as long. As well as oak or elm, cabinetmakers started to use walnut or cherry in furniture making. The original principle of using runners to extend a table is still used today.
Nowadays, extending tables are extremely popular due to their versatility. If space is an issue, our customers frequently opt for an extending table so that they can sit a bigger group when required. A round dining table would extend into an oval shape. A square table becomes a rectangle. Each leaf is usually 50 cm wide. Therefore, each extra leaf allows sitting 2 people at the table.
Tudor Oak cabinetmakers came up with our own design of dining table extension. This construction allows for the table leaves to be stored inside the table. One of our most popular designs is the Large Oak Extending Dining Table.
Another popular shape is a round extending table. This shape fits in any room shape and at Tudor Oak, we have many designs to suit any interior design or style. Take a look at our selection of dining tables.
We have many other pieces of dining room furniture to complement a handmade oak dining table. For example, you may not need a large table to fit all the food and decorations. Instead, you can use a side table or a sideboard. Take a look at our website or call us to discuss your requirements.