Is a hanging dining table a terrible idea?
May 17, 2016 7:34 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking of hanging my dining table from the ceiling with a winch and lowering it down when needed. Is this a great idea or a terrible one?

We have kitchen table that we use for daily use and want a dining table for when guests are over. But we don't really want the table around the rest of the time because our kitchen, living and dining are all in one big area and a separate dining table would just get in the way. I know places like Resource Furniture carry coffee tables or side tables that transform into dining tables but their stuff looks fairly spendy and we'd still have to move the table into place when we wanted to use it.

So then I thought, what if the table was suspended from the ceiling and just came down when I needed it? Net searching has shown that at least a few other people have done similar things but not too many, which leads me to believe that there must be some really big downsides to this that I'm not seeing. The one I could think of is having a cable at each corner of the table could be annoying when you're sitting at the table eating.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Usually people have lights hanging over their dinner tables. Having a table hanging over your table would block that.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:37 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

The weight bearing capacity of your ceiling, the location of any joists or beams, and ceiling material will be a major limiting favour factor. Also, you will need a seriously high ceiling to avoid a giant spider vibe from your suspended table.
posted by smoke at 7:45 PM on May 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Let's see, off the top of my head: the cables thing you mention, this would feel extremely weird, like "enter the dining cube" as delineated by the cables. Lighting being obscured. Most people don't have high enough ceilings that legs the height of a dining table wouldn't bonk a great many heads. Dining tables can be very heavy and many interior ceilings are not built to hold so much weight in such a way. The cost of safely creating a winch system would be more than just buying a nicer convertible table or rearranging lifestyle/furniture to fit needs better. A serious safety concern for households with kids who want to fidget, dogs who want to chew, and curious people who see a crank and go "ooooh".

I think a big part of this would depend on how many people you intend to seat at the table. For a small four person dining table, you could pretty easily make or find a wooden table with legs that fold in and store it on the wall at normal height. (And if you're a tablecloth family, there's really nothing wrong with a lightweight plastic folding table stored in a closet or something.) Any more seats though and you run into problems of weight. A surface large enough to hold 5+ table settings and the related food with comfortable elbow room is going to need stronger support, be it central legs or thicker material, and it would all add up to a pain to move. Better to have a multipurpose surface that is sometimes where you eat, like a large stainless steel table that would be great for all kinds of prep work and projects but also sometimes gets cleared off for dinner when guests are over.

For what it's worth I've used a few of those coffee tables that transform into dining table height and they're never as good as they promise. Chair legs never fit under them, the hinges holding them up make me nervous when the table is loaded down with food, they quickly get out of whack and then you have a lovely sloped surface to watch peas roll... Not worth the money IMO.

One thing that I could see working well, if you're handy (and it seems by nature of this question that you might be) is constructing folding table legs at two heights. One for coffee table and one for dining table. The legs would work like folding sawhorses (maybe you could look into those and just buy some) and you could get a tabletop somewhere like ikea, and attach small pieces of wood around where the legs should be. Then you would just pop the tabletop on and off the legs you set up, and store the folded flat legs somewhere else (or maybe on a loft you've got a ladder to, since I bet you've got some tall ceilings in your greatroom.)
posted by Mizu at 7:49 PM on May 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm guessing the setup you're imagining is a table with no legs that is still suspended while people are dining on it. Wouldn't an enthusiastic leg-crossing be disastrous?

Sorry to go off topic, but maybe an alternative solution would be two or three smaller tables on wheels (easy IKEA hack) which could serve different purposes day-to-day (entryway key drop, kitchen prep station, sofa table) but be wheeled together and secured in some way (hook and eye underneath?) for big dinners.
posted by lakeroon at 7:53 PM on May 17, 2016 [12 favorites]

The table will swing, if it's not anchored at the bottom. Not so great if you enjoy wine.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:58 PM on May 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

All good feedback, but the first thing I thought of was horizontal stability. Even with four cables, the table will sway. I think we may underestimate how much we rely on a table's stability along that plane, especially when seated.
posted by pzarquon at 7:59 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have wall space nearby for a Murphy Table?
posted by calgirl at 7:59 PM on May 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

The cables could connect with snap hooks and therefor be removable when the table was in use.

