Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chinese Wood Tables for Your Home

When an individual has their attention turned toward Asian home decor, one item that makes a room appear more Eastern in design is the classic Chinese hardwood table. In a Japanese decorating scheme, this may not be as applicable. However, in most Asian households the hardwood table is a distinct asset to the decorator. Since the Zhou dynasty (circa 1100-256 BCE), the ancient Chinese people had been sitting in cross legged postures on either mats or low platforms on ground level. This type of culture was in existence in China centuries before the time of Christ. It continued into the 7th century of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). However, by this time people had started sitting in chairs with their legs down. It was by this time period that a definite lifestyle was established based on elevated furniture. Therefore, tables had to also evolve with the times. So this is where the story of the Chinese hardwood table begins.

According to the Chinese tradition, tables are generally categorized into two major groups of "zhou" (tables with corner legs), and "an" (tables with recessed legs). There are also two sub-groups of "kang" tables and "ji" tables. Zhou tables can be waisted or waistless. The legs of the waisted tables always terminate into horse-hoof feet. The legs of the waistless ones are generally of circular section, splayed slightly outwards at the sides, and end with straight feet. Those with narrow or no waists are often strengthened with humpbacked stretchers or S-curved braces. In some instances, base stretchers are added. Generally speaking, the high waist is portioned with vertical braces. The top section of the front four legs are exposed to form corner vertical braces. Panels enclosed within the braces are carved with relief or openwork designs. The high waist is not only decorative but it also has a structural component to stabilize the legs.

An tables usually have flat ends or upturned flanges. They have two types of leg designs: one with free standing legs and the other with legs joined to low stretchers or base stretchers. Quite frequently, the latter construction has inserted panels of pierced or carved relief design installed within them at the sides. The legs are joined to the top with unmitred bridle joints. Long aprons are used to join the legs in front and at the rear to strengthen the top. The legs of this kind of Chinese table always splay a little bit outwards at the sides.

Aside from the physical distinctions in form and construction, an tables and zhou tables also have differences in terms of "spirituality." Most any physical action in relation to ban would suggest emotions being on a high level. For the Chinese, gently striking the an is a gesture used to express surprise or admiration. Likewise, etymological phrases in the Chinese language of a serious nature are derived from the character of an tables such as legal cases, trial of cases, proposal for discussion, and plans. The origin of these meanings are related to the historical fact that in the past the Chinese civil authority would usually sit behind an imposing an table with everted flanges to try cases. Zhou tables have never been used in this same way as an tables. This fact illustrates the higher status placed on an tables over zhou tables. For the same reason, altar tables used in temples and ancestral halls for worship were always impressive an tables with the same type of everted flanges.

Chinese hardwood tables are regarded by their form and function. These tables can be divided into the following types: square tables (fan zhuo), long narrow tables (tiao-zhuo), broad long tables (hua-zhuo), semicircular tables, circular tables, game tables, altar tables, qin tables, narrow tables with drawers, low tables, and stands. It is true that the tables of the Ming and Qing dynasties are very broad in their variety. While some of them are for specific purposes, many of them are multifunctional and adapt well. The strength of the hardwood tables, refined joints, the technical virtue, and the input of designs from literati clients, granted the ancient cabinet makers power to produce the simple, elegant Ming-style furniture as well as the stately Qing-style furniture. What is most important though is that the cabinet makers, no matter where they came from, followed the traditional rules for construction very strictly. This fact preserves the uniformity of both the form and structure of classical Chinese furniture.

The Asian home is therefore quite enriched by the presence of a classical-styled Chinese hardwood table. Such a table brings the ancient elegance of the past into the contemporary home or office most effectively. If one is looking to create this type of spiritual aroma in their decorating scheme, this writer strongly commends an investment in a high quality Chinese wood table. A thoughtful Asian home decorator will immediately recognize the tremendous value!

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