Kitchen Staple Table

© Period Living Magazine May 2020

“The love of old country furniture from the seventeenth Century is hardly an acquired taste. Old oak is at once a jarring note in a Sheraton drawing-room with delicate colour scheme of dainty wallpaper and satin coverings. But, as a general rule, when it is first seen in its proper environment, in an old-world farmhouse with panelled walls, and mullioned windows, set squarely on an oak floor and beneath blackened oak beams ripe with age, it wins immediate recognition as representative of a fine period of furniture”.

Chats on Cottage and Farmhouse Furniture by Arthur Hayden 1912

No drawing room – tick, no delicate wallpaper (sob) – tick, no satin (eugh) – tick. Old world – yes! Farmhouse – yes! Panelled walls..ah, erm…Mullioned windows – yes! Oak floor..erm not since the people before us ripped the heart out of this home and…ok, they had a flood, not their fault…blackened oak beams…erm full of woodworm..does this count?

It’s not just gorgeous 17th Century oak tables that look at home in an old country cottage, there are a wealth of tables to suit every style that also work perfectly in an old home. From heavy Jacobean tables (think Poldark – apparently Ross…sorry Aiden Turner actually swiped the table and chairs for his own home – how one ‘swipes’ that sort of oak, I have no idea but those are some seriously excellent thieving skills) to industrial scaffold board plank tables. As long as there is character and charm, I think the table will suit the space.

Although our scrubbed pine table with its super gorgeous chunky legs and who cares if it gets red wine spilled all over it look (it’s a ‘look’ ok?!) blends in beautifully with our rustic kitchen, funnily enough, I found a joiner in Brighton a thousand years ago who was making tables and asked him to make me this for my new house in London. It actually sat beautifully in my Victorian London Kitchen and hosted countless scores of school friends, Uni friends, drama school friends and then actors, musicians and all sorts of wonderful people. It has watched me grow from university student to Actress to Mother and has been parked in a Victorian London Terrace, a Georgian Farmhouse in Cheshire and a Country Cottage in Cambridgeshire.

It has been covered in memories, glued with glitter, hosted a thousand parties from graduations to Christmas celebrations to small girls tea parties. It still gets covered in red wine and in fact one of my friends claims that she has elbow callouses from resting her elbows on this table over countless bottles of wine, cups of tea, tears and laughter over the last 20 years

I would love to buy a more grown up table, something really chunky, with drawers and cool balustrade legs, a heavy dark oak top, a french refectory table, a…it won’t happen, I love this table for all her memories.

I have rounded up a few of my favourite tables from Instagram accounts that I follow and have spoken to marvellous companies that either make country cottage tables (Neptune) or sell antique finds (The French House) who have helped me to explain how a simple table can create the perfect heart of a home.

This is one of my favourite tables in the whole wide world and belongs to the gorgeous Pollyanna who every week during lockdown has hosted a virtual dinner party, laying places for guests from Instagram who make her laugh or bring cheer or have great gardening tips or simply have beautiful homes. One day I will steal this table. Although Polly has been through 4 sets of chairs before she found the right chairs for the beautiful table, I am sure she won’t notice that it has disappeared…

Polly visited a reclamation yard and was chatting to the owner who mentioned that he had lent a few bits to a local cafe: “This beauty was outside in the rain and totally bowed. I knew it had to be mine as it was exactly what I never knew I wanted!!!”. Polly had the top flattened and braced and “have never regretted it – it’s a great lump of a table that forms the hub of the home! It takes all that’s thrown at it and we adore it. I’d had a Neptune kitchen in shaker style so didn’t want a modern table and wanted the widest biggest table that I could fit in for all the entertaining we do. This fit the bill perfectly.” https://www.instagram.com/the_old_school_house/ http://www.pollyannaspartyhire.co.uk/

This heavenly brute of a table would have definitely featured in Arthur Hayden’s book on cottage furniture. However dark wood has seriously declined in fashion since Art was peddling his wares. Naomi from https://www.instagram.com/grove_cottage_/ found this gorgeous creature in The Old Flight House in Oxfordshire http://www.theoldflighthouse.co.uk/

Naomi tells how she “immediately fell in love with the table because I knew straight away it was ‘old French farmhouse’ which would fit in with my styling, whilst complementing the large antique French mirror.

