Furniture History: Evolution of the Dining Room Table

Baer's Furniture
3 min readOct 24, 2017

It’s hard to imagine a time when a dining room table wasn’t the focal point of the dining room. But throughout much of furniture history, people dined on small tables or stone platforms rather than large dining room tables. Tables were used for writing and playing games, not for dining.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that dining room tables really became popular. The word itself is derived from the Latin tabula, which means plank, board, or flat piece. Although many types of tables had been around since ancient times, they were not the dining room tables we know today.

Where Was the Dining Room Table?

In most homes you’ll find the dining room table near or in the kitchen or in the great room. However, that was not always the case. Historically, the dining room and kitchen were far from each other, on a different floor and sometimes even in a different building. This makes sense, as kitchens tended to get extremely hot and were sometimes the cause of house fires.

How Big Was the Dining Room Table?

In the Middle Ages, dining room tables were portable and long, made to seat everyone in the castle. Dining was done in the Great Hall, a large, multi-functional room that could accommodate the entire population of the castle. The family sat at the main table on a raised dais and the rest of the household was seated in order of rank. The dining room furniture consisted of long trestle tables with benches.

Why Did the Dining Room Table Become Smaller?

Eventually, the nobility began to favor more intimate gatherings in parlors off the main hall. This type of dining allowed greater comfort to the diners and was well-suited to the political intrigue of the times. As time went by, the dining room evolved along with the dining room table, and it was increasingly located farther from the Great Hall. Eventually, the Great Hall was reserved for special occasions.

Why Do Dining Room Tables Look Masculine?

At the beginning of the 18th Century, it was not uncommon for the ladies to withdraw from the dining room after dinner. The gents would stay to enjoy drinks and cigars. Therefore, the dining room became the men’s territory and its décor and furniture reflected this.

Why Were Dining Room Table Legs Considered Risqué?

In Victorian times, even the suggestion of the female shape was considered scandalous. This included table legs. Therefore, unseemly and indecorous table legs were kept out of sight and covered up to avoid inciting men’s imaginations.

What’s in a Modern Dining Room?

Modern dining room furniture typically includes a table with chairs in the center of the room, with other furniture pieces such as consoles, china cupboards, and side tables to make storing china and serving food easier. Increasingly, dining rooms are used for formal occasions and holidays. Daily meals are often eaten in the kitchen, breakfast nook, breakfast bar, or even in the family room.

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