I May Never Own a Dining Room Table Again

updated May 24, 2019
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I love the idea of a dining room table. I mean, who doesn’t? Yet so many friends and family members keep their dining room table in a space reserved for their “someday life.” Someday they’ll eat there. Someday they’ll want to eat there. Someday they’ll have dinner parties and weekday dinners. Someday they’ll be the kind of people who want to sit totally upright in a quiet room.

I used to dream of a dining room. It seemed so adult, so important. But now I have all the stuff I dreamed about, except for the table. I have the back pocket dinners, the cozy glow of weekday meals. I have the Sunday night dinner parties full of sprawling friends and simmering foods. I thought I wanted a dining room, but what I really wanted was what would come with it. I wanted connection, good food, and family created through the magic of ritual and shared meals.

I thought I wanted a dining room, but what I really wanted was what would come with it.

Apartment living in San Francisco makes a dining room table seem like the ultimate luxury. But like a Birkin bag or a ritzy tasting menu, it’s a luxury that doesn’t do much for me. I make dinner almost every night. Homemade family dinner is the norm in my household. And part of that is the coffee table.

I grew up with a dining room table that I loved: old and wooden, slick on top with a rich grain. When my mom moved last year she offered it to me, but my life is still not set up for such a space-eating piece of furniture. And as I walked through my life, my home, and wondered where and when it would be, I realized that maybe I never want to own a dining room table again.

In magazines, on food blogs, in the ultra-glam photos that litter social media, everyone is gathered around these massive tables with perfect flatware, dishes and plates in a meticulous palette. But what I know is how much more I appreciate the dinners that feel like family meals, not photoshoots. The best cooks I know host every meal hovering over the breakfast counter that frames their kitchen or on top of their broad coffee table. At their house, you always feel at home. You can relax.

And that’s what I want: to encourage the people I love to lean back. To talk a little more, to hang around another hour, to dip back into the leftovers after dessert. Another cup of coffee, another round of cake. The coffee table makes that possible.

The coffee table lets me sit shoulder to shoulder with my husband after a super-long day and just relax. It strips the guilt away from watching TV or a movie during dinner, when we’re too tired to talk or deep into a marathon that we’ve been looking forward to. It lets us eat in front of a fireplace. It makes even the most humble spread seem bountiful. It encourages lounging. Pull a cushion onto the floor. Pick at the leftover pasta as you chat. It it beautiful and comfortable here, but we don’t do ceremony. There’s no ominous guilt cloud wafting above a tucked-away table, piled high with paperwork and the bric-a-brac of day-to-day living. The coffee table is cleared in a second. It can’t carry the cosmic load a dining room table can.

The coffee table lets me sit shoulder to shoulder with my husband after a super long day and just relax.

Look, as married people without kids and in our current lifestyle, if we owned a dining room table we would never sit at it. We would stare at it, grimace, and say things like “We really need to eat over there” before settling in to the living room, plates in our laps. We’d give up a room of our house to keep all our unmet expectations, to house a lifestyle that doesn’t quite fit.

At the coffee table, a big bowl of salad, a baguette, and a platter of roasted veggies looks like a feast for kings. At the coffee table, dinners are eaten sitting on the floor with a roaring fire and an onslaught of belly laughs. At the coffee table, you can melt into cushions as day dissolves into night. Who needs a dining room table when this much joy is available inches away from my couch?