Monday, April 22, 2013

A Family Table

When I was an American Studies major in college, we talked a lot about artifacts and how they can give you insight into a particular culture--how people lived, what they valued, etc. 

On a separate note, we talked a lot about materialism and how a consumeristic culture can falsely equate purchasing products with attaining happiness and contentment. 

I carry this dualistic interpretation of objects with me, which may explain why I had to think long and hard before trying to convince Matt to splurge on a hand-crafted dining room table. 

It started with a simple Craigslist search. We knew that we wanted to upgrade our cute $50-mid-century modern dining room table (also from Craigslist) to a larger table for our new house. We've had our current table for years, and we've put up with the fact that it only fits four people. Since we're still trying to conserve money, I tried hard to find something on Craigslist or at IKEA. I also researched a ton of DIY options, although all of them seemed beyond our skill level. 

While browsing Craigslist, I came across a local furniture maker who combines reclaimed wood with more modern metal. His ad had four different dining room tables featured, one of which quickly became the object of my affection. Although I didn't love the way the steel base ran from one leg all the way across to the other side of the table, I loved the wooden top and the story behind it. It was a 100 year-old reclaimed pub table top from the Czech Republic. 

I didn't spend too much time dwelling on the table because it didn't look large enough in the photo (we wanted a table for 8-10 people). Further, the price tags were astronomical for the artist's largest tables. 

The table started to fuel my DIY ideas. I thought about buying butcher block from IKEA and attaching some metal legs from I figured a DIY table would cost way less. I struggled, however, because I couldn't figure out how long the table could be and still only be supported by a leg in each corner. I tried e-mailing two different experts to answer my question but never received any responses. I had scary visions of our boys trying to build a fort under the table and having it collapse on them (yes, I am insecure about our carpentry skills...). 

Meanwhile, I kept going back to The Table. I stalked the artist on Facebook and realized that the table was actually 7.5 feet long. The more I thought about it, the more I realized 7.5 feet was the perfect length. Our kitchen island is going to be 10 feet long, and the island and the dining room table will run parallel to each other and be the first things you see when you walk into our main room. It seems like we would want them to be different sizes, so they don't create too much monotony (or something like that). 

I e-mailed the artist to find out if the table was still available (the last Facebook update about it was in January) and to inquire about the exact cost. He responded to say that the table was still available and that it was actually half the cost of his normal tables!

The next day, I trekked to his studio/warehouse to look at the table in person. It was even more beautiful than the picture. The table top contains the marks of 100 years. There are scratches and notches and indentions. It's a table with character and history. It's a table just waiting to be invited into a family home for more scratches and notches and indentions. 

I thought long and hard about the benefits versus the drawbacks of the table. On the negative side, the table cost three times as much as the large table we were considering from IKEA. If we went with the table from IKEA, we would have had $700+ remaining (which could be a road trip vacation!). 

On the positive side, the table would be our first real splurge on a piece of furniture, and it would fit really well into our open-concept home. It would be a sturdy, low-stress piece of furniture (how much damage can little kids do to a pub table top that's already weathered the past 100 years?--knock on wood...). 

But more than that, the table seemed to fit right into the kind of life we're working to create for ourselves. We went with an open floor plan for our house because we want a centralized place to congregate and connect. The 10-foot, waist-high island will provide ample space for multiple people to gather to help prepare the meal or to snack on appetizers and chat. The dining room table, just beyond the island, would be able to accommodate the spillover without any additional effort (such as putting in an extra leaf). And beyond that, we'll have even more room for spillover with the sectional couch. It will make spontaneous dinner parties easier and more natural. 

And the large table will be able to fit science project boards and homework and art projects. It will withstand the daily use from a family of four who will try to make it a habit to gather daily for dinner to share our joys and frustrations and insights and questions from the day. It will be there on Saturday mornings when we wipe the sleep out of our eyes and gather around for make-your-own-pancakes on the electric griddle or waffles. It will be there when we want to host Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It can host board meetings or board games. It can even be easily moved onto the deck on a cool evening when it feels too good outside to be anywhere else. 

It's a table that will gather memories, just as it gathers new dings and dents. It's a table that will feel really lonely when the boys journey beyond our home for good, but it's also a table that will readily welcome them (and their expanding families) home. 

As difficult as it was to fork over a lot of money for a table, it ended up feeling like a small price to pay for such an artifact. Matt and I don't splurge often on furniture. Most of our furniture is from IKEA or Craigslist and has traveled with us from Houston to Denver to Houston to Austin over the last eight years. The new furniture we plan to buy for our house (a king-sized bed, a sectional couch, and bar stools) will be from IKEA and It also felt good to support a local artist and his family, and the price was actually about $600 less than a comparable-sized table at Crate & Barrel. 

Before Matt and I go to bed each night, we turn to face each other for one final chat, and we inevitably end up talking about our house. We talk about how excited we'll be to have friends over for pizza and movie nights, how relaxing and comfortable our new space is going to be. I think about how much uncertainty I had about buying the land in the first place and how nervous I felt about the home building process. I fall asleep full of gratitude for my family and our health and the life we're living--and creating--for ourselves. 

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Gretchen said...

I love the idea of having such a piece of history in your home. Our table, though nothing with nearly as much history, is my grandparents table and I think of them every time I sit down to eat at it.

Hannah said...

Such a lovely table! I love the combination of the old wood and the more modern metal. Beautiful.

Luisa said...

This table is really a beautiful piece of furniture. You've been really careful about your spending in other areas, and as long as one "splurge" doesn't lead to more and more in other areas, I think it's fine. I read somewhere that spending a little extra in areas that will encourage you to do the things you love more often (such as buying a lovely table that will encourage you to have friends over for dinner more frequently) is a good idea. And, from an ecological perspective, it's good to invest now in something that you will love forever rather than buying a filler piece now that you will get rid of as soon as you can afford the one you truly want.

Emma said...

I love your table, and the history that goes with it. We're still in the planning stages (both family and house!) but I'm learning all I can about both. Would you mind sharing the maker?


Sara E. Cotner said...

Here's the link to Facebook, Emma!

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