The table was originally bleached by Sally at The Old Flight House, when I got it home, I wanted to protect the surface, so I put some Danish oil on it which changed the colour and made it darker: I hated it!

I spoke to Sally who very kindly taught me how to bleach wood at home. I was so pleased with the end result and have ended up with a table I love even more. Since then, I have bleached my antique oak dining room chairs which have turned out beautifully.

How to bleach wood:

Check the type of wood, as not all respond well to being bleached. Oak is the best but you can also bleach ash and beech.

Use household thick bleach, pour it into a bowl, paint it onto the wood liberally leaving it to soak in. The thicker the layer of bleach, the better.

Leave the bleach to do its magic for about 24 hours, then wash it off with warm soapy water and hose it down with a soft spray.

Now let the wood dry and that’s it. I never rub any wax or oil into the furniture as I prefer the natural grain of the wood”.

Debbie Down owns three beautiful holiday cottages in North Norfolk http://www.forevernorfolk.com/ each cottage has been lovingly restored and designed by Debbie who also runs an interior design business and lifestyle store https://www.roomswithaview.co.uk/ so I asked her for her advice on choosing the right table:

“When choosing a table for our holiday cottages I have been led by the space available and  feel of the overall design of the rooms and style that  I want to create.  Cow Parsley Cottage has a slightly scandi/midcentury feel so I bought a vintage Ercol Table and chairs , I sanded them down and sealed them to a raw wood finish with Blanchon Raw Wood. Woodcutters Cottage is a larger space, I needed to seat five guests. This kitchen has a more eclectic  style , so I decided an old oak farmhouse table with a bench and chairs would be perfect. The dark wood adding depth of character against the original quarry tiled floor and heavy oak beams. I sourced online and found the perfect table from https://www.vintageboathouse.co.uk/, they have some stunning pieces of furniture. I added an old bench handed down from a special relative and chairs bought second hand for £70 . Its a perfect space to sit and relax with family for a meal.”

If like Debbie and Pollyanna, you feel the need for character pieces, have a look at Country Life Furniture who make bespoke tables as well as tables made from reclaimed wood. Owner Ryan Willison explains: “A reclaimed wood dining table provides the ultimate, unique focal point to your kitchen or dining room. In my opinion, it’s important that your table holds some rustic charm and elegance that is timeless in style”. This is absolutely the case with Ryans’s gorgeous creations. Every item of Country Life Furniture is made from reclaimed wood, creating bespoke and beautiful designs without impacting the health of the planet.

I often reference French items in my quest for The English Country Cottage look, I think both countries are so deeply rooted in farming that the styles merge beautifully. Above are just a small selection of English and French tables sourced by the fabulous The French House. I spoke to the owner of this family business – Marcus Hazell- who told me: “We source the majority of our tables in the largely overlooked and unfashionable central area of France. In these isolated towns and villages, if you know where to look, can be found tables with exactly what we are searching for: generations of constant and honest family use. In the catch all term ‘patina’ can be crude repairs, naturally polished and faded tops, knife cuts, iron burns, knocks and bumps  from 200+ years of daily life. Thick tops are a bonus, as are the less often found timbers walnut, cherry and elm. Legroom, or lack of, can be an issue with earlier tables due to space given to deep drawers though we can sympathetically adapt these to give adequate clearance for a modern chair”. 

For many the idea of an old table is not appealing but thankfully you can still introduce rustic charm into your kitchen with Neptune’s stunning country collection of tables. Living on the border of Suffolk, I had to include the gorgeously simple Suffolk table as well as sneaking in my dream table THE BALMORAL – it shouts in capital letters! “‘Our Suffolk dining table is an understated design for those wanting a hint of country style in their homes, whilst our Balmoral is our biggest, boldest table collection for interiors in need of a statement piece’ – Henry Tovey, Senior Designer at Neptune. Neptune manages to bridge the gap for country homes so perfectly, it creates rustic pieces that sit comfortably in large country houses but also fit into cosy english cottages.

There are a host of beautiful tables that I would love to swap for my table but my life is ingrained in my battered old pine table (poor thing) and I simply can’t part with it (although after drooling over these tables I may well gently ‘rehome’ it somewhere else in the house)! I think this is ultimately how a table can create a country cottage look: by providing timeless charm, character and a surface to host and create wonderful memories.

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