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 Home >> Art & Craft >> Soban (Small dining table)

One of the important pieces in a Korean kitchen -
the small dining table, Soban

I remember that I used to eat my lunch, which usually consisted of a meal such as soup with several dishes, on our small dining table.   After finishing lunch, I used to clear the table so that I could study on it. Although the table was old and partially damaged, it was a very important part of my daily life in that period, and the table was in use for long time.

What does ¡®Soban¡¯, the small dining table mean?

So Ban is a traditional Korean table on which dishes are served, where people sit on cushions   around the table. It can be called ¡®Sang¡¯, which includes a small dinning table named ¡®So Ban¡¯ and a large dinning table called ¡®Gyojasang¡¯, but in general, ¡®Soban¡¯, indicates a small dinning table. Although the lifestyle and social systems in Korea have changed, the ¡®Soban¡¯ is a very important part of the cultural heritage of Korea.

The standard of ¡®Soban¡¯ varies according to the one¡¯s social status and the tables purpose.   The ¡®Soban¡¯ used by the royal family was painted with a high quality of paint, while ordinary people used ¡®Soban¡¯ varnished with lacquer. However, the lower classes used the ¡®Soban¡¯ completely unvarnished.   

Traditionally, Koreans would set a table on which dishes were placed for just one person. However, several tables would be set for kings and noblity. As well as the number of ¡®So Ban¡¯ that an ancient Korean family had, the   dimension of the table would also indicate a family¡¯s social status. In ancient times, the size of the ¡®So Ban¡¯ would determine whether a family was wealthy or not.
Characteristics of ¡®Soban¡¯

In the Joseon period, a hot-floored room, known as the ¡®Ondol room¡¯ was established. Kitchen appliances, including furniture, was adapted due to this heated floor, so Korean household goods were different from Chinese or Occidental ones that were suitable for people living in a central heated house

In a traditional Korean house, the reception rooms for male guests were separated from the main building, and there were also rooms for servants on both sides of the gates. The ¡®So Ban¡¯ was a piece of furniture that was used to carry the meal to these rooms. Since the ¡®So Ban¡¯ was used by all classes of Korean society, there were various types and shapes of the small table. The 'So ban¡¯ usually has low legs and board to support the dishes.   People eat using cushions, sitting beside the table. The height of the legs means that it is suitable for eating meals at the table

Function and Structure of 'Soban¡¯

The size of an average 'Soban¡¯used in a house is around 50 cm in width, which allows people to transport it easily. It was originally made to this size as it had to be carried from the kitchen to the room for male guests, which was usually across the garden and main hall of a traditional Korean house. The height of table is around 25-30 cm, although the dimensions of the table vary according to its utility.   A table used for serving cakes, fruit and alcohol is small, and a round table is used is 2 or 3 people are eating around it.

Since the dinning table has to carry brass tableware and ceramic ware, this small dinning table has a characteristic structure.   It is made of material that is light but solid, such as wood like ginkgo or pine. The legs are well spaced in order to support the weight.            

The table was designed with no handles, and is also very decorative.

Material of 'Soban¡¯

In the Joseon period, fine -grained wood was used, such as ginkgo or walnut, as this wood is light and resiliant, and is not easily cracked. The legs of the ¡®So Ban¡¯, were usually made of more solid wood, such as pine or maple.

However, we can determine that the wood used was usually easily found in the village in which it was made. A board made of maple with legs of willow was very popular in Seoul, whilst in Yeong-Nam, 'Soban¡¯ was made of zelova trees. The Karae tree, pear tree and maple tree were used in the province of Hwanghae, and in Gangwon and HamGyeong, of linden tree was popular.

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