Conviviality, warmth, family, connection. Sitting around a family table elicits memories of conversations, meals, special wine, more special company, arguments, food, announcements, reunions, habits, rituals and celebrations. So many of life’s most important moments occur seated around that hub of the home. If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the dining table, surely, must be the stomach.
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” – Oscar Wilde
Whether seated around a cheap plastic table or an ancient relic, the dining table takes on a life of its own after being the center of attention for so many occasions. Often these tables, if not already, become family heirlooms, and quality allowing, passed down for generations. Many families have opted to craft a bespoke table for their family, putting the same love and care into the table as many do into the architectural design of their homes. After all, such a momentous everyday occurrence deserves the love and thoughtful design to ensure it reflects the home that houses it.
"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart." - Cesar Chavez
With so many stories to be told not only around, but about these objets d’art, we thought it fitting to get in touch with our custom makers to unveil the stories surrounding some of their favourite custom dining tables. Our first story comes from the Birman family from McKinnon in Victoria. They commissioned a beautiful timber table from PFS furniture in Murrumbeena.
“There are times when wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament or the halls of academia but at the unpretentious setting of the kitchen table.” ― E.A. Bucchianeri
Arriving to photograph the table, I found a warm and welcoming home, filled with mid-century and modernist pieces, sprinkled with family heirlooms, antiques and photographs. Henry and Jenny beckoned me into their kitchen, offering tea, water, wine. As I photographed, they chatted away, and began preparing the family meal. The family dog scuttled underfoot, obviously as at home around the table as a Sapian family member.
Henry explains the story of their table:
If only tables could talk
"We sat at our old kitchen table on a snoozy and peaceful Saturday morning; both reading our own section of the paper, and some of each other’s. It was the morning after our Friday night family dinner at a table, hand crafted from 100-year-old Baltic pine; a classroom floor, that was trodden upon and ink stained from a everyday Victorian town. We both decided then, that this table was no longer suitable. It was time to consider upgrading to a newer, larger, a more souped up version. One that would accommodate our growing family of three adult children, their partners, and a table abundant with food and drink. Mind you, it always felt cosy but in reality, was no longer practical.
It was hard to say goodbye to something that had been part of your home and family with a total of 125-year narrative running through its grain.
On this occasion, the criteria were more defined. The most go-to piece of furniture in our home. One that linked the kitchen to the family room.
Once again, it’s the spot where we all muster, to eat a lot, read some, chat a lot, love, argue some, discuss, make up, cry and laugh a lot.
It needed to be hand-crafted by an artisan. Not cookie cutter design/mass produced. The history of the timber. It was important for us to feel the texture, grain and life of the timber.
And also stash some secret goodies – drawers sitting flush at both the North and South ends.
It needed extra room on and also around, for full bellies after we have consumed, Jen’s now famous, still warm apple cake.
The first call was made to Mark Lancman from PFS. He showed us through his extensive showroom, and we spotted the one we liked. He then presented options for timbers, stains, and sizes. Our next meeting was in our home, so Mark could sense the space and together we could determine what would balance size with our space.
The big question was just how big do we go? Sprawling and we lose the intimacy; only slightly larger, would make no sense.
When we purchased our original table, our decision was based mostly on necessity. One that would facilitate our young family; we can’t recall there was any emotion attached to it - really, who had time? Some six weeks later, on a cold, grey Melbourne winter Saturday morning, the ute pulled up outside. There was no way yet to see our new ‘darling’; it was lovingly protected from the drizzle on its long travels from Ballarat with a thick woollen, grey and blue speckled blanket. The anticipation was intense.
The designer and craftsman and like a magician with plenty of showmanship, revealed our new table.
We could tell he had done this many time before. He gently and confidently, together with his much taller son, hauled this proud, hefty timber four-legged beast off his ute tray.
Meticulously built from reclaimed hardwood timber floorboards from a 90 year-old Ballarat wool shed, we enjoy running our hands over the imperfections, which makes it so, so perfect. The undulations from hand planeing, gaps, the cracks as it breathes from summer through to winter.
The thing that genuinely upsets us most is having to cover it with a table cloth. We actually found a beautiful linen one, that lightly almost hovers over it, yet still allows us to trace all its textures under.
We are respectful of it but not precious about it.
We look forward to adding to the narrative, and accept and appreciate the ancient Japanese philosophy of wab-sabi.
If only tables could talk."
The Birman family home is obviously filled with love and light, the table sitting magnificently, sheathed in light in the centre of the home. My favourite element was the magnificent drawers that Henry and Jen requested be put in. The drawers they explained, were both a storage and a design element. Perfect for keeping the table cloth, the drawers whip out the protectorate of the magnificent wood grain, and allow a convenient hideaway for the cloth, as soon as the meal is cleared.
We would like to thank Henry and Jenny Birman for allowing us into their home to not only photograph, but tell the story of their dining table. Thanks to Bee Nguyen for the photographs, and to Mark from PFS furniture for putting us in touch with the Birmans.
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Written by Elizabeth den Dulk.