If my kitchen table could talk, boy, would it tell some stories. My husband, our two kids and I have shared the best and the worst of ourselves across our cherished table, once owned by my great-grandmother and passed down to us through the generations.
I can hardly imagine the joy and jitters my great-grandparents and grandma must have felt as they ate breakfast together at the table the day my grandma was adopted. As a child, I learned love and acceptance there as my parents invited strangers to join us for holidays and everyone ended the meal as beloved friends. Now my husband and I are raising a new generation at this table — toddlers who laugh so hard at their daddy that they shoot milk out of their noses.
The kitchen table is that place in our homes where so much real life is lived. We commune, dream, plan, agonize, pray and, of course, eat. Here’s just a sampling of the activities that happen in our kitchens and at the tables that are tailor-made for them.
Kids being kids. Like me, you might have experienced the havoc toddlers can wreak on a kitchen table. It’s a fine line between the joy of art projects involving crayons, Play-Doh and glitter (why?) and the demise of my sanity. I hear it only gets wilder as they grow up. My mom tells horror stories of a kitchen table full of teenagers playing a game of extreme spoons.
Enter the farm table. Its charm and character lie in the fact that it appears to have been raised in a barn. If roughhousing, messy meals, spills and science projects happen on your tabletop, a farm table or other table made of a durable hardwood like mahogany, walnut, maple, oak or teak may be the perfect solution for masking your collateral damage as casual chic.
Homework crunching. A large island can replace a kitchen table and provide loads of elbow room for after-school snacks and long division. It becomes a multipurpose hive of activity as the late afternoon transitions into evening and young scholars need to refuel with dinner. The counter height is ideal for parents who are encouraging their kids, finishing up their own workday and prepping dinner all at one spot.
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Storytelling. Even as we create new traditions and make fresh memories, the swapping and retelling of old stories makes us feel at home. We affirm and call out one another’s memories as we share family lore and epic tales of friendship. We listen, make eye contact, sip coffee for hours and share our imperfect selves with our imperfect people.
Storytelling enriches our lives. Sitting down every evening to eat and to digest our histories as we live them is a priority for my family. I may have spent the entire day with my 3-year-old son, but having supper with him and listening to his animated recounting of the day from his perspective gives me joy.
This may stress out my perfectionist friends, but I kind of delight in the imperfections that emerge on a kitchen table over time. The patina that develops on a zinc table is the reflection of a life well lived. A wooden table with water rings from cups or dents from overly enthusiastic game players will become a uniquely beautiful tapestry. Every darkened spot will be a small mark of a family’s history.
Dining in. My family loves hosting meals that everyone prepares together. Building a meal with guests breaks the ice and welcomes people into our world.
Integrating a formal dining table into your kitchen is an excellent solution if you’re short on space or if a formal dining room just doesn’t fit with your lifestyle. A dual kitchen-dining area consolidates the space for engaging and connecting. So don’t fret about entertaining if your dining table is in your kitchen. Use it to your advantage.
Cozying up. If you’re working with a smaller space, a window seat or a built-in nook can accommodate a group without compromising comfort. Throw in plush pillows and an extra pot or two of coffee and your little pancake breakfast may very well transition into a late lunch because folks will never want to leave.
Enjoying a tête-à-tête. Whether you’re just starting out, raising a family or enjoying your empty nest, it’s nice to have a sweet and intimate spot for the two of you. You can be sipping coffee while the other person makes eggs and bacon. Or the two of you might sit down here for a peaceful meal and a glass of wine after tucking in the kids.
Be sure to incorporate styles each of you loves. Don’t hesitate to mix modern and farmhouse, and bold and soft, elements in a room. The contrasting styles will add dimension and texture and create a spot both of you can feel cozy in.
Working, eating, repeating. Raise your hand if your kitchen table has ever acted as your desk, filing cabinet or negotiation platform. If this is your reality more often than not, don’t worry that your great workspace can’t also be a prime hosting spot. It can be both!
Find a table with adequate surface space and a drawer or two to comfortably function as a desk. Lighting and comfy chairs should also be considered. When the occasion arises and you need the table to host a few guests, pull it away from the wall, grab the bench from the foot of your bed and voilà, you’ve got the perfect spot for breaking bread with friends.