If we had to summarize mid-century modern aesthetic in one word, it would be “uncluttered.” Truthfully, there are a lot of adjectives we could use, but this one describes the intent behind mid-century modern design as much as its appearance.
Clutter was a motivating factor for many designers in the mid-century period, including one who became particularly famous. Eero Saarinen—the architect who designed the decidedly uncluttered Gateway Arch in St. Louis—decried clutter in the dining room, saying:
“The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again." (http://bit.ly/1Hyby6q)
A little harsh perhaps, but the end result was a design considered revolutionary in its simplicity: the Tulip table and chairs, shown below.
Saarinen Tulip Table and Chairs. Image from Encyclopedia Britannica.
With the Tulip Series Saarinen replaced the tangle of legs he so despised with sleek pedestal bases. This emphasis on clean, unfussy design was a hallmark of the mid-century period. It is also the reason mid-century dining furniture is so popular today. People want to create a sense of space in their dining rooms and mid-century designs fit the bill perfectly.
Although not apparent in the Tulip table, functionality is another trait of mid-century furniture. Dining tables from that period are minimalist in appearance only. Clever design elements—like hidden leaves—add functionality without detracting from the clean lines and openness these tables offer.
Designers in the mid-century period also experimented with shapes and structure: pedestal bases and corner legs; perfect circles that expanded into ovals; or squares and rectangles that could extend to make room for a large gathering.
So which one should you choose? We’ve drawn up a list of features to help you decide.
One Leg or Four?
When it comes to the base of a dining table, you have two options: pedestal or corner legs.
- With no legs at the edges to obstruct diners, pedestal bases increase leg room and seating. Their single base also adds visual appeal. Without support at the edges, some pedestal tables can feel unbalanced when extended, so it is best to test them by opening them out to their full length and applying pressure on the edges.
- Corner legs create greater stability but can get in people’s way, especially during larger gatherings. In traditional dining tables, the legs can add visual weight to the table, making it seem bulky. This is not the case with mid-century dining tables, however, where the legs are slim and tapered:
Round or Rectangular?
- Most dining rooms are rectangular and a table that echoes that shape tends to fit well. Traditional rectangular tables can appear boxy and overwhelm a space, but mid-century tables do not. Their design includes tapering not only in the legs, but also in the table surface to reduce bulk. Do not be deceived by their lack of visual weight though—solid wood construction means these tables are very durable and much heavier than their appearance implies.
- Round tables are great for small spaces since they tend to have a smaller footprint and allow for easier flow of people around them. Because of the lack of sharp edges, more people can fit around a circular table. These tables are also good for conversation, since people can chat with the entire table rather than just the people immediately around them, as is the case with rectangular tables. Round tables often have a pedestal base.
- Oval tables offer similar benefits to round tables, although they tend to be bigger and may not always fit well in rooms that are more square in shape than rectangular. Ovals offer similar surface space to rectangular tables, but, with their rounded edges, take up less visual space than a rectangle. For family gatherings, large ovals are ideal, since they lack corners that can reduce seating. Like round tables, ovals often have a pedestal base:
Where Do You Leave Your Leaves?
Most mid-century dining tables include leaves that extend the size of the table to accommodate additional diners. When shopping for a table, consider which type of leaf storage you prefer:
- Draw leaf tables include the leaves under the tabletop , at each end of the table. To extend the leaves, you simply slide the leaf from under the top where it will lock in place. To replace the leaves, you lift the top slightly then slide the leaf back in place. The storage is elegant and easy. According to one source, the design dates from at least the sixteenth century. Mid-century designers understood the practical value of the draw leaf design and used it frequently. Our Mid-Century Dining Table by Johannes Andersen is an example of a table with draw leaves.
- The self-storing leaf was also very popular in the pragmatic mid-century modern era. The creators of mid-century furniture loved this ingenious design. Self-stored leaves rest under the tabletop and are revealed only when the two halves of the table are pulled apart. Our Compact Round Teak Dining Table has self-storing leaves.
- Some mid-century dining tables offered extension without storage, like our teak table by Ib Kofod Larsen. This external storage option is common in tables with pedestal bases. Is external storage less convenient? Not really. The leaves can be slipped easily into a hall closet, nestled behind the coats and hidden away until needed.
The Final Analysis
Whether your space is small or large, humble or grand, the mid-century aesthetic is right for you. VHB has mid-century dining tables in a wide range of shapes, with leaves that add maximum versatility.