Re: common house tables
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 08:10:05 -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.

Thank you so much for fessing up on this. I knew someone was doing this but
had forgotten who.

We have beautiful tables at Takoma Village but they are not perfect and I
was interested to compare them to the model Joani was working on.

> The table top is rectangular,  59 or 60 inches long and has a top that is
> 30-33 inches wide.

Our tables are 36 by 60 and none too large. 6 people can sit  or  two tables
can be pushed together for small gatherings or team meetings.  I personally
would much prefer 40-44 so the people on the ends have more room. For after
dinner conversation, people often push back their chairs and make a larger
group, perhaps encompassing two tables or pushing them aside.

I think larger tables give a  more spacious feeling and the illusion that
the greater sense of relaxation would calm the voices but of course this is
not true. People would just talk louder.

We have pedestal legs but they are a heavy metal and fold. If you want
folding legs on this size table, they have to be at the edge in order for
both legs to have room to fold in. Our folding legs are just at the edge of
the table so a wheel chair cannot sit at the end of a table -- or a high
chair -- and the chairs cannot be pushed in at the end of the meal. Diners
sit with their legs wrapped around the leg. We often scooch down with three
people along each edge and wrapped around the corners to avoid the leg.

The decision to go for folding legs was made before we moved in by those who
were envisioning exercise and contra dance classes. After years and years of
experience with tables in college conference rooms and classrooms, I have
found that folding legs are good only on spare tables that are usually
stored and only occasionally used.

If the folding legs are too light, they don't wear well in daily use. If
they are sturdy, they are very heavy. The purpose of folding is to be able
to move the tables into storage, but if they are too heavy for one person to
do this or for two people to move a lot of them, they will not be folded up
very often, thereby defeating the purpose of having folding tables.

 I think in one year we have had one dance (and not all the tables were
moved) and the room looks empty, not spacious, when the tables are not out.
I don't see a yoga or dance class on the horizon. The warning to plan for
what you do, not what you think you want to do, is a wise one. We have an
exercise room and the people who use it are the ones who exercised at home
already. I would guess that there are no new converts and we have good
equipment of all types.

Our trusty cleaning team does fold the tables and put them on a wheeled cart
every two weeks to clean but it takes two-four strong people to do this. I'm
not sure how long they will keep it up. And the cart itself takes up a lot
of space. Soon we will not have room to store the cart with the folded
tables anyway.

I would skip the folding option except for supplementary tables that are
usually stored. Otherwise go for tables light enough to be moved the side of
the room or stacked without calling in the weight lifters -- and scheduling
a time when they are all available.

> Cutting them from full sheets of plywood leaves you
> lots of nice wood for shelves.   Tab le tops from IKEA are 59" x 31 1/2

Very good thinking. We need so many shelves! And IKEA is very handy and

> 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.

Having lived with curved tables, the problem is that they are not flexible.
If you are designing a conference room where the table fits the room and
will be used for no other purpose, the curved edges are very nice. They seat
a large group and everyone can see each other.

But having several in a room is not as convenient. Curved tables cannot be
pushed together well and they make awkward aisles in larger rooms. They
waste almost as much space as circular tables.

> 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.

I recently looked at chipboard for bookshelves. One issue (other than off
gassing) is that it breaks in unpredictable ways. Something falling on it
just right breaks it and it is generally irreparable. The surface degrades
in ways that make it unpleasant. Where the legs are attached it has to have
careful reinforcing or it will snap or wear loose.

Chip board is also heavy -- and not heavy in a way that adds strength.
Plywood with one side finish quality is much stronger and lighter, and can
be refinished many times.

Are you planning to make these tables or just make designs?

Another idea is making large tops that can fit on smaller tables of various
sizes. By putting peg holes in the underside and putting pegs in these holes
to secure the table top (no sliding), all kinds of tables can be prettied up
and enlarged for cohousing use. All the leftovers become legs for tables of
a uniform size.

The table tops could also be made removable and folding. We want a poker
table top, for example, and one for puzzles that can be moved to the floor
when the table is needed. We are anticipating a 5,000 piece puzzle for

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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