The biggest problem is because of the height of the table you'll need a minimum of 10' ceilings and more realistically at least 11' once you account for the space taken up by the lifting hardware.

The normal solution for this is a table with leafs. Either of the center pull apart style or drop leafs at one or both ends. There are also tables with pull out leafs at each end.

If you really wanted to do this you could mount a light fixture to the bottom of the dining table. Or use wall sconces.

Now having said all that there is one other solution. My gaming group has a need for two different size tables in both width and length. IE: Pen and paper role playing games with miniatures on a grid for seven people requires a lot of space; board games are a pain on such a large table because people have trouble reading/reaching across the table.

So we have a 3'x5' four leg dining table for board gaming. In addition I made a 4'x8' laminated table top with a structure inside that slides tightly over the 3'x5' table top. This table top only is just leaned against the wall of our gaming room when we don't need it but there isn't any reason it couldn't be hung from the ceiling.
posted by Mitheral at 8:02 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can get some VERY cheap folding tables and then get some nice table cloths. You can store the tables under your bed, so they're out of your way.

Suspending a table seems like a lot of work to me Uncle Charlie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 PM on May 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

N'thing the table will sway. This will lead to everything from food & drink spills (just try to pour a glass of wine onto a moving surface, or correctly aim your dollop of mashed potatoes at your plate) to bruises if not actual injuries (folks getting hit in the belly by the swinging table edge, for instance).

Of course there's also the weight limits of your ceiling structure, as well as the general unsightliness of the pulley system; the tabletop will block light to the room from the ceiling fixture (unless you're going to have something like a clear sheet of lucite for a tabletop); and unless you have recessed lights above it, the table will only be able to be raised enough to make it a head-banging hazard, not all the way to the ceiling.
posted by easily confused at 8:20 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how you'd stop it from swaying -- it sounds like it could get messy!

You could get one of those plastic banquet tables with the folding legs from Costco. When you throw a tablecloth over it, no one will know it's not a fancier table. When you're not using it, fold up the legs and stick it behind your couch.

You could maybe do a Murphy bed sorta thing, only with a table.
posted by Ostara at 8:24 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm imagining resting my elbows on the table and tipping the whole thing. Maybe not all the way over, but enough to spill everyone else's glasses of wine.

Also where would you store the chairs?

Can you just have one biggish nice-ish table, rather than separate kitchen and dining tables?
posted by lazuli at 8:33 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you want a table to be secured so it can't move. It needs legs of some sort, even if you suspend it from the ceiling (which I think could be cool).
posted by kjs4 at 8:35 PM on May 17, 2016

I ate at a fancy restaurant with a hanging table.

Well, one half was hanging from a chain, the other was on a giant steampunk hinge device.

The table was in an old walk-in refrigerator. All the lights were red like a darkroom. There was a boat anchor.

If that's the effect you're going for, do it!
posted by miyabo at 8:46 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

just came down when I needed it?

How would you bring it down, and how would you make sure no one ever did that while someone was under it?
posted by John Cohen at 9:07 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Why not just get a kitchen table that's extendable?
posted by MadamM at 9:15 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think it could work but I'd also have cables that came up from the floor that secured it at each corner. Also I'd make it of something extremely lightweight, not wood.
posted by fshgrl at 9:17 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wrong direction. What you want is a square of floor that rises by hydraulic piston underneath.
posted by ctmf at 9:28 PM on May 17, 2016 [25 favorites]

Or a sunken dining area that appears when you lift away floor tiles!
posted by Mizu at 9:32 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can see many drawbacks. But if you're seeking novelty, this wins, and I'd want to eat at your place.
posted by samthemander at 9:39 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

yes a table that rises up from the floor would be 10000000000 times better
posted by poffin boffin at 9:46 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is why tables with extra leaves were invented.
posted by vunder at 10:01 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

So many naysayers!

