The turquoise picnic table sits year-round in the front yard of Meredith Repik’s West Ashley home.
The table is there for a reason. It’s there to be seen. And it’s there to be used.
Since the first day Repik planted the table in her front yard two years ago, it has stood out to neighbors and passersby, who are welcome to stop by the table on a whim to share a cup of coffee, glass of wine or quick conversation.
“Most people don’t put a table in their front yard,” she said. “It gets a lot of attention. And that’s kind of the point.”
The table stands out, in part, because of its color: It’s a Sherwin Williams shade called Nifty-Turquoise that thousands of people, mostly women, around the country and world have painted their own tables to join the Turquoise Table movement.
“The whole idea is to get people out of their homes and into their community,” Repik said. “It’s a gathering place more than anything.”
How it started
Kristin Schell, who lives in Austin, Texas, started the accidental movement in 2014. Ahead of a backyard party, Schell ordered a picnic table from Lowe’s to offer extra seating.
When the table was delivered in front of her house, she said it was like an “a-ha moment.”
“It took my breath away,” Schell said. “I had this thought, ‘What if I left it there after the party?’”
In that moment, Schell, who has four kids, said she saw the table as an easy way for her family to meet and connect with their neighbors.
“When I was growing up, we all knew everyone in the neighborhood,” she said. “I wanted my kids to have something like that.”
She was also craving in-person conversation.
“We’re all sort of tethered to our phones,” she said. “I was friends with a few moms who lived near me, but, guess what? We would just text all the time.”
A few days after the table arrived, Schell set it up in her front yard and painted it her favorite color.
One morning, she sat at the table with a cup of coffee. And she waited for someone, anyone, to show up.
“Yeah,” she said. “It was awkward at first.”
Within five minutes, though, a neighbor stopped by to say hello.
When Schell’s friends later dropped by, she shared her idea: That the table could be a no-frills gathering place for the neighborhood.
“I expected them to think it was a cool idea,” Schell said. “I didn’t expect them to all get out their phones and order their own table.”
What a simple table can do
One of the first tables to land outside of Austin was in Greenville. There are now thousands of tables, including in each state and 11 countries.
Repik’s was the first of two registered tables in the Lowcountry.
Dawnita Hall, who also lives in North Charleston, hosts a weekly lunch club at her table, which she painted green because the color matches her yard better.
“I started out just waving to people,” Hall said. “The waves turned into conversations as people would stop to see why I kept waving at them.”
She now spends most evenings sitting at the table and often keeps a cooler stocked with water bottles for those walking or running by.
“It’s amazing what just being there can do,” she said. “It’s amazing what a simple table can do.”
Repik has experienced that, too. The table is not only a place for her family to have meals but also a place for kids in the neighborhood to have breakfast on the first day of school. In a group chat recently, a friend texted, “I need some table time. Does anyone have 15 minutes to talk?”
“By going out there, I’m making the time to talk and be with other people,” Repik said. “You’re not going out there to be by yourself. It’s like open forum to talk about whatever you want to talk about.”
In Schell’s neighborhood, there are several turquoise tables and each one takes a turn hosting Frontyard Fridays.
“We order a bunch of pizza and just hang out,” she said. “Sometimes 100 people show up and sometimes nobody shows up. And that doesn’t matter, because everyone knows there’s another one next week.”
For people who want to get to know their neighbors, Schell said the table steps in and covers excuses such as, “My house isn’t big enough or the kitchen is dirty,” she said.
“None of that matters when you’re hanging in the front yard,” she said. “This sort of takes the pressure off.”
More than five years after starting the movement and after writing a book about her experience, Schell said she realized another reason the idea came to her “like a lightning bolt.”
“It’s sort of embarrassing to say I was lonely, but I was,” she said. “I didn’t know at the time how much I was missing real connection."
Schell said she never could’ve expected how many turquoise tables have sprouted up around the world.
“Honestly, it blows my mind,” she said. “But it just shows we all have the same need. The table isn’t the hero of the story. The people are.”