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Outdoor Heirlooms: Dining Tables
September 11, 2014
When you’re buying a table that you intend to put outdoors, the obvious thing to consider is what it’s made of — even if you live somewhere that’s temperate year-round. Jonathan Olivares, an industrial designer in Los Angeles, for example, said he sticks to “metals, woods, sometimes marble, stone and concrete.”

Notice that he didn’t mention plastic, long an outdoor staple. That’s because while it defies the elements, it doesn’t respond to them.

“It doesn’t usually work outdoors,” said Mr. Olivares, 32, who designed an outdoor stacking chair for Knoll two years ago and has been thinking about a suitable table to accompany it ever since. But wood, he continued, “is acoustically friendly and ages beautifully” and metal “has a beautiful patina.”


His search for what he called “heirloom quality” outdoor tables began at Lawson-Fenning’s Silver Lake store, where he found a generous selection of cafe tables from the French company Fermob. The classic cafe table is “probably the most efficient table I’ve seen in terms of minimal material usage,” he said. “The X-structure allows that. It’s really admirable.”

And cafe tables are round, which is good, too, he added, because round tables tend to be more conducive to group conversation than square or rectangular ones; they also fit easily into tight spaces.

Online, at Old Plank Road, he found an early-20th-century French bistro table with a marble top. “I think of this as modern-before-modern,” he said. “It’s the most rudimentary architectural table there is, with iron castings in an X-formation and a tube that connects them.”

The Cassina LC11-P by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, on the other hand, represents the height of modernism, with its “central pedestal, which keeps everyone’s legs free to move” and the “lip that runs around the perimeter,” he said, which is useful for things like keeping “wine from spilling on your lap.” Also, it may be the “most substantial outdoor table that exists,” he said.

Alberto Meda’s Teak table for Alias, which Mr. Olivares found online at Suite NY, hit all the marks as well. “The way the slats are placed,” he said, “allows the wood to contract and expand with changing temperature, so it will never crack.”

But a table’s main function, Mr. Olivares reminded the reporter, is “to facilitate conversation, conviviality and memorable meals.” And for that, he recommended the three-legged table by Achille Castiglioni from Zanotta. It’s “Castiglioni at his best,” he said, supporting “the fabric of everyday life.”
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