I think this is a wonderful idea and you should go for it.

I would suggest storing the legs either on a nearby wall, or under or atop the table top.

Another solution might be to lower the big tabletop down onto your existing smaller table and use its legs as the base. There'd be some tippiness to contend with, but there are well understood ratios and formulas relating to overhang and base width you can Google up to sort that out. You'll need to secure the big one to the smaller one somehow (pins through both tables' aprons?). This solution would allow you to hang your table top from the wall, either hinged like a Murphy bed idea suggested above or free like a big painting.

This would be a great project for a local craftsperson to tackle. A furniture maker or cabinet maker would likely have the right skills.

Good luck!
posted by notyou at 10:12 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

To keep it lightweight, build a torsion box, which is a lattice sandwiched between two thin sheets of plywood or veneer. Very stiff and rigid, and very light. Premade cardboard honeycomb is available, too, if you don't want to make the lattice.
posted by notyou at 10:21 PM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am from earthquake country and I think I vote for "have it raise from the ground" rather than descend from the top.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:30 PM on May 17, 2016

Just get one of these from ikea klaffbord, or buy a folding "under part" at IKEA and unhinge a door to put on top when you have guests.
posted by Iteki at 11:00 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

OP, I like and admire you and wish to be your dinner guest. The folks naysaying this genius idea are the same people who mocked Galileo and Einstein.

It cannot hang from the ceiling when in use, you will need some legs under it. A table top with folding legs needn't be more than a few inches thick, like a card table. Haul it up to the ceiling with the same pulley systems used to hang bicycles in a garage. Totally doable.

But wait, Iteki has a brilliant idea with the door. A flat, hollow core interior door is already a table top. Use some hinges with removable pins like these and it will pop on and off effortlessly. Mount a pair of folding table legs on the back of the door. You can have a dining room table in 60 seconds.

Dang, now I want to so this...
posted by LarryC at 12:35 AM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've seen this in a restaurant that converts to a club/event centre. But tables down is the default, and they still have legs (I guess they fold or are removable somehow. The cables detach as well.

This is in an old paper mill with strong steel ceiling beams/joists.
posted by tracicle at 12:53 AM on May 18, 2016

Keep in mind if you raise a table from the floor that you'll be eating from the floor. That is, hygene questions.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:35 AM on May 18, 2016

i don't know if this is any help, but we worried abut the space a dining table takes when not in use and finally made a table that was longer but narrower than normal. it seats the same number of people but when pushed against a wall (when not in use) no longer dominates the room and leaves a lot more usable space. we also made benches to sit on, which fit under the table, so that there are no chairs to get in the way.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:54 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a table that is pretty small without the leaves. My sister found one on craigslist that is about the same. Dining room sets are something that people get rid of fairly often when downsizing, maybe set up a search?
posted by readery at 5:16 AM on May 18, 2016

An alternative Idea could be to have a table supported by collapsible "A" frame type legs with the table top either removable or rotating vertically. The table could then be moved against a wall when not in use.
posted by forforf at 5:16 AM on May 18, 2016

Yeah, my A#1 for real serious no kidding concern would be the load on the ceiling. You can't just screw into the ceiling wherever and expect it to carry the weight of the table and the lateral strain and sway as the table gets raised and lowered. You need to be attached to joists or beams with proper hardware. This is probably a bigger project than you're anticipating. (If you're a homeowner and you decide to go through with this I would get an architect and a contractor and/or structural engineer involved, if only for insurance purposes - that way someone with real experience has signed off on the project.)

And as someone who deals with hoisting things and winches and chain falls pretty regularly as part of my job, lemme tell you cranking things up and down by hand gets real old real fast. You'll want some kind of motor, but then you've gotta get power to it and figure out where to put it.

