Tea tables have always been one of my favorite forms of furniture. Quite often, however, furniture makers overlook tables of this design because they are considered more formal pieces. Yet the form provides the budding woodworker with an easy-to-build project that provides challenges and an elegant look.
Many tea tables consist of merely four legs, four aprons, a top and some decorative moldings. With so few parts, and an equally small lumber bill, it’s hard to believe woodworkers aren’t building more of them. Is it that the design is just too formal, or could it possibly be linked to why tea tables went out of fashion in the 18th Century?
After the Revolution tea tables began to fade in popularity because drinking tea was considered a British custom – we were now Americans. From the mid-Queen Anne period through the Chippendale period tea tables in America rose and fell in popularity. In the 40 or 50 years that they were popular, the tea table developed fully with a richness of design and ornamentation paralleled by few other forms of furniture.
Sending The Invites
When deciding on a tea table to build in your shop, you have a number of options from which to choose if you want to stay “in the period.” You can work with ball & claw feet, as in the example I walk through in this article, or you can go with pad feet. Spade or slipper feet are also viable options. All imply the use of cabriole legs, but there’s no reason you couldn’t go with turned legs, even though I can’t recall ever seeing a period example. Much as it was in the 18th Century, go with what you like. (Fig. 1)
Rectangular tea tables were made in a variety of sizes. Generally, sizes around 20” wide and 32” long were fairly common. As a guideline, rectangular tea tables tended to follow fairly closely in proportions to the Golden Ratio of 1:1.618. Don’t worry if your table doesn’t fall into the exact proportions dictated by the ratio, most period tables don’t either.