Simon Thomas Pirie’s roots as a business are in individually designed pieces of furniture and this remains the heart and soul of what we do so while the fancy kitchens and big interior schemes may steal the limelight on our blog, every dining table is still a welcome design challenge for Simon and a test of making excellence for our team in the workshop: They all want to land the dining table project as it’s a stand-alone expression of pure craft and as each of them is trained as a fine cabinet maker and puts those skills and their talents to use in every job that comes their way no matter how big, or small, we thought it was time to showcase some of the smaller pieces which don’t ever get a case study of their own.
Our tables always have gravitas from a design perspective and longevity in service. It’s not unusual for Simon to be sitting around a table he made decades before, discussing new work or just catching up with old clients. Recently our very first commission, a dining set we refer to as ‘001’ came back to us for a refinish after nearly thirty years of service (you can read the full story here.) It was lovely to see it again and understand where we and it sit in time. Like many of our early dining sets this was an extending rectangle made in solid oak, something we described as ‘English Contemporary Classic’. We launched these at the House and Garden Fair in 1998 and had significant success with them over the following years.
Like those first clients many people prefer to have a smaller table for when they are dining as a couple or a family but like a larger one for when they have guests and over the years we have produced various designs for extending tables, the most popular of which is that which involves having a sliding underframe and loose leaves which can be stored separately or in a special drawer under the table top. Even back in the formative years of STP we were already exploring other top shapes and leg forms. The 1999 House and Garden Fair saw us launch ‘Lily’ a striking compact square envelope table the top of which spun through 45 degrees before opening to a larger 8 seater square with contrasting decorative veneers on the inside to add a real ‘wow’ factor. We spent the show opening and closing this stunning piece to much admiration but we also learnt a valuable lesson – not many households have space for a big square table!
Tables come in many different shapes: rectangular and, despite the need to for a lot of space to accommodate them, square and round are the most common you will find in any high street furniture store. Less common are the lozenge and the oval that Simon has designed in numerous variations and yet these remain amongst our most popular designs, perhaps because they are difficult to find elsewhere. The lozenge is a particular favourite among our clients because it combines the space efficiency of a rectangular table with the inclusive shape of the round or square table. Because the long sides are curved, it is possible for the people
seated at either end of the same side to see each other without having to lean excessively forward or back around the person in the middle. The curved sides of the lozenge or oval elongates the edges without increasing the overall length, making a table which as a rectangle might have been a squeeze for 8 people far more comfortable, and in the case of our own table which is really a 6 seater, we find we can seat 10 family or close friends without too much discomfort whilst still being cosy enough for the four of us to use every day.
For those clients who are lucky enough to have space for a round table, the challenge of how to reach across the middle was met by Simon designing a table top which incorporates a ‘Lazy Susan’ – a central section which can be released to spin around. Dinner guests can help themselves to the delights served up for them without having to pass or reach hot dishes across the table. The wheel section can be locked in place, perfectly matching up the radial grain with the rest of the table top and preventing it from spinning, particularly useful when there are curious children present at the dinner party!
The age old difficulty of additional guests at the dinner table is commonly which unfortunate has to sit astride a table leg. Simon has solved this problem in several different ways over the years and regularly this has been using a variation of an arched beam underframe. On a rectangular, lozenge or oval table this forms an elegant sweeping central arch along its length reaching the ground via pedestals set back from the ends of the table so that no one straddles the legs or bangs their knees. With a round table, several arches create a stunning and sculptural single pedestal underframe which we have dubbed ‘The Tree of Life’.
As well as deciding on the size and shape of your dining table, having one designed especially for you means that you get far more choice when it comes to the timber and finish. There is nothing better than a large flat surface to really show off the beauty of one of our native hardwoods: oak is solid and reliable, the workhorse of the farm kitchen, a symbol of longevity and always a favourite for a dining table, but other timbers serve equally as well.
English walnut’s utter beauty and rich dark tones evoke an air of luxury, the increasingly rare elm is diverse in its colouring from golden brown to grey-green. Then there are lighter timbers like ash, as workaday as the oak but beautiful, especially with a stripe of olive heartwood at its core; and the almost white sycamore, much derided by some as a weed and despised as an invader but nonetheless beautiful, even more so if you find a log with a figured or rippled grain giving it a depth of character and a sheen like satin. Many of our dining tables combine two contrasting timbers: one for the table top and the other for the underframe, sometimes with an element of underframe timber incorporated into the top. Using the natural timber means that, whatever you choice, your table is completely unique and you can be certain that no one else has a table exactly like yours.
Many modern homes are designed with a family room; kitchen, lounge and dining room in one. If the family room is the hub of the home, the dining table is the heart of family life. It is where you eat but also where you talk, party, laugh and cry, where you persuade the kids to do homework and make stuff, and where you might do the work that never quite makes it to the office. Frequently, clients have expressed concerns about spills, marks, dinks and scratches spoiling the appearance of their pride and joy. We know how they feel and we have shared their concerns (I was horrified to find my son changing his guitar’s strings on our beautiful ash table!) however the scars the table top now sports bear testament to family life, each one has a memory, a moment in time, attached to it and I like that. As with many things in life, the first little bit of damage is the worst to deal with, but then it becomes part of the patina and the story and eventually, when the table gets passed on to one of the children, the story will go with it. No other piece of furniture carries that inherent history in the same way. You might leave the fitted kitchen or media wall behind when you move but the table will move with you or even go on to a different generation in the family to add to its story.
One of the great beauties of timber is it is a natural product and one which is forgiving and can be coaxed back to its former glory given careful treatment, so if you really can’t live with the red wine stain from that party, the dent caused when your child coloured in their homework a little too vigorously or the scratches the cat made, we can always bring it back to the workshop, cut it back and refinish it for you – just like we did for ‘001’.
Just as some of our early tables hit the London design scene back in the ‘90s, a more recent version was much admired at Decorex interior design show in 2021. It has now done its work for us and deserves to go to a home where it will be used and appreciated. The stunning Ziggurat table featured in a film we made about our collaboration with one of our timber suppliers, Hillgrove Reserve, which you can see here:
If you think you can offer this table a home, please see our ‘Buy Now’ pages for the details and contact Simon to make him an offer.
Alternatively if you want to talk to Simon about a dining table to meet your specific needs please do get in contact. Our bespoke dining tables range from around £4000 to £8000 depending on size, design and materials.