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What is the Significance of a Table?

Jan 01, 2017 03:01PM ● Published by Matthew Schlueb

Every house has one; in fact, most houses have two. One for daily meals, a second for dining over formal occasions. Is it really necessary to have two tables? Both are rarely used at the same time. Why can’t one table be enough?

Maybe two tables are needed because they serve two very different functions, and those functions cannot beserved on the same form of table. Sure, some households manage to get by on a single table, my own house included. However, I would argue when this is the case, something is missing or at the very least, not addressed.

The two tables, found in the typical suburban American house, have many common characteristics. The daily table is practical in proximity to family activities and routines, while the dining table is set aside in a controlled and decoratively staged room, speaking more to the family's dreams than the pleasures of a good meal. These dining tables are appointed with straight lines and right angles throughout, in both the surface and the surrounding chairs, seat, back, and weave. This rectangular language permeates the air with a stiffness; a weighting of the moment to elevate occasions marked by the gathering of extended family or friends.

By contrast, the tables we use daily have a rounded nature; edges eased and softer. Why do we prefer this circular form for our daily use? Is it merely a physical thing, lending better to the vocabulary of our bodies, the ergonomics of our limbs? Or could it be more than that? Speaking to a relationship we once had, long ago, when the forms and spaces we inhabited as an earlier people were round? Does this table we choose for our daily habits resonate on a much deeper level, comforting us precisely because of its shape, fulfilling a faint, nearly unperceivable cry from our past?

What is the significance of such things? How has this difference between tables gone unnoticed? It is a small detail but not an insignificant one, as this pattern exists almost universally in every home. Something is going on here; these tables are witness to something in our nature, more than just happenstance.

Single table houses make no distinction between meals—each one is significant, living in the moment. Single table houses are often smaller houses, and one may say it is the lack of space for a second table. I would say that those who live in the moment appreciate the value of every single object they encounter on a daily basis and desire fewer things by choice. Having less, what remains is enhanced.

In a larger house, there is certainly space for more things. One has the ability to separate functional needs into multiple tables. But it is not merely a matter of excess or convenience; rather an organizational device signifying a fundamental difference in perception. In two table houses, there is a desire to hold certain meals at a higher importance from all the rest, a differentiation stating that not all meals are created equal. And, by placing these moments onto a second table, reserved only for these rare occasions, we are stating a commitment to hierarchies; valuing certain things over others.

This may be why after a dozen years of living in a single table house, I am planning to add a second table this year. In a space isolated from the rest of the house, a second table resides in command its own room, defining the space, rather than defined by it. Our house is currently configured around a single table and so we live our lives one meal at a time, the table is shaped by our doings. But soon, the structure of our house will change, physically and metaphysically, by the addition of a second table. It is the difference between reaction and intention.

For the past couple of months, my wife has been arranging broken tiles on a table, a mosaic of color and shape. Much thought has gone into a surface laid by hand and in doing so, a meaningfulness has been created of what was once an ordinary table. Maybe this is how we preserve a single table mindfulness in a two table house. The investment of time, whether puzzling shards of tile or breaking daily bread together, infuses a moment and the table on which it is shared with its own hierarchy, each one different, but no less significant.

Matthew Schlueb is a registered architect and owner of SCHLUEBarchitecture. For questions or comments, contact Matthew at nhm@finalmove.com. This article is part of an ongoing series addressing architectural issues for homeowners.

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