Antiques: Table talk makes a comeback

PUBLISHED: 11:33 17 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:50 20 February 2013

Antiques: Table talk makes a comeback

Antiques: Table talk makes a comeback

Table talk is back in fashion thanks to TV cookery programmes and the economic down-turn

Come dine with me

Table talk is back in fashion thanks to TV cookery programmes and the economic down-turn

The once unfashionable dinner party has seen a recent resurgence of popularity, linked to the ever-increasing number of A-list chefs and cult TV shows combined with an economic climate that has curbed diners spending habits.

The popularity of most forms and styles of furniture has always been linked to the fashion and lifestyle of the period. The once valued dining table was, for much of the 90s and the first decade of the new millennia, consigned purely to Christmas and Easter sitting in the rarely used formal dining room or, worst still, sold to accommodate the new room-busting wide screen television.

This new popularity in dining at home has seen interest in quality dining tables at levels not experienced since the 1980s when the vogue for period furniture was last at its height.

The table (derived from the Latin word tabula, which means a board or a plank) came into popular use in the 16th and 17th centuries. Most were constructed from locally plentiful timbers, such as oak, elm and yew wood. The most popular form was the plank top refectory table, which usually had a single two-plank elm top on an oak base. Towards the end of the 17th century, the gate-leg table also became popular, as it was more suited to smaller dwellings.

The 18th century saw the main evolution of the dining table, with fashion as well as function being a factor, along with exotic timbers, such as mahogany and satinwood, arriving from the new world. This added to the mid 18th century new style championed by such names as Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite who produced drawings and designs for elegant forms, such as pedestal and drop-leaf tables, some now with crossbanded or line decoration.

The continued evolution of the dining table in the early 19th century saw new and imaginative ways of extending and reducing the size of the table, with pull-out and wind-out mechanisms being the most popular. These designs were championed by the likes of Gillows of Lancaster, W Smee & Sons and C & R Light.

During the Victorian period, not only was the sight of the female ankle considered scandalous, but even a glimpse of table legs was seen as unseemly and incongruous. Therefore, table legs were also required to be kept covered and out of sight. They were legs after all! This brought forth the vogue for the tablecloth and possibly contributed to the minimalist four leg wind-out dining table with its substantial load-bearing under-stretchers to reduce the requirements of multiple legs.

The end of the 19th century and early 20th century, as with most forms of furniture of this period, saw a resurgence in popularity of the previous three centuries of furniture design.

When you next host or attend a dinner party, spare a thought for the history of the dining table at which you are sitting.

Andrew Beeston is senior fine art auctioneer and valuer at Halls, Shrewsbury. Tel: 01743 284777.

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