Form & Function: The Pembroke Table

I am excited to feature what I consider to be one of the greatest pieces in the history of furniture….the Pembroke table.

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Form: The Pembroke table is a light, drop-leaf table designed for occasional use. The origins of such a table are unclear, but it most likely derived its name from the 9th Earl of Pembroke, Henry Herbert (1693–1751), a noted connoisseur and amateur architect. Some scholars believe the design was originally ordered by Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621). It is doubtful, in my opinion, that it came from the latter as these kinds of tables didn’t seem to emerge on the market until the late 18th century, but in any case, the original design definitely seemed to take its name from the aristocratic family of Pembroke.  These pieces were usually made of mahogany and consisted of two short drawers or one long drawer supported on square, tapered legs or turned legs, in the case of those in the Sheraton style.

Function:  These types of tables first seem to emerge around the last quarter of the 18th century in England and America. In its time, the Pembroke table was a great innovation. It was a versatile table that could be easily stored or tucked in the corner of a room. Its uses included dining, writing, serving tea, and they also frequently had casters because they were used at bedsides. Many times, in the stately homes of Britain, they were used to serve a member of the household who didn’t feel like dining with the rest of the family or had missed the meal. Today, they can serve an even greater number of functions in addition to those for which they were originally designed. To the lay person, they are largely referred to as “drop-leaf tables” or “sofa tables”.  They come in various sizes and therefore can serve a variety of purposes.

The Pembroke table form spans over a century, and was interpreted differently by the tastes and styles of the various designers of the age. Below is a fine, American tiger maple table, circa 1810 in the Sheraton style.

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They can make excellent end tables, flanking a sofa. The ability to open the leaves allows for more space to display pictures and decorative accessories. This lovely pair of English George III pembrokes are the perfect side tables in this Manhattan apartment.

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This country Sheraton Pembroke paired with a Chippendale chair make for the perfect spot to enjoy your morning coffee and read in this breakfast nook. Its airiness and size also makes it an ideal little desk for a laptop, with a leaf up.

Pembroke Nook

Here’s an English Hepplewhite mahogany and inlaid Pembroke table, 1795

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Some are quite decorative with exotic veneers and inlay, like this D-end George III table.

pembroke in lay

Others are more simple and primitive, like this American cherry Pembroke, circa 1860 with a simple glass knob.

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I have mine behind the sofa in our living room. It makes the perfect place for the bar or hors d’oeuvres for small dinner parties.

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On winter nights, my wife sometimes floats it out with both leaves up, and sets an intimate dinner for two by the fireplace. We have even comfortably sat four here when we had overflow at larger dinner parties.

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Some are intricate and fine, while others are simple and plain, but whatever your fancy the Pembroke table is as elegant in form as it is versatile in function. The perfect addition to any collection, you can never have too many. You can count on beautiful Pembroke tables of all ages and styles to be found at the Show, so if you’re on the hunt for a lovely piece to fill out that corner or give you extra seating for a party this Christmas, look no further than the Wolfson Art & Antiques Show this December.

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4 thoughts on “Form & Function: The Pembroke Table

  1. joyce lowenstein says:

    I am doing a project due on Tuesday on a furnished federal period room in a historic house. I need to include a Pembroke table . It must have dimensions and the source where it came from. I liked the third table you shoed in you blog or the first one. Can you help me out?
    I am a 90 year old student at Georgia State University working for a degree(my first) in art history.
    Thank you for your help’
    Joyce Lowenstein

  2. Karen Marks says:

    We have a table with drop leaves, drawer in the middle. However, finally figured out after the sides were missing to hold the leaves up that you have to turn the top to hold the leaves up. Is this also a Pembroke table?

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