common house tables
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2001 23:35:02 -0700 (MST)
During the 8 years I lived at Doyle St. cohousing Chuck (Durrett) and I had plans design and build the "perfect" common house table--and we never did.

After 1 3/4 years at Swan's Market Cohousing our group which has been managing with 7 or 8 hand-me-down tables of various sizes and shapes decided to go ahead and build a prototype and see if we could get it right. So here's what we've come up with so far. (I was going to hold this until we've gotten a little farther along but since this thread appeared I decided to jump in now.)

The table top is rectangular, 59 or 60 inches long and has a top that is 30-33 inches wide. If you cut these from 4' x 8' plywood you can make them the narrower size if your dining room space is really tight. Making them wider than 33 inches starts to inch you away from the optimal distance for intimate conversation. Cutting them from full sheets of plywood leaves you lots of nice wood for shelves. Table tops from IKEA are 59" x 31 1/2

Lest you think that wider tables (40-44) inches might be better and you have plenty of room in your dining room to accommodate them, let me extend a word of caution. There are three things in addition to the number one thing that Liz mentioned--lack of acoustic treatment of the ceiling--that contribute to dining room noise. One is lots of kids. The other two are background music during dinner and tables that are too wide. Both of these cause people to talk just a little bit louder, then others talk just a little louder and then it can easily escalate.

The legs that seem to work the best are two T-shaped pedestal legs for each table. They are sturdy and inexpensive and can be purchased at restaurant supply places. The legs should be placed no less than 15 inches in from the ends so that wheelchairs can pull in at any place setting. (Our prototype has been tested and approved by no fewer than three wheel chair riders)

This size table works well for 3,4,5 or 6 diners, and are big enough to squeeze in an extra child or two in a high chair. We've thought about making a slightly longer one for 8, but may just make the one size; then two could be pushed together to seat 12 comfortably (you loose the two of the end seats but can seat 5 on each side). Twelve seems to me like too many for most occasions, but seating people at the ends helps a lot.

If we decide to go the plywood route, I'd like to try making a table for 8 that had a slight outward curve on the long side, so that three (or more) people are not lined up on that side, which can be a conversation obstacle. I'd still use the same table leg arrangement.

We made our prototype of construction chipboard which has side smoother than the other, and if sanded and verathaned with several coats looks kinda cool and I think could be used as is on a daily basis with table cloths for special occasions or just for a change.

Costs: Legs: $23 each or less than $50 for two including tax. Tops: finished plywood costs between $40 and $70 with Douglas Fir at the low end and those with Birch, Maple and Oak veneers costing more. Chipboard costs only $18 to $22 for a 4' x8' piece depending on thickness, (so our prototype table that I think would do for the real thing cost less than $75 --plus the cost of sandpaper and polyurethane.)

Chipboard uses a lot more glue than plywood and some say it off gases for a while. But others say it doesn't or that a few coats of polyurethane will seal it sufficiently. Most of you won't be using chipboard anyway so this may not be an issue. Also, of course these tables aren't folding.

Joani Blank
Swan's Market Cohousing
Oakland, CA

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