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The Refectory Table

The Refectory Table has a very interesting history and one that if you don’t know about it has a strong connection to current literary culture. When I talk about this table style, I start by saying “Think Hogwarts”. Yes, a classic example of the refectory table is in the Harry Potter movies. Allow me to explain further.

The refectory was the dining room of the monasteries of the Middle Ages in Central and Western Europe. To symbolize equality, everyone ate at a very long table (think Hogwarts) in the largest room of the compound (think Hogwarts), which was the refectory. All that symbolism was beautiful but as a practical matter very problematic. When the Hall was not being used for dining, the ultra-long table became a problem with the efficiency of movement needed to facilitate any work that was going on in the room. Consider this; what would happen if you had to in a hurry get to the bathroom which was located diagonally on the other side of the room? Well, I suspect you get the point. It would be a long hike and you may or may not be able to get there, which even in the Middle Ages could create an embarrassing scene for you.

The solution was that rather than have tables that butted end to end and blocked traffic flow some enterprising young monk came up with the idea to make the tables shorter than before and add a leaf at the end of each table that could be taken out of both tables to create a passageway between the tables. This would allow the occupants to move freely (almost anyway) through the room, end-to-end or diagonally. Great idea, but what were you going to do with all those leaves at the end of the meal? They had to be stored somewhere. So along comes Monk #2 who says, “Blessed Mary, I have an idea”. His idea was to make a drawer at the end of the table. When the meal was over, the drawers were opened and the leaves turned 90 degrees and stored right there in the drawer where they would be needed at the time of the next meal. It was such a good idea that it was used as a means of adding place settings to a table almost exclusively until the modern mechanical means of adding extensions came about in the late 1800s.

Fun stuff huh?

Thank you,

David Grant Howard


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