As others have pointed out, this is already a solved problem - leaf tables let you easily change the size of your table. That Resource Furniture stuff does look hella expensive, but there are a ton of various kinds of leaf tables out there for a wide range of prices.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:52 AM on May 18, 2016

I've seen this done before with quilting frames: for really large projects that took a long time to hand-quilt, people in small houses/cabins would suspend the in-progress quilt from the ceiling on a series of ropes. They'd bring it down when it was time to work on it and crank it back up when they needed to do other things in the space.

Anyway, they weren't trying to eat and drink on the quilt so they wouldn't have the sorts of problems that I imagine you would with a large, swinging table!
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:55 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

You'd want to get an engineer to look at this if it's your house. If you rent, then definitely not. That's not what ceiling beams were designed to support.

How many people do you want to seat? I asked a question about dining tables here a while ago, got nowhere, and ultimately got what half the people in my city seem to have - the Ikea Bjursta. I have the largest one, which is a totally reasonable size for in-kitchen family eating, and extends to comfortably seat ten. The smaller ones seat 6-8 extended and are square or round when not. And, crucially and unusually, it is totally light enough for two people to move with no trouble (unlike the last extendable dining table I had.) And it's cheap. Recommend it.

Another option, if your space setup allows, is to buy a drop leaf table and use it as a console/sofa table, stuck either behind a couch or in an entrance or along a wall. Then use it when you need it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:03 AM on May 18, 2016

I have friends who successfully hung their bed and winched it up and down. I hung my worktable from the ceiling once. Granted these were industrial spaces with exposed beams, so it was easier than your situation might be. But nevertheless, I don't see what the big whoop is, as long as you hang it correctly/safely, and secure it rigidly to the floor when in use (because of wine glasses, etc.) I also think keeping it lightweight is a great idea.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is doable and has been done! Check out this Dutch office setup. Looks like they deal with stability by having a couple narrow cabinets that wheel out to be the "legs" and can be stored against the wall otherwise.
posted by congen at 7:28 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oops! Posted too soon.

The architect's site and description of the project is here. Even has some schematics!
posted by congen at 7:36 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

What about just getting a drop-leaf table?
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2016

Emily Carr supposedly kept all of her chairs on pulley systems so she could get rid of them when people came over. For her it was so they wouldn't stay and bother her.

I could imagine custom building something, maybe on the drying rack model. My folks built one of these in their place and it works a treat. Theirs is very hefty but they live in a log house so anchoring isn't a worry. Make sure you find good beams. Folding, braced legs just like those you see on folding tables would work as would the roll over cabinets mentioned above. I love that Dutch office idea. You can buy wheels with brakes on them for the bottom of furniture.
posted by Cuke at 12:02 PM on May 18, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. It looks like horizontal stability is something I will have to make sure is taken care of one way or the other.

In all likelihood we will likely get some kind of leaf or detachable table and just store it somewhere else when not in use - but I really would like a table that just got out of the way when not in use. So while I'm dreaming...

The table would be big enough to seat 10 people and would go in an open kitchen/living/dining room that is about 20 by 30 feet. It is a fairly large space, but a big dining table that is always there would eat up a lot of it. The best place for the table doesn't have a wall nearby that I could fold up and rest the table against which is where the idea for hanging it came from. The ceiling is slanted and will be between 12-14 feet high where the table would be. There will be exposed beams at about 8-9 feet high which could be used for hanging the table.

The weight bearing capacity of your ceiling, the location of any joists or beams, and ceiling material will be a major limiting favour factor. Also, you will need a seriously high ceiling to avoid a giant spider vibe from your suspended table.

I wasn't thinking about hanging the legs, just the tabletop itself hanging on cords at the corners. If the tabletop is hanging between the beams 8 feet up is it going to be noticeable? I could even decorate/run some lights on the underside of the table to make it look like some "feature" in the room.

Wrong direction. What you want is a square of floor that rises by hydraulic piston underneath.

We have high ceilings that can be used but there is only about a foot between the floor and ceiling underneath and I don't think that is enough to accommodate such a system.

