One of our most treasured and historically interesting designs is our refectory table.
To make it we use an antique factory work table from the Kahn Company in Savannah as a frame, restored it, and inlaid the top with a herringbone pattern out of antique, also reclaimed, oak flooring, hand cut to fit.
So far we’ve built two for the Kessler Collection, a series of luxury hotels expanding throughout the south-east. The first went to the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Charleston, SC and the second to the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Birmingham, AL, which opened last Fall.
As the name ‘bohemian’ may suggest, the style of the table hearkens back to the seventeenth century, where large tables such as these adorned castles and estates throughout Europe.
The purpose of these tables began with humble, devotional, yet utilitarian origins. Monestaries and cloisters around Europe housed many, many monks, who ate communally by rule. Their meals were silent other than one brother reading from sacred texts, and to allow the reading to be audible, they had their meals in their large refectory. For example:
(A linguistico-historical interlude. 'Rectory': a ‘dining hall’ specifically within religious institutions, derived from Norman—likely around the time of Norman monasteries in England—'refectorie', itself rooted in Latin 'refectorium': a place for refreshment. A simple ecclesiastical term. But when this is further decomposed, we find that 'refectorium' is from 'reficere' (from 're + facere': to make), which, like our ‘refect’ means to refresh, but also to repair, to renew, to restore and revive. In fact, refresh is itself a figurative use. That Southern Pine Company specializes in renewing and reclaiming materials, and repurposing them into things like refectory tables, and that these tables themselves are made from a root that indicates just this process, was a coincidence that did not go unnoticed. And this is not the full linguistic extent. The table we started with was a factory (factory > factorie > factorium > (ultimately) facere: to make) work table, which after much refection, became a refectory table, thus facere becomes reficere. Or: we’ve refected a factory table. Thus just another mentonomy of our whole operation in one very fortiutious coincidence of table types, our materials, and, in this case, the evolution of language. Nor is this the only one. See below. Back to the cloister.)
Now how a cloister lent its refectory table eventually to the Bohemian courts is a strange story to be told, but it can hedged in for comprehensibility’s sake. So, as the nobility in the Mediterranean, most notably in Italy, devoted their massive fortunes to equally massive castles and palaces (palazzi), they encountered also demand for larger dining tables, and as dining halls remniscent of refectories had also become fashionable at the time, the conclusion was to build refectory tables for the court dining halls. Refectory tables, ably secularized.
They then flourished. France, also becoming massively wealthy, made its own equally wealthy castles (châteaus) and massive palaces. During this construction, an Italian designer and architect, Giulio Romano, traveled from Italy to oversee the development of the court of Francis I in the early 16th century.
G. Romano is described by Vasari as “abounding in excellent qualities,” and excelling in ability. One of these was his reconstruction of much of Mantua. “For the city of Mantua at various times,” Vasari wrote, “he designed temples, chapels, houses, gardens, facades, and was so fond of decorating them that, by his industry, he rendered dry, healthy and pleasant places previously miry, full of stagnant water, and almost uninhabitable.” A Rennaisance reclaimer after our own heart. But in France, he is also credited with bringing the refectory table to the courts and castles. Seeing these wonderful designs and tables, they were imitated by the Germans, and had spread to Bohemia by the 17th century. Thus, our tables for the Bohemian have also remained true to history, from the mind of a legendary Italian architect.
I mentioned the the herringbone on our tabletop was made of oak pieces, which itself coheres with this narrative. Medeterranean tables of this kind were usually made from walnut, but in Northern Europe oak took its place, being more abundant.
Our refectory tables in the Bohemian Hotels are now serving primarially as stations for wine blending machines where guests may have their own custom wines blended, bottled and labeled.
If you’re interested in one of these for your cloister, home, or palazzio, please feel free to contact us!