How to Look at a Table

© Copyright 2018 Samantha Udeschini, Ryerson University.

When looking at a piece of furniture as customary as a table, it is not difficult to discount the impact it has on one’s typical daily routine. We might take for granted the affordances this commonplace item gives us, and the various ways it can intersect with a social environment.

The table adopts a multitude of appearances which are typically reflective of the space it is situated in. It can appear outdoors in the form of a picnic table; a more rugged, practical design often made out of wood that does not take the nature it is surrounded by as any sort of disruption to its presence. It is found indoors in a hall, presented with lavish table cloths, and centrepieces to set the stage for a sumptuous dinner party where wine glasses are handled with tireless poise. It is (sometimes) found underneath the pile of books, crumpled up paper, and coffee stains that adorn its sturdy practicality from sleepless nights of studying.

An empty wooden table with a green centrepiece. Situated in a home with a painting.
Samantha, Udeschini “Table” Digital photograph. Ryerson University. 14 February 2018.

The shape and size of a table is pertinent to the politics it espouses. In Medieval times, King Arthur and his personal attendants surrounded a round table which signified their equality to one another rather than emphasizing hierarchal differences. In its rectangular form, power is distributed to the members around it. Those who are located at either ends of the table often possess a superiority over the remaining seated along the sides. In addition, the measurements of this piece of furniture determine an atmosphere of distance or intimacy. For a candlelit dinner to exude romance, the table must be short enough in width that the couple feels physically close whereas, a broader model is deemed more appropriate for business meetings.

The table functions as a centerpiece for social interaction and thus, we cannot merely regard it as a simplistic inanimate object. Beneath its physicality, its existence summons a group of people into assemblage. An environment is created for a family to discuss their day, periodically interrupted with “pass the gravy’s” and cellphone buzzes, a place to pound one’s fist during a heated political debate. It is a space to gather with old friends over drinks and loud music, a congregation of poker players frozen in time never leaving their eyes from their carefully dispersed cards.

What is often forgotten, beneath the surface of the common conception of “table”, is that which lies underneath. This negative space is a black hole for gum clinging to the walls, where the crumbs have been swept under to conceal any sign of imperfection. In this space lives a hidden language of hand squeezes and foot jabs. It is here that the winner drinks the loser to find themselves uncomfortably hunched under the table at 3 am. The shady businessman does his work below the shielded furniture, relying on this practical surface for protection. 

As a piece of furniture, the table adopts various personas which enable it to exist and support social interaction. It is a multi-faceted item which upon close inspection can be deeply valued for all that it provides to our daily lives. 


Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Mott, Lewis F. “The Round Table.” Modern Language Association, 20.2, (1995) 231-264., 14-02-2018.

Udeschini, Samantha “Table” Digital photograph. Ryerson University. 14 February 2018.

 Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.