Among the dining-room appointments, the table is an article of furniture which stands greatly in need of reform. It is generally made of planks of polished oak or mahogany laid upon an insecure framework of the same material, and supported by four gouty legs, ornamented by the turner with mouldings which look like inverted cups and saucers piled upon an attic baluster. I call the framework insecure because I am describing what is commonly called a 'telescope' table, or one which can be pulled out to twice its usual length, and, by the addition of extra leaves in its middle, accommodates twice the usual number of diners. Such a table cannot be soundly made in the same sense that ordinary furniture is sound. It must depend for its support on some contrivance which is not consistent with the material of which it is made. Few people would like to sit on a chair the legs of which slid in and out, and were fastened at the required height with a pin. There would be a sense of insecurity in the notion eminently unpleasant. You might put up with such an invention in camp, or on a sketching expedition, but to have it and use it under your own roof, instead of a strong and serviceable chair, would be absurd. Yet this is very much what we do in the case of the modern dining-room table. When it is extended it looks weak and untidy at the sides; when it is reduced to its shortest length, the legs appear heavy and ill-proportioned. It is always liable to get out of order, and from the very nature of its construction must be an inartistic object. Why should such a table be made at all ? A dining-room is a room to dine in. Whether there are few or many people seated for that purpose, the table might well be kept of an uniform length; and if space is an object, it is always possible to use in its stead two small tables, one of them being fitted with 'flap' leaves, but each on four legs. These tables might be placed end to end when dinner-parties are given, and one of them would suffice for family use, while the other with its 'flap' leaves folded down might stand against the wall or be used elsewhere. Tables of this kind might be solidly and stoutly framed, so as to last for ages, and become, as all furniture ought to become, an heirloom in the family. When a man builds himself a house on freehold land, he does not intend that it shall only last his lifetime; he bequeaths it in sound condition to posterity. We ought to be ashamed of furniture which is continually being replaced. At all events, we cannot possibly take any interest in such furniture. In former days, when the principles of good joinery were really understood, the legs of such a large table as that of the dining-room would have been made of a very different form from the lumpy pear-shaped things of modern use.

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The annexed woodcut is from a sketch of a table in the possession of Mr. E. Corbould, dating probably from the Jacobean period. It is of a very simple but picturesque design, and is certainly sound in principle of construction. Observe how cleverly the mouldings are distributed in the legs to give variety of outline without weakening them. In the modern 'telescope' table, on the contrary, the mouldings are extravagant in contour, and the diameter of the legs is thereby reduced in some places to much less than the width necessary for strength. The whole ingenuity of the modern joiner has been concentrated on a clumsy attempt to make his table serve two purposes, viz. for large or small dinner-parties; but the old joiner has shown his skill in decorating his table-frame with a delicate bas-relief of ornament. And remember that it was from no lack of skill that this old table was not made capable of being enlarged at pleasure. The social customs of the age in which it was produced did not require such a piece of mechanism. In those days the dining-table was of one uniform length whether a few or many guests were assembled at it; and I am not sure whether of the two fashions the more ancient one does not indicate a more frequent and open hospitality. But be that as it may, if the Jacobean table had been required for occasional extension, we may be certain it would have been so constructed, and that too on a more workmanlike principle than our foolish telescope slide. In like manner, if the ladies and gentlemen of King James's time had found (as probably those of Queen Victoria's time would find) the wooden rail which runs from end to end of the table inconvenient for their feet, it would certainly have been omitted. As it was, they probably kept their feet on the other side of it, or used it as a footstool. But to show how both these modern requirements may be met without forsaking the spirit of ancient work, I give a sketch of a modern table constructed in accordance with old principles of design, but in such a manner that it may be lengthened for occasional use at each end, while the framing is arranged so that any one may sit at it with perfect convenience. In this case the additional 'leaves' are supported by wooden bearers which run parallel with the sides of the table, and may be pulled out by means of little rings attached to their ends.

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In this example, as in that of the Jacobean table, sunk castors could easily be introduced in the foot of each leg; but such an appliance is by no means necessary or desirable. A dining-table rarely requires to be moved from its ordinary position. It should stand firmly on its legs at each corner. When it is fitted with castors, servants are perpetually pushing it awry.

The other tables represented are portions of the ancient furniture contained in the Rathhaus at Ochsenfurth, near Wurzburg, in Bavaria. They are made of pine, and constructed in such a manner that they can be taken to pieces with the greatest ease when occasion requires. The building which contains these and many other curious examples of mediaeval furniture was completed in the year 1499, and probably the tables date from the same period, when it was customary to sit at only one side of the dining-table, while servants waited at the other. For this reason the tables are narrow, and do not afford accommodation for sitters at each end. With a little alteration they might, however, be easily adapted for modern use, and in any case they may serve as good examples of a design which is not only picturesque in effect, but practical and workmanlike as far as construction is concerned.

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Without both these qualities all furniture is, in an artistic sense, worthless. And they are precisely the qualities which have gradually come to be disregarded in modern manufacture. Examine the framing of a fashionable sofa, and you will find it has been put together in such a manner as to conceal as far as possible the principle of its strength. Ask any artist of taste whether there is a single-object in a London upholsterer's shop that he would care to paint as a study of 'still life,' and he would tell you, not one. We must not infer from this that such objects are unpaintable simply because they are new. A few years' wear will soon fade silk or damask down to what might be a pleasant gradation of tint if the material is originally of a good and noble colour. A few years' use would soon invest our chairs and tables with that sort of interest which age alone can give, if their designs were originally artistic. But, unfortunately, our modern furniture does not become picturesque with time - it only grows shabby. The ladies like it best when it comes like a new toy from the shop, fresh with recent varnish and untarnished gilding. And they are right, for in this transient prettiness rests the single merit which it possesses.

Some years ago, when our chairs and tables were 'handpolished,' the English housewife took a certain pride in their sheen, which was produced by a vast amount of manual labour on the part of footmen or housemaids. The present system of French-polishing, or literally varnishing, furniture is destructive of all artistic effect in its appearance, because the surface of wood thus lacquered can never change its colour, or acquire that rich hue which is one of the chief charms of old cabinet-work.

Dining room Sideboard, executed from a Design by Charles L. Eastlake.

Dining-room Sideboard, executed from a Design by Charles L. Eastlake.

To return, however, to the question of design; it is obvious that whatever reform is attempted in the field of household taste should be in strict conformity with modern requirements, to ignore which would be sheer affectation.