04 November 2009

On kitchen tables

I ran a post on Sunday about a kitchen with a table in it. Well, there was a reason for that. I'm working on a design right now that has a real dining table in the center of it instead of an island. There is plenty of space in the room to take care of all of my appliances and work zones on the perimeter. Ordinarily, I'd propose a large island for the center of the room just 'cause that's what I do. But really, there's no need for one and I like the idea of building a kitchen around a table.

My clients like the idea too and as I work on the design, I keep coming back to a table like this one from Room and Board.

This is Room and Board's Hancock dining table. I've long admired the shape and lines of this table and I've specified them in previous design jobs. I want to use it in the walnut I'm showing above. But it's also available in cherry:

Here it is in maple:

And here it is in a black stain over maple:

Room and Board has these tables made for them in West Virginia and they are customizable with a minimal lead time. The size I'm looking at is the 30" x 78" but it comes in a bunch of other sizes and is available in a drop-leaf too. The solid walnut table I want to use has a retail price of $1599 and that's a pretty remarkable price tag on a table that will last for a generation or two. While it's not exactly an heirloom, at $1600 it's a table that can take a beating from being in a kitchen and spending half its life being used as a prep counter.

What a great image I have in my mind for this kitchen. I see someone kneading bread dough on one end of the table while somebody else reads the paper at the other end. Later, a houseful of friends comes over for a home-cooked, casual dinner. Everybody sits around that table and laughs and tells stories and lets the dirty dishes pile up around the sink and it doesn't matter. Friends don't care about dirty dishes in the sink and kitchen tables don't leave a whole lot of room for pretense anyhow.

At least that's how I see it. In addition to that table, I want to use six of these Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs in black lacquered oak. The Wishbone chair has been around since 1950 and it looks as good today as when Hans Wegner rolled it out originally.

That Wishbone might be a little complicated for the room I have in mind, despite its status as a classic. I'm thinking that maybe Hans Wegner's Chair 36 from 1962 might work a little better. Here are a couple of shots of Chair 36.

I love Hans Wegner chairs and I've been looking to find a reason to use them in a design for years. Now all I need is a sign off...

So what do you think? Of this table and the chairs of course, but what do you think of the idea of using a table instead of an island in a kitchen design?


  1. Of course I love it. Kneading bread dough, or making pie, while children do homework or snack on the other end of the table is what I grew up with, and we keep doing now, though the table now is really too small.

    Your chair choices are surprising to me, I would not have guessed either to go with that table. Also I worry about those chairs and lumbar support. My back injury in September has made me oddly utilitarian.

  2. I love it too, the idea of a large family table in the kitchen as the gathering place, like the old style farm house and harvest table a la Waltons- instead of a huge bastion-like, granite topped island that seems to dominate kitchen designs thse days. A wood table has much more warmth, and we humans have the proclivity to form personal attachment to objects that can be passed down and engender great intrinsic value for the posessor.
    The need to gather is, of course, why the kitchen island phenomenon developed right? Human nature to gather an have interaction in the kitchen- the heart of the home.
    Wow, I guess I'm feeling a little verbose this morning ;>)

  3. If I have anything to say about it, this job will get Wishbone chairs, but I threw the chair options up there to be provocative. I love getting a reaction from folks in the comments section here.

    I doubt we'll buy chairs for this project over the internet. Chairs have to be sat in prior to purchase, so we'll go through my favorite mid-century furniture guy locally. He always has a couple of things I hadn't thought about in his showroom. I do want to use a MCM classic chair though and I think the lines of that table are minimal enough that it can handle anything surrounding it. Well, almost anything.

    No apologies for verbosity around here Johnna, from somebody for whom it's a life sentence (me), long-windedness is a trait I admire!

  4. It happily reminds me of my mother's kitchen growing up. I would sit with her as she folded laundry on the table in the kitchen.

    I think it's great to offer them a space like that to gather.

    And that table is gorgeous, especially in the walnut.

  5. You know I like the kitchen table idea. I like both your chair choices and can see that you are looking for something with a low back so that the table can functionally perform like a work island when necessary. The only other option I can think of would be benchs on the long sides of the table. But personally, I think those are cumbersome for people who use the table daily - especially if there are a lot of them (thinking of Susan's Waltons).

  6. Susan, I mis identified you in my earlier comment-on-comment. Apologies!

    I love that table in walnut too. Walnut's my favorite hardwood and I like to use it as often as I can.

    I grew up sitting at a kitchen table and it's definitely the root of my fascination with them. And Pam, you're absolutely right about the low-backed chairs. The low backs will allow this table to be a kitchen table instead of a dining table. I like the idea of a bench and I know that they are very on trend right now. However, this is for a child-free home and I think it's too much to ask that a middle-aged person sit at a bench.

    Chairs work better post-40, don't you think?

  7. We are doing our kitchen and just got the island in...and I have to say LOVE. For rolling out dough, cleaning up messy breakfasts, etc., I am happy to have that hard, cool surface. In our old place my old table didn't hold up to all the abuse (but maybe it was just cheap). It seems like the people you're building for are kidless, though, and that makes a difference!

    PS, we are doing a traditional table with mid-century danish chairs, recommended by our designer. I love the look & the chairs you chose.

