amy azzaritopast & present

past & present: trestle tables

by Amy Azzarito

With Thanksgiving right around the corner here in the States, this seemed the perfect time to take a look at the original table for feasting: the trestle table. The trestle table was the medieval dining table form — simply a loose board placed over trestle legs. Your average medieval castle didn’t have a room dedicated to dining; eating happened in the great hall or in a formal bedchamber, so it was imperative that the tables be easily and quickly set up and taken down. Dinner in a medieval castle would have been a little like that familiar Thanksgiving scramble for extra tables and chairs, except you had to be prepared to serve a house inhabited by hundreds and you never knew whether someone might show up with an extra 50 people.

Antique & Vintage Trestle Tables above: 1. Italian Baroque Trestle Table, Late 17th Century; 2. French Farm Trestle Table, c. 1900; 3. Italian Trestle Table, c. 1880; 4. Pine Trestle Table, c. 1970; 5. Late Regency Trestle Table; 6. Italian Baroque Trestle Table, c. 1850; 7. Antique Trestle Table, c. 1900

Image above: Collapsible trestle table with a silver top made in Spain around 1600 from The Rijks Museum.

If you think fork choices are overwhelming, consider the elaborate dining rituals in medieval times that would make even Emily Post nervous. The amount of food each person received was portioned according to rank. Most people had to eat four people to a portion, but if you were a bishop or an earl, you ate two to a plate and only the very great men would receive their own portions. At the conclusion of a meal, the table was cleared and even the trestle and board were removed while the diners sat and waited for their hands to be washed. Everything was removed and once the diners were left in an empty room, the musicians were brought in and dancing began!

Image above: Trestle table built by David Ellison of Lorimer Workshop in Sneak Peek: Jewels of New York.

The trestle table remained the most common table form until the 16th century, and I love spotting it in homes today! I’ve pulled together my trestle favorites and a few woodsy fall entertaining accessories to get you in the mood for feasting!

CLICK HERE for the fall entertaining roundup and a modern trestle table roundup after the jump!

Images above: 1. Birch Garland, $22; 2. Paus Breadboard, $47; 3. Harvest to Heat, $40; 4. Tectona Spoon, $18; 5. Owl Placecards, $12; 6. Cheese Board Dome, $49.95; 7. Hickory Vase, $60; 8. Salt and Pepper Logs, $15; 9. Branch Bit Stopper, $14

Images above: 1. Chianni Trestle Table, $799–999; 2. Trestle Natural Drop-Leaf Table, $199; 3. Modern Farmhouse Table, $1,998; 4. Elm and Iron Dining Table, $1,099.95; 5. Trestle Salvaged-Wood Dining Table, $2,395–$5,495

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  • Oh no! “Most people had to eat four people to a portion.” Times really WERE tough :)

  • I just bought a trestle table yesterday!! The Verona at World market. gorgeous, solid and priced right .. LOVE trestle tables.

  • Thank you for spotlighting trestle tables! My kitchen table is a trestle table and I worried when my future in-laws gave it to us that it would be too country for us, but when paired with simple chairs, it’s the best! (p.s. we paired it with DWR’s Salt Chairs and love the combo!)

  • How timely was that snippet of history! Just yesterday I started pondering whether I could swap my parent’s living and dinning rooms for thanksgiving because the dinning room is too small for all the guests we are expecting and since there aren’t really kids on the invite list I don’t want to have a kid’s table in another room.

  • I just found a 30 x 79″ oak farm table at Grand Central Antiques on 9th St , in San Francisco and I just love it. It has a hand hewn 2 1/2″ thick wooden top that I can carve my initials in! No more veneer! Yeah! (just kidding about the initials thing…)

  • oo and number five from restoration hardware. lovvve it. and their friends and family sale starts thursday! 20% off everything! yahoo!

  • Four to a portion!? Yikes! Love the insight on how life used to be. I’m feeling lucky not to be in a big ol’ castle right about now…

    Fun eye candy on the trestle tables too~ I want one!

  • Thanks so much for the interesting history…we just inherited a trestle table from my grandfather, and like others, I had no idea what it was called!

  • We have a Lorimer Workshop table and we adore it! As the picture above shows, the quality is truly amazing and the experience of getting it from David and his team was truly wonderful. Wish we could take a picture as good as the one above so we could share too. :)

  • Desperately all over the net looking for a trestle table for TWO (2) that is not larger than 36″ –
    Know of ANYONE? Willing to travel to pick it up as I’m a senior and love to travel thru the USA!

    Don’t need a costly one; it’s just me now. But SOME builder has to start making tables for 2 in a designated style we request…..like trestle. If I knew how to cut wood and make one I would open a shop for ALL SMALLER size tables….not junk as in big box stores, but QUALITY for seniors and disabled folks.

    Thank you.

    PJ (USAF Ret)