Springing for custom pads shields dining table investment

While modern taste in dining room tables, like modern taste in so many subjects today, varies considerably from household to household, the traditional format calls for a flat wooden surface supported by some type of leg or base arrangement.

In medieval times, the surface was just that – a surface – composed of wide boards placed across trestles to create the perfect tabletop. The condition of the wood surface was probably not a subject of much debate since it most likely didn’t have any finish at all other than old grease stains. But in today’s elegant formal dining room, the condition of the tabletop is of primary importance. It becomes something of a showpiece and a great deal of time and money is often devoted to the acquisition and maintenance of that surface.

A good set of custom made table pads can greatly prolong the life of your dining table. (Photo courtesy Fred Taylor)

But over time that entire thought process can become “inconvenient.” After all, we are talking about a flat piece of wood of a size not normally found in nature. And since it is wood, it tends to be softer than most other horizontal surfaces in the house such as counter tops. So now not only is the table top made of a large assemblage of a soft material, it is situated slightly below waist height, just the right place to accumulate books, mail, the occasional umbrella and a great many hand prints. If your house is like my last house, the dining room is situated right in the middle of the main traffic pattern, so everybody has to walk by it several times a day. There wasn’t much I could do about that, so I had to develop a protective system that would preserve the beauty of the tabletop and still allow my children the opportunity to achieve adulthood.

The first line of defense was a loosely woven, solid cotton tablecloth that easily hung down to chair seat level. That was topped by a heavy hand crocheted lace cloth that, while attractive, also helped deflect minor blows from dropped or thrown articles. Then the six chairs were arrayed around the table with each one slightly separated from the table by about 3 inches. This helped increase the buffer zone around the table.

Finally, to enhance the sense of protected territory around the dining area, we purchased a large Oriental rug to put in the area that became a “no walk” zone for kids and pets – well for the kids anyway. The pets continued to what they had always done. By removing the tablecloths once a month or so to let the table air out, this primitive defensive strategy worked well – as long as we didn’t actually sit down to eat at the table.

But sooner or later some important event would require the preparation of a lot of things we didn’t ordinarily consume, to be served on china we never used which was placed on the table where we never ate. We learned very quickly that the finish on older furniture is not as sturdy as advertised. Our original dining set was from the late 1930s, and while the tabletop looked nice and clean and shiny, we found out it was just for looks. Forget about hot dishes or cold glasses. Everything seemed to make the table turn white, and some things made the finish sticky.

Antique Trader Editors’ Pick Profile: As we were reading this column by Fred Taylor we couldn’t help but spend a few extra minutes admiring the table that was the focus of his protective preparations. This led us to spend time perusing Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2013, a great general resource with a nice section of furniture. It i also one of the books included in the limited-edition 2013 Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide Value Pack. Learn more about this value pack >>.

We then embarked a trial-and-error period of auditioning protective surfaces for the tabletop. Since we decided the table shouldn’t be wet, we started with a plastic sheet. On top of that we added the cotton tablecloth, topped off with individual plastic place mats at each setting. This was a good start, but with less than great long term results. It seems that older finishes (and some newer ones, as well) and certain types of plastic and vinyl have an affinity for each other. In other words, the tabletop finish started to grow to the plastic sheet during the rainy season. We saw the beginning of a disaster in the works. Not only that, but the sheet and tablecloth had not protected the surface from the normal dinner time trauma of heavy serving platters or extreme heat.

Arriving at the conclusion that professional advice was probably cheaper than having the table refinished, we asked for help. The answer was so simple and so obvious we were embarrassed that we hadn’t thought of it.

The answer, of course, was table pads. But not just any old table pads. I had seen the old thin moldy green pads in antique stores, and they held no appeal for me. And where would we find some to exactly fit our old table?

It turns out that solution was equally simple: have new ones made. The representative of one of the national brands came to our house, measured the table, made tracings of the corners, let us pick out the colors, took a small deposit and off he went. Two weeks later our custom table pads arrived.

The new pads were more than a half-inch thick with a waterproof vinyl top surface, a fiberboard core, a soft slip resistant supersuede bottom surface and an aluminum heat shield sandwiched in the middle. Each half of the table had a separate pad and each leaf did, too. The real trick was that there were catches on the edges of each section so the pads all locked together and stayed in place.

Did we spend a lot of money? It seemed like it at the time, but as the years wore on, the investment paid off. The less than $200 we spent for near top-of-the-line pads probably came right back to us in the form of a higher resale price for our set when we upgraded.

The “new” dining table was a late 18th century Georgian pedestal table, and you know who we called first when it arrived at the front door.

Good quality, custom made table pads are among the best furniture investments you can make. Don’t shortchange yourself trying to make do with sheets, blankets, quilts, mattress pads and cheap table pads. Spring for the good stuff one time and be done with it.

For more from the Furniture Detecive: Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com. Visit Fred’s Web site: www.furnituredetective.com. His book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H). For more information call 800-387-.

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