A table is an item of furniture comprising a surface supported by a base or legs. It may be used to hold articles such as food at a convenient or comfortable height when sitting, and is therefore often used in conjunction with chairs. Unlike many earlier table designs, most modern tables do not have drawers, although they are not uncommon. A table specifically intended for writing and office work is a desk, which may incorporate one or more drawers in the base. Some tables have removable sections or leaves used to extend the surface, or utilize hinged extensions of the table top known as drop leaves. Tables can be made of wood, plastic, metal or basically any material that is a solid density.
Shape, height and function
Tables come in a wide variety of shapes, height, and materials, depending on their origin, style, and intended use. All tables are composed of a flat surface and a base with one or more supports, or legs. A table with a single, central foot is a pedestal table. Tables can be freestanding or designed for placement against a wall (a console table). Table tops can be in virtually any shape, although rectangular, square, round (e.g., the round table), and oval tops are the most frequent. Long tables often have extra legs for support. Others have higher surfaces for personal use while either standing or sitting on a tall stool.
Many tables have tops that can be adjusted to change their position or size, either with foldable extensions or sliding parts that can alter the shape of the top. Some tables are entirely foldable for easy transport, e.g., camping. Small tables in trains and aircraft may be fixed or foldable, although many are simply convenient shelves rather than tables.
Some very early tables were made and used by the Egyptians, and were little more than metal or stone platforms used to keep objects off the floor. They were not used for seating people. Food was put on large plates deposed on a pedestal for eating. The Egyptians made use of various small tables and elevated playing boards. The Chinese also created very early tables in order to pursue the arts of writing and painting.
The Greeks and Romans made more frequent use of tables, notably for eating, although Greek tables were pushed under a bed after use. The Greeks invented a piece of furniture very similar to the guéridon. Tables were made of marble or wood and metal (typically bronze or silver alloys). Later, the larger rectangular tables were made of separate platforms and pillars. The Romans also introduced a large, semicircular table to Italy, the mensa lunata.
Furniture during the Middle Ages is not as well-known as that of earlier or later periods, and most sources show the types used by the nobility. In the Eastern Roman Empire, tables were made of metal or wood, usually with four feet and frequently linked by x-shaped stretchers. Tables for eating were large and often round or semicircular. A combination of a small round table and a lectern seemed very popular as a writing table. In Western Europe, the invasions and internecine wars caused most of the knowledge inherited from the classical era to be lost. As a result of the necessary movability, most tables were simple trestle tables, although small round tables made from joinery reappeared during the 15th century and onward. In the Gothic era, the chest (furniture) became widespread and was often used as a table.
Refectory tables first appeared at least as early as the 16th century, as an evolution of the trestle table; these tables were typically quite long and capable of supporting a sizeable banquet in the great hall or other reception room of a castle.