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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Bonham

Why our farmhouse tables are better than the antiques they aim to mimic

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

We do not necessarily wish to talk you out of buying an antique, if you can find a good one. Instead we wish to provide information that will be helpful no matter what you buy. From here on out, all of the photographs you see are our pieces, newly built using local kiln-dried alder.

550 - heavily distressed alder farmhouse table with #35 color built in approximately 2010



As a functional piece, a dining table has to be the correct size and shape, and it must feel comfortable. The first reason, and main advantage of buying one of our tables (over an antique) is that all the details are fully customizable. Of course the main consideration is size. Ours can be ordered in any size, and the price we ask depends simply upon how much labor and material will be needed for its construction.

Here is the simplest possible style. It's a 30 x 60 size with straight tapered legs. It seats four people comfortably, and is made from solid northwest alder. The design can be simplified further by having plain straight aprons with no profile.

#550 - Solid alder farmhouse table with heavily distressed finish and color #35

From there, we can begin to add a few bells and whistles. The three following photos show one with a very deep (front-to-back) drawer and turned legs. The finish on this one is a good "scrub-top" color.

794 Recently built solid alder farmhouse table with heavy distressing

#791 Farmhouse table with drawer and turned legs / color #310-N

#794 - a better view of simple turned legs. Color is 310-N

Plank style tops look similar to the one below, with round pegs on each side of the joints. Typically I like to add a patch, some fake cracks, distressing, holes and discoloration. This photograph was taken in a dark room by a professional photographer, which impacts the look of the piece.

746 small simple farmhouse table
746 small simple farmhouse table

2. "PATINA: Here's another plank top, below (also built and finished by us). This finish looks much different from the one above, although in reality they were very similar and the exact same color. The photo was taken by me, against a white background, using a completely different type of camera than the above photo. I have put years of effort and experimentation into these finishes, studying what makes an antique table look real. When we have had our distressed furniture placed in stores, we have observed shoppers being completely fooled by their appearance into believing that they were real antiques.

550 small simple farm table
550 small simple farm table


Our tables are built so that there is no actual space between the boards. This is one major advantage our tables have over the genuine article. On real antiques, the plank tops are truly separate, and spilled milk is worth crying over because it will definitely run through. Typically, antique plank tops are fastened to the base in such a manner that when board shrinkage occurs, the gaps will become wider. These gaps can collect rather unhygienic food schmutz, and when the gaps do become wider, they get unsightly. (You may have seen some gaps get so large that they must be filled by a narrow wooden shim.) Ours are attached in a different manner. Boards are tightly joined together lengthwise in what becomes functionally a one piece top. What look to be "gaps" in this photo are less than 1/8 inch deep. Seasonal shrinkage and expansion will still occur, but this is accommodated by the fasteners we use to join the top to the base. Thus, the top shrinks and expands as a whole, and these apparent "gaps" will never deviate from their original width and will not admit liquids nor open up. They will come to you with their gaps and "cracks" being pre-filled with inert epoxy instead of dried food bits, having a penetrating finish applied to them, for a more wipe-able and maintainable function. The "worm" holes and trails you see here were not created by creepy wood boring insects, but instead manufactured in the shop.


These "living finishes" which we developed, are durable enough to be really used without much care. This particular example below was our own eating table for our family, and this is what the top looked like after five years of use. At that time, a family from Ohio bought the piece. With a little refreshing it was good to go. Refreshing means putting some more penetrating oil on it when it begins to look dry. If you aren't living in your forever-house or are unsure of whether or not you can stay put (and who is these days) you will find these distressed, gently discolored pieces look just as good years down the line, and therefore hold their value and can be resold years later because they still look great. I always tell people not to put hot pots from the stove directly on them, and to use mild cleaners, but pretty much any other dining situation will be handled with grace and will not impact their beauty. Perfect for you if you have better things to do than worry - or if you have kids and don't want to wait until they're grown to have nice things.

244 small harvest extension table with turned legs


The table below shows four small leaves fanned out over the top. This is the one we built as a prototype for our own family's use. We wanted to design something that would be as compact as possible when closed, and as large as possible when opened up with all leaves in place. We loved this table and used it for many years in an eat-in-kitchen before this photo was taken. Between us, Buck and I have raised three sons, and they were young when we built this table. We loved its versatility, because we could put in any number of the six leaves. Closed, it is 30 x 60, seats four, and has six 8-inch leaves. With all of the leaves in place, it opens up to 108 inches long and seats 10. It is very sturdy when opened up, and all of the leaves fit into a self-storage compartment inside the table.

244 small harvest extension table with turned legs
244 small harvest extension table with turned legs

This farmhouse table from several years ago was built with two extending breadboard ends and four tongue and groove leaves which self store inside the table.

483 small extension farm table with leaves

483 small extension farm table with leaves

Our clients wanted a very authentic, very heavily distressed look with a lot of gouges and discoloration.


In the old days, people were shorter, and table skirts (aprons) used to be very wide. It may be tempting to think that this problem is easily solved by elevating the feet upon blocks, but this will often raise the overall height to an uncomfortable level. We build many of our pieces for taller people, who are comfortable with a narrower apron. 30 inches is the standard overall height. The floor to apron measurement is the critical dimension, and many taller people will be comfortable at 25 1/2 inches. As with all of the other details, this can be specified when you order. The example below is one with an apron on the narrower side. In addition, it has large side and end overhangs, so that it can be placed against an L shaped, built in banquette.

658 small farm table for a banquette


We build our furniture ourselves and do not outsource our labor overseas. We also use domestic sustainable hardwoods whenever possible. Our choice species for these farmhouse tables, shown in all of these photos, is our own locally sourced pacific northwest alder. When driving along local backroads we can always spot groves of them by this characteristic grey-white bark and the graceful leaves which twist and turn gently, catching the light. They grow relatively fast and are short lived, and their roots stabilize the ground and also fix nitrogen, and thus they are the prime choice as a "pioneer species" for re-colonization of the clear cut forest. They are native to our area, and do an excellent job of preparing denuded soil for the longer lived conifers that are also native to the northwest. We love this wood, because it's friendly to wood working machinery, and when it is finished properly, it does a very good job at impersonating expensive European fruitwoods.

pacific northwest alder


The following photo shows one of our tables under a tree outdoors, along with its corresponding finish sample. The best light for color matching is outdoors under an overcast sky. These small pieces of wood were finished using the same methods we use for our tables. These little ambassadors travel all around the country. We send you a box of similar colors that you can look at in your own home. The only way to choose a color is in your own home and with your own lighting. Our work is then matched to the sample, and fine adjustments can be made at the end of the finishing process so that it is as precise a match as possible to the sample you chose.

601 farmhouse table with finish sample

Thank you for reading through this lengthy blog post. We invite you to have a look at some of the custom made furniture we offer for sale in our online store. Each of these began as a bespoke project for a real person with unique needs. If you would like to discuss your situation, please contact us.

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