Common House Tables
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2008 01:22:41 -0800 (PST)
There have been tables discussions several times in the past here on cohousing-l. Check the archives for the "collective wisdom" so far. IMO (after some considerable thought and consultation as well as participation in some of the previous discussions), the best common house tables:

1. Are not round. Round tables take up way too much space, (unless they are the tiny ones that seat just.4 people). Also if they seat 7, 8 or more people, it is awkward to have more than one conversation at a time A conversation with three sitting adjacent to one another at a round table can be painful for the middle person, and a person across the table is too far away to speak with without disturbing everyone else at the table and making other conversations almost impossible.

2. Have no more than two people seated on one straight side. If the long sides of the table can be bowed (as in the boat shaped suggested by one contributor here), that would be very cool, as three or four people can sit along a long side, as all can readily see one another without anyone having to lean forward or pull chair or self back. But, needless to say, commercially made tables are virtually never this shape.

3. A rectangular table should have only two seated on each long side or three if you absolutely must, and be wide enough so one person can be seated at each end B better yet, is to have the table be on the narrow side, but long enough so that one can also sit at each end. This shape, size and configuration of seating with bodies on all four sides of the table most encourages several conversations at once or one whole table conversation if that is desired. In other words it provides the most options.

4. Pedestal tables are absolutely the best, not only for wheelchair access, but also for flexibility. If I'm at "right size" table for six, but it's one with the legs at the corners, it's really problematic if one more neighbor wants to pull up to the corner to join my table for that after dinner coffee or dessert or a brief conversation with me. And the tables that Sharon has pointed us to from Southern Aluminum are really not at all good because there's no way anyone can sit at the ends of those table.

Just imagine the difference between a group of six seated together with two on a side and one at each end in contrast to three lined up on each side with none on the end. To my way of thinking, the former has just about as much friendly warmth as a round table for six, but it takes up a lot less space. The latter has just about as much appeal as a six person section of a school cafeteria table with six or eight or ten on a side......not a very pleasing setup to my way of thinking.

4. All cohousing groups seem to think that tables that fold and are of light weight are best. That would be well and good if lightweight folding tables without legs on the ends or the corners could be had, but I've not heard of any like that being made. Where I live (Swan's Market Cohousing in Oakland CA) We have tables made of (I'm afraid solid core) doors each with two T-shaped pedestal legs...yes we made them ourselves and they cost under $70 a piece if I remember correctly (some seat 6 and some seat 8).

The legs do not fold, and you'd better believe that the tables are heavy. This works okay for us since we don't clear the floor for an event very frequently. (I'd estimate no more than 7 or 8 times a year). If you will be folding up chairs and tables once a week or more, you have much more reason to purchase those that are light weight and either stack or fold easily. But even then remember that by far the most important use of those tables is to have a really wonderful place to enjoy your common meals and the attendant conversations. And it if that means heavy or non-folding tables, so be it. Remember, unlike when you used to live along or with one other adult, you you will be living rallying a half dozen folks to help you move the tables can usually be accomplished by a shout out to your closeby neighbors, a knock on a couple of doors or a phone call or two.

5. Even if your construction budget includes funds for furnishing your common house including dining room tables and chairs, there's something to be said keeping the funds for those items in the bank until at least six months after you've moved in, and starting with everyone's hand-me-downs (not only tables and chairs, but also dishes, cutlery pots and pans--except for a few extra big pots you'll probably want to buy early on), until you see what it's really like to "live" in your common house.

You'll be surprised about how many extras will be available for long term loan or as a gift to your common house. and when you finally decide to buy all matching whatevers, your local Freecycle or second hand store will have a banner day, or you can have a grandad yard sale and make the acquaintance some of your non-cohousing neighbors.

Joani Blank
land line : 510-834-7399 (preferred)
cell: 510-387-1315
Swan's Market Cohousing
Oakland, CA

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