Table layout for conversations at common meals. [Was common house design]
From: Elizabeth Magill (
Date: Thu, 28 May 2015 11:04:58 -0700 (PDT)
I can't hear when there is background noise, but we did good acoustic work in 
our great room. That includes hardwood floors so the chairs don't make much 
noise when the slide on the floor.

We have rectangular tables that are a bit big for 2 on each side and 1 on each 
end, but we set them up with 3 on each side and 1 on each end....and then 
people put another person in on the end rather than start the next table. Its 

The result (with our great acoustics) is as one person said: I can talk to the 
person to my left, my right, and the three people across from me (sometimes 
plus 2 more counting the two on the end).

I've never understood the attraction of round tables where I can talk to the 
person to my left and right and no one else. I'm not a great conversationalist 
so those two people generally talk to the person on their other side and I 
simply eat in noisy silence. At the rectangular table I can  hear the 
conversation at my end and contribute when its in my topic areas.

NOTE that we also have a niche with doors and the kids love to go in there and 
shut the doors, so the noise in the great room is almost all conversation, not 

(The Rev.) Elizabeth M. Magill

On May 24, 2015, at 7:47 PM, Virgil Huston <virgil.huston1955 [at]> 

> This is a very interesting thread and an important one. I think many people
> may not realize that sometimes people who don't talk at meals are not being
> anti-social, they can't hear conversations. I speak from experience. I
> think large tables make communication difficult for anyone, but often
> impossible for those with hearing loss and who have issues filtering out
> background noise, even with great acoustics. Certainly poor acoustics make
> it worse. Any round table over six people and any rectangular table with
> over two people on the long side is going to have this issue and it gets
> worse the bigger the table gets. I have problems even having conversations
> on rectangular tables with the person next to me and my hearing is far from
> the worst. There is background noise and there are multiple cross
> conversations that go on. The worst is when people have a conversation
> across you or where the person at the end is shouting to be heard by the
> person a couple of seats down. Four top tables are the only way to go and
> if you really need more, push two together. Beyond that, the entire purpose
> of group meals is defeated. My two cents as the one who never says anything
> because I hate asking people to repeat everything they say. I do a lot of
> nodding and saying, "yep.
> On Sun, May 24, 2015 at 12:59 PM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]>
> wrote:
>> Interesting.  My experience with the long table is that you can converse
>> reasonably well with the person right or left, and the three (left, right
>> and center) directly across.  But after that, you are shouting past
>> abutters who in turn are trying to shout past you.  This interferes with my
>> fine dining experience.  In general, I prefer small groups of four to six
>> at one table, which facilitates linear rather than disjoint conversation —
>> but I intentionally mix it up, so I’m not sitting with the same small group
>> month after month.
>> It’s worth mentioning that when my wife and I were in China last year,
>> most of the meals were at a very large round table for about ten persons
>> each, with the rotating glass tray in the center.  Conversations broke down
>> into two or three adjacencies, and the food service worked extremely well.
>> As the tray slowly rotates, both turned and paused according to individual
>> motivation, you learn about sharing, collaboration, and deferred
>> gratification — all of which are important to the cohousing lifestyle.
>> I believe it was you, Sharon of Takoma Village, who once mentioned a trend
>> away from huge common meals toward smaller, more selective "dinner
>> parties".  Do I remember correctly?
>> R Philip Dowds
>> 175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
>> Cambridge, MA 02140
>> land:     617.354.6094
>> mobile: 617.460.4549
>> email:   rpdowds [at] <mailto:rpdowds [at]>
>>> On May 24, 2015, at 12:31 PM, Sharon Villines <sharon [at] 
>> wrote:
>>> In our dining room we have tables that can seat 6 but they are more
>> often pushed together in a long line. People seem to like the look of
>> things with individual tables but prefer to sit at long tables. It’s more
>> communal because you can talk to more people, either to the right or the
>> left. You aren’t “stuck" with people who don’t talk or who leave early. Or
>> talk to each other and not you.
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