  8. Well Erika, every kitchen needs a big work surface and I'm happy to hear that you love your island. For you it works and that's fantastic. However, they have become a knee-jerk reaction from this designer's perspective and in my quest for new and novel I seem to have rediscovered the kitchen table.

    Good job on the mid-century Danish chairs!

  9. I like kitchen islands myself. Tables are good too but it depends on where you family is-meaning are they all still at the house or own their own. BUT nothing is more delightful to me than to sit around a nice table and talk or play cards. Something is just comforting about it. SO now-maybe I need both!

  10. Clearly, they are not for every room and to each his or her own. I have been a tireless proponent of large islands for years. As I get older though, I remember with increasing fondness the games of pinochle and 500 bid we used to play around the kitchen table when I was a kid. Truly, they are some of my fondest memories.

  11. I like chair 36 better than wishbone, with this table, myself.

    ps, this comment is typed on a walnut wood desk from room and board. :)

  12. I love the idea of a table instead of an island in the kitchen. A beautiful wood table has so much more warmth, and it's a great gathering spot for parties -- which usually end up in the kitchen :-)

    I thought you might like to see a gorgeous walnut table (4 Legs Good) from a company in Edmonton, Alberta called IZM. I suspect this table isn't cheap and ordering from Canada might be a pain, but just in case..... ;-)


    I like both the chairs you have in mind. Although benches would be nice, they could be cumbersome.


  13. You know I love a real kitchen table - I also love the Wegner wishbone chairs, although I think the other chair "matches" the table better. (But who needs everything matching?). Do they have children? Will they be kneading and rolling out dough on the table? I have visions of sticky gobs of dough and batter ingrained into the woven seat of the Y chairs. If a chair cannot be just wiped clean it shouldn't be anywhere near a real working kitchen table.

  14. Rachele: Which desk? That place is a toy store, I swear!

    Kelly: Wow, gorgeous tables and the media cabinets on their home page are stunning. Thanks for the link.

    Clarity: I'm heading into this chair selection process with an open mind. The only thing I don't want them to do is match. I never thought about Wegner's penchant for woven seats and the problem they present with a working kitchen. Hmmm. The Wishbones have an optional leather seat pad, but even that won't cut it I'm afraid. Good point. There are no kids in the house, it's two women but even so, wipe-able seats are definitely the way to go.

  15. As someone who grew up in England in the 1970s I am very familiar with the table-as-island set up. Let me describe two kitchens to you. Kitchen #1 would make any of your readers just weep. While it was a fair sized room (in a 1972 house) with the cabinets placed around the perimeter of the room, the gas cooker(with the grill on top) was huddled in a corner with no cabinets anywhere around it. The fridge was in the opposite corner and surprisingly, not one of those dorm room sized ones favoured at that time by most Europeans. The picture window over the sink had a nice view, which helped overcome the dreadful wallpaper and formica cabinets. The kitchen table stood proudly in the middle of the room and completely compromised the work flow of the kitchen. The whole place had a rather stiff-upper-lip feel to it: i.e., don't complain and get on with your lunch. Now on to kitchen #2. Picture a small mansion in the Surrey Hills called Leith Hill Place, built circa 1740. Now place yourself in an atmospheric kitchen wing, namely in a large room, 20x30 say, with a 20' ceiling. There is an enormous Aga recessed in an old fireplace that once held a spit.(There is also a sheepskin coat in one corner being used as a cat bed!) A modern sink is on another wall so that one doesn't have to take the dishes to the scullery down a rather long hallway. There is a beehive shaped oven in one corner (disused).The fridge is not too large, since many foods are kept in one of the larders (down the hall near the scullery). Naturally, there is a kitchen table in the center of the room. This 12'long, scrubbed pine work horse tells the story of the generations of people that have used it. The table is covered with scratches, ink stains and the like, as well as being dented and nicked in places. One has to move piles of detritus to do homework and have 'Tea'.
    While I now cook in a contractor-built kitchen, a space that I have made very much my own, it is the kitchens of my childhood friends that I remember most.
    Paul, if your clients picture their dinner guests lolling at table after eating an exquisite dinner, I'd push for the Wegner chairs...they look more comfortable!

  16. Oh man! How do I get a set up like Leith Hill Place?! Anne you are welcome to come back and taunt me with your descriptions and memories of that place any time you'd like. Come to think about it, want to write a column about it? Think about it and let me know.

  17. I'm in love with the IZM media cabinet!! I've seen it in person, and it's gorgeous :-)


  18. this desk

    with a custom matching armoire, similar to

  19. Beautiful desk Rachele. The armoire's really sharp too. I love that mid-high height.

  20. LOVE the idea of using a kitchen table instead of an Island. The only drawback may be, lack of storage.

    The tables and the second chair you featured resembles a 2nd-hand set that I had picked up for my son a number of years ago when he 'left the nest'.
    The table however had slide-in extension leafs.
    The price tag for it, six chairs and a small side server was $200.00 (Cdn. funds). Did I mention it was solid Teak wood and all pieces were in immaculate condition. (The woman who sold it to me was the original owner and my son refuses to part with the set.) I am going to give him a call as now you have me wondering, if it is a Hans Wegner design. -Brenda-

  21. Well, if your son is sitting on a set of Wegner originals, it is worth quite a bit more than $200!


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