The history of the English dining table goes all the way back to the early Greeks and Romans, civilisations famed for their love of banqueting. Is it therefore surprising that these two world empires provided the catalyst for the creative process of explorative furniture design?
The word ‘table’ itself is derived from the Latin word tabula and its earliest designs. Early tables were purely functional and practical. But as Europe developed its empires, more recreational designs are recorded and there is a significant tally in the appearance of tables and an emphasis on lavis, opulent living and dining.
Marble was the choice for early dining tables and shapes were large and rectangular. The head of the household took the seat at the top end of the table which afforded a privileged view of his family and guests, all seated at his table.
At a time when communities lived together and families were larger, tables were not just functional: dining tables were centrepieces of the dining hall and mealtimes were as much about socialising as the food that was served and the drink to accompany it.
The Romans are believed to have been responsible for introducing a circular table design. And circular dining tables are popular to this day – they allow for everyone at the table to have an equal view of everyone present.
Circular tables are popular today for the same reason that they were popular when they were first introduced – they allow for a more informal, relaxed atmosphere. And in the Middle Ages, where every significant event was also the means for revelry and celebration, history shows us that these occasions often had a large, circular dining table at their heart.
Victorian trends were for ornate design and intricate decor. As technology and craftsman processes advanced, new designs and styles emerged and home owners were bombarded with an array of choice – of design, style and material.
Through the 20th century, fashionable trends have influenced interior design in many different ways, but timeless design places dining tables at the heart of the home. Mid-century trends introduced the UK to functional minimalist design and the lavish drama of the 1970s and 1980s gave us glass tops, chrome and other highly reflective surfaces.
As the century turned, interiors trends have rediscovered natural wood. The UK’s new-found enthusiasm for home dining and entertaining might explain the trend for larger and over-sized tables and one of the more notable changes to home living from the 2020 pandemic is our renewed love affair with a room dedicated to eating.
Modern dining table design celebrates the functional and the beautiful. Proud home owners seek the ‘wow factor’ in our homes and as social media encourages us to share every element of our daily lives, the setting that food is served in has become as important – and ‘Instagrammable’ – as the food itself.
Sustainability is a hugely important factor that furniture designers and makers cannot ignore. As well as understanding provenance and the root of materials, customers are asking considered questions about process, labour and quality.
It is no surprise that current design collections feature real wood – because the timeless quality of a solid piece of furniture is something to be celebrated. Furniture that not only uses wood that is sustainably sourced but which is made by traditional craftsmen not mass-produced is particularly sought after.
Interiors trends move fast, but classic contemporary design is always celebrated as it withstands the tests of changing fads and colours. The natural grain of wood is as celebrated as much now as it was in the Middle Ages and a sturdy table constructed to a pleasing design continues to claim its place at the heart of a home.