At My Table: Woolsheds and Red Wine

The long journey from wool-sorting shed to children’s breakfast.

At My Table: Woolsheds and Red Wine

The long journey from wool-sorting shed to children’s breakfast.

I was at a talk recently and someone spoke about heirlooms: “possessions handed down from generation to generation, which we attribute value to”. I think that in my whānau this table would be one of mine. Although, technically it isn’t mine. It’s on loan from my mum.

Our table is utilitarian, worn, inscribed, and at this exact moment, sticky with children’s breakfast. I believe that it is made from kauri, a raw solid top with turned colonial-style legs.

It’s a table that has lived a number of lives. The first, as far as I am aware, was on the farm my mum grew up on in Otematata. She remembers it starting life in a wool-sorting shed, where fleece would be laid out and processed, separating the wool into sections to isolate the different quality fibres. I’m unsure how physical a process this is, but I’ve always attributed some of the deepest gouges in the timber top to this period of its life.

At some point, it was demoted and was essentially a “barn find” when my mum decided to resurrect and reinstate it, pride of place, in her home as a dining table.

This is the table I grew up with. It is the table where my siblings and I enjoyed family dinners. It is where we sat to do homework or, when older, lingered with a wine. When my parents moved to a new home and needed a larger table, this one went into storage and it was at this point that I adopted it.

We live in a mid-century home with clear delineation between spaces. The proportions of this piece of furniture, comfortably seating six, fit perfectly. Our home steps down a hill site and this table sits on a mid-level, connected to the entry and overlooking our living space. Its central position in the home means we gravitate here.

We start our day here, coaxing children to eat breakfast. My son Walt loves a good craft session, and the residue of modelling clay, glitter, glue and all things Crayola is his contribution. It is currently my youngest’s Everest – his goal is to get on top of the table at all costs. My partner and I enjoy it in a more conventional sense – kōrero, meals, entertaining, and as a desk when working from home. It’s so special, but not conventionally precious.

Over the past month I have been looking for advice on how to “clean” this table (to take the accompanying photo). I asked its former owner, a mid-century furniture specialist, a furniture maker, and an antique dealer. One after another they made vague suggestions, and I made many a trial-and-error attempt only to end up back where I started.

Where I’ve landed is that the various users and the resultant patina give this table its heirloom status. It’s the layers upon layers of experiences embedded in the soft timber that have instilled it with value and mana. Ultimately, the advice I have taken is this: try to mop up the red wine quickly, put newspaper down before particularly messy art sessions, and otherwise embrace it all until it is time for the next “owner” to have their turn.


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