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comforTABLE: a heated table solution for everyone

Outdoor tables retrofitted with heaters and shared blankets create a cozy experience for diners to stay warm and shrug off the wind.

Photo of Yuki Takeshima
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comforTABLE is a small-scale, cost-effective solution for outdoor dining in Chicago’s chilly winter months. Instead of expensive temporary enclosures that many restaurants will not have the revenue to purchase, this simple idea will be available to all businesses and only relies on a few easily purchased materials. 

Idea Title

comforTABLE: a heated table solution for everyone

Company / organization name (if applicable)

site

Website (if applicable)

www.site-design.com

Please include a visual representation of your concept, including but not limited to images, diagrams, or 2D / 3D graphics

comforTABLE uses the Japanese Kotatsu electric heater as the primary heating element. Located underneath the table, the heater warms the diners’ feet and legs. The custom blanket serves as insulation and a barrier against the wind. As an added layer of warmth, the shared blanket also helps diners share body heat with one another, creating a comfortable and cozy experience even on chilly winter days.

Solution Overview

comforTABLE is a small-scale, cost-effective solution for outdoor dining in Chicago’s chilly winter months. Instead of expensive temporary enclosures that many restaurants will not have the revenue to purchase, this simple idea will be available to all businesses and only relies on a few easily purchased materials. 

Feasibility

comforTABLE is easily purchasable, implemented, and assembled. Most of the supplies for the comforTABLE can be purchased online, including the heat source, a Kotatsu heater unit. This warming device can be attached to the underside of existing tables using easily constructed support ribs keeping all patrons warm while enjoying a true outdoor-dining experience. The support ribs can be made with any materials that match the existing furniture, a simple cross bracing with a central opening to house the heating unit. Blankets with weather-resistant exteriors and fleece interiors can be retrofitted with head holes and sleeves to trap warm air produced underneath the table. The blankets can be regularly washed and sanitized. Finally, removable tabletops will be placed on top of the blankets as a dining surface and to secure the blanket in place. These tabletops can be sanitized like a normal table, and can even be removed from indoor dining spaces to further lower the cost of implementation.

Technical Overview

Although most of the materials for comforTABLE are easily found online or retrofitted from existing furnishings, the weather-resistant blankets may be more challenging to locate. To create custom comforTABLE blankets, businesses may employ local seamstresses and volunteers to modify found materials or sew new blankets. This idea can be easily prototyped during the fall months, and as winter closes in, revisions can be made to the design as needed to reflect the changes in the weather. 

Equity

Creating a truly accessible experience - The comforTABLE uses existing materials and easily located and inexpensive parts, meaning it can be implemented by a wide range of businesses with various budgets and available space. The simple nature of the blanket design also means they can accommodate those with various forms of mobility, such as wheelchairs. Lastly, the inclusion of local seamstresses to help retrofit/create blankets contributes to supporting small, local businesses, and individuals.

Prototyping

While prototyping, the team initially gravitated towards small, enclosed spaces that would completely insulate customers from the outdoors. However, given the safety precautions surrounding COVID-19, as well as the costs involved, there were too many barriers to entry for that type of design. Instead, the design team was inspired by Japanese Kotatsu tables, which comprise of a table, heater, and blanket that warms the lower body. The Kotatsu uses a radiant heat source that utilizes less energy than other outdoor heaters and will not contribute to air pollution. 


Since traditional Kotatsu tables are for indoor use only, the design changes proposed (creating head holes and sleeves) can help translate a tried and true technology into a format that best serves Chicago businesses. An outdoor heated table that will shield customers from wind chill and the cold while providing a genuine outdoor dining experience. 



User Research

The Kotatsu has been widely used in Japan since its inception in the fourteenth century. The Kotatsu was originally designed with a charcoal heater when people most commonly wore traditional Japanese clothing, where heat would enter through the bottom of the robes and exit through the neck, warming the entