In most countries, and particularly those with a temperate climate and definite winter, people naturally congregate in the kitchen, given the opportunity. Traditionally, the range meant that the country kitchen was constantly warm; nowadays its modern descendant, be it an Aga or Rayburn, an American Viking or Westinghouse, a French Bocuse or Ambassade Lacanche, appears as often in the city as in the country – a touch of nostalgia with all the benefits of modern technology ensuring a constant temperature and comfortable atmosphere which encourages relaxed meals with family and friends – a real antidote to a hectic lifestyle.
Understandably, then, country style remains hugely popular today and continues to evolve in a variety of novel contexts. Over-designed and intricately carved furniture has given way over the years to simpler designs, but the kitchen table remains an important focal point, taking centre stage in order to cater for any task, whether that be children’s homework, pea-shelling, bean-slicing or bulb-potting.
Whether the table is old or new it is likely to be wooden, although highly polished and valuable antiques tend not to be appropriate. Round tables are more sociable but chairs need to be a comfortable height to maximize this advantage. These do not necessarily have to be a matching set, however; a random selection of sympathetic designs can look equally effective. Upholstered cushions will give additional comfort and decorative interest, but removable, washable covers are almost essential as they will inevitably need regular washing with food constantly present.
Long refectory tables, on the other hand, almost invite the use of benches – ideal for squeezing in more bodies at a feast. Although perhaps they lend themselves less to long after-dinner chats, hard benches can hide under the table between meals, making the most of the space available.
Decoration is generally simple with natural materials tending to feature strongly. More expensive initially than other options, these not only last longer, but sustain chips and stains more gracefully, acquiring a desirable patina.