Tables have made an astonishing transition over the course of their history, from the heavy oak dining tables that spanned the length of medieval halls, to delicate coffee tables, works of decorative art from the workbenches of modern artisans.
People tend to have a preference for a particular era, style, or designer when it comes to choosing tables.
History of table styles
Most early 17th century tables were made from oak, which grew across England. They were large and heavy items, created for dining in large halls.
The 17th century saw the rise of the Baroque era in furniture design. Part of the European drive to build colonial empires, the Baroque expressed power, grandeur, and opulence.
Accordingly, the rising middle class lead to a demand for tables not just for functional purposes, but also for flaunt their wealth and power. This fed the creativity of furniture artisans and some imposing and beautiful pieces were produced. Tables were crafted, not just for dining purposes, but for playing games, displaying items, and for working on.
Common features of Baroque tables are lavish decoration and lacquering, scrolls, curves, columns and gilt.
Folding or ‘gate-leg’ tables were introduced in 1660, when servants and apprentices began to dine separately from families. These were lightweight and movable.
The early 18th century, notably the Queen Anne style, saw smaller and more delicate tables being produced, and was the heyday of the console table.
These and other tables commonly possessed curved cabriole legs, carved in the shape of animal legs and feet, imitating the French style. The Baroque gave way to Rococo, which maintained the opulence and decorative nature of its predecessor but rejected its regulations and strict symmetry, deliberately contrasting two sides of a piece rather than mirroring. The influence of the colonies, the East, India and Asia became a prominent feature of table design.
The Federal style became popular in America, defined in contrast to European fashions by straight legs, and sharply geometric forms and patterns.
Queen Victoria’s reign spanned a large portion of the 19th century, and as such, the Rococo, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival and other styles of table are often classified simply as ‘Victorian furniture’. Furniture of this period was to some extent defined by an interest in past periods.
Gothic revival tables are particularly distinctive. They imitate medieval designs of the 12th-16th centuries, featuring dark wood, elaborate carving and Heraldic motifs, with carved arches, drops and turrets, trefoil and rose patterns, inspired by medieval church furniture.
The Arts and Crafts movement was incredibly influential in furniture design during this period, trying to stem the inevitable move towards mass production by advocating hand-crafted and traditional methods of manufacture, with rustic and folk decoration.
The Colonial revival in the United States became fascinated with furniture as it had been designed during British rule of America, particularly exemplified by the religiously influenced Shaker designs. The tables of this taste were simple and plain, minimal and ascetic.
This was the rise of the coffee table. Rather than a functional object, the table became a piece of art, the focal point of a room. This gave designers free reign to experiment with the base and top of the tables, and create all sorts of weird and wonderful items. A notable designer who spearheaded this movement was sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
Depression-era tables, cheap wood veneered for the illusion of quality during the decades affected by the Great Depression, have long been unpopular. However, this type of furniture is in recent years gaining a burgeoning collecting community.
As a table collector, space may ever be an issue. Even if collecting small console tables, a collection of many in a room would not be particularly well balanced from the perspective of an interior designer. More than one or two tables in a room will feel crowded.
It is sensible therefore, to focus on a particular era or style when choosing tables.
Collectors who focus on early tables, such as those from the 17th or 18th century, generally have the whole era to choose from.
However moving into the 19th and 20th century, as table designs became more diverse, a particular style or even a single designer may need to direct a collector’s focus.
While mass produced tables so exist, particularly in the IKEA age, collectors are generally fortunate in that tables often remain relatively unique items. From tables created by the hands of a single craftsman, to modern and contemporary decorative art tables produced by sculptors and artists, it is often the case that a table will be, if not unique, then at least not produced identically in great numbers.
However, reproductions are ever a pitfall in the world of furniture collecting. For someone wanting a Baroque-style table for their dining room, for a substantially un-Baroque price, this is fantastic news. However, for die-hard collectors, often only the original item will do.
Tables are often heavy and cumbersome, expensive and difficult to ship long distances. As such, the best place to find antique and vintage tables is locally, in second hand and furniture stores, reclamation yards, and house clearances.
You might also be interested in:
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.