August 18, 2010

What happened to picnic tables?

I grew up in a suburban housing development in the 1950s and I live in a new version of the suburban development now.

Housing styles have changed ... for one thing houses now are bigger, ceilings are much taller, and floorplans are open, with the living areas all blended together.

And one thing I have noticed: every house today has a wooden deck or stone patio off the back.  Some are elaborate and huge, others less so, but it appears universal that every house must have a constructed outdoor entertaining / lounging area.

But growing up, that was not how backyards looked.  We entertained, we lounged, we dined, we enjoyed our mothers' gardens, but it was universal that every suburban house had a tiny cement back stoop, and a big wooden picnic table in the back yard, sitting out in the lawn.

No patio of pavers or brick, no bluestone walkway and seating area.  No pressure treated deck or garden rooms with firepits. No umbrellas even. Just a cement stoop to sit on while you spat watermelon seeds into the lawn, and a picnic table.

What has happened to the backyard picnic table?  I have not seen one in ages, only the industrial ones bolted to cement slabs at the state parks.

Backyard picnic tables were multipurpose.  They were potting benches, work surfaces for projects too messy to do indoors, pumpkin carving stations in the fall, and of course we had our summer lunches and dinners out there.  You straddled the bench to shuck corn before bringing the cleaned ears into the kitchen. It was where you had your birthday party if you had an August birthdate.

The big awkward table was always in the middle of the grass and had to be moved in order to mow.  It was never set on a stone base or any kind of decking.  It just sat out there in the yard and was perfectly functional. It was always in a state of perpetual deterioration, and it wobbled.

Now everybody has some kind of professionally built entertaining area.  The house I grew up in even has a patio now (it's amazing what you can see on 3 D Bing maps)  Of course there is no picnic table out in the yard any more (I'm pretty sure the swing in the apple tree is gone too).

When I grew up and bought my first house, we had steps at the back door that led directly to the lawn.  We put a picnic table in the yard, a high end one made of redwood, since although we were young, we were pretty aspirational.  We never thought to build any kind of structure off the back of the house.

35 years later my current house has not only a wooden deck, but a patio with walls, stone walkways, a market umbrella, outdoor furniture, and gardens all around.  It's nice, but ......

.... I kind of miss the simplicity of the lichen covered old table in the back yard.


  1. Someone down the street from us sells old-style wooden picnic tables. I think he builds them in his garage. :)

  2. I'm glad to have moved on to outdoor tables and chairs with backs. I'm tired of the old, heavy wooden picnic table. In fact my old one is repurposed into a potting bench. A couple of hits with a chain saw took the benches right off! I much prefer it covered with clay pots waiting for their contents.

  3. What a fun trip down memory lane. Times were just more simple then. It sure looks like you met your aspirations. I wonder if people even have time to sit at those tables any longer??

  4. Michelle, I wonder what his market is... does anyone buy picnic tables any more?

    Joene, I'm glad your de-benched picnic table has a new life as a potting stand!

    Lisa, Times were more simple then, and we didn't even know it! A nice picnic table in the yard seemed to make it so lush and complete....

  5. Hi Laurrie, I remember so well our redwood picnic table. We three girls in my family spent endless hours in the summertime doing art projects, and you could always squeeze in one more person when it was time for hot dogs and watermelon. I don't want one now I suppose, or do I??? Your very current seating area looks wonderful.

  6. Cyndy, thanks! You have the same summer memories at the old backyard picnic table that I do.

  7. DAng. . . I can't stop noticing wooden picnic tables now. We drove out to a country destination yesterday, and I passed another place selling wooden picnic tables. They are alive and well around my neck of the woods, it appears. :D

  8. Michelle, it must be a Massachusetts thing! I just don't see any picnic tables down here :)

  9. Nice Picnic Tables Images. These all are looking so beautiful.


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.