Or a sunken dining area that appears when you lift away floor tiles!

My in-laws have something like this in their place (a hori-gotatsu) and it is great. But it works for them because theirs is on the ground floor and there is no basement underneath it so there is space for everything.

To keep it lightweight, build a torsion box, which is a lattice sandwiched between two thin sheets of plywood or veneer. Very stiff and rigid, and very light. Premade cardboard honeycomb is available, too, if you don't want to make the lattice.

The torsion box sounds pretty neat. I wasn't worrying too much about weight because a modestly priced electric winch will be able to lift 400+ pounds which is more than enough for my purposes, but at the same time reducing the weight would help to reduce stress on the whole system and give me margin for potentially storing things (such as folding chairs) on the tabletop when it is raised.

But wait, Iteki has a brilliant idea with the door. A flat, hollow core interior door is already a table top. Use some hinges with removable pins like these and it will pop on and off effortlessly. Mount a pair of folding table legs on the back of the door. You can have a dining room table in 60 seconds.

I like the idea of a door to nowhere that becomes a tabletop but I don't think a door will make a big enough table.

This is doable and has been done! Check out this Dutch office setup. Looks like they deal with stability by having a couple narrow cabinets that wheel out to be the "legs" and can be stored against the wall otherwise.

That office is great. I would be very happy with a table like that, although if the cabinets were strong enough I'd probably think about detaching the cables once the table was lowered.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:19 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seating for 10?

This furniture maker recommends 30"x 18" personal space for each diner, plus a bit more in the middle of the table to accommodate those on the ends, which gets you a table 150" x 40" inches (4"x30" for each long side plus 30 for the ends (a bit less than the suggested 18" depth). Frankly, 30" per person is generous. My dining table, which was made for a smallish room, affords just ~23" per diner (it's 70x40), and feels fine with six.

Still, you're looking at a pretty big tabletop, even at the suggested minimum ((4x24)+30 = 126" x 40").

If you go forward with this, please share what you come up with!
posted by notyou at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2016

There are a lot of practical naysayers, but this is an awesome idea. You already solved the "but the table legs!" objection by noting that you'd skip the legs altogether.

To deal with the lateral stability, what about using tension? Instead of legs that support weight, have small cables anchored to the floor and to the supporting cables at the table corners (occupying the same physical space the legs would occupy). Use the winch to lower the table to the point where you can easily attach the floor cables, then raise the table to a point of tension.

Also, wire rope is incredibly strong for its diameter. You could probably safely use very small diameter cables given that the total weight (including dishes, food, people leaning, etc) is likely under 1000lbs, and the load would be divisible across 4 cables.

As for lighting, you can probably just suspend that too, and perhaps lower it simultaneously with the table (though at a slower rate, maybe using a pulley with a 1:4 ratio or something).
posted by reeddavid at 11:11 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

For anything suspended above people you should have a 10:1 design factor1. It's easy to get that in a small cable until you amalgamate them into 1 to go to your winch. However everything in the assembly has to be rated that high (including your winch) as well and often you'll find the connection hardware sized for smaller cables doesn't have enough reserve strength. You can step up to larger connectors but then you might find that aesthetically the cables look wimpy in comparison. Also keep in mind that crosby (saddle style wire rope) clips or hand tucking used to make loop eyes at the ends of cables reduce the cable's capacity.

[1]"design factor" means the theoretical reserve capability of a product, usually determined by dividing the breaking strength by the working load limit.
posted by Mitheral at 12:19 AM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another consideration: hanging the tabletop will mean that the underside will be very visible --- in fact, on a day-to-day basis that's the side you'll see the most. So take some thought to the aesthetics of the underside! That could be anything from making sure that it complements the ceiling beams, or matches/'disappears into' the paint colors of the ceiling, or paint the underside so it looks like you've hung an intentional artwork, because yes, 8' high will still be extremely visible to anyone entering the room.
posted by easily confused at 8:16 PM on May 19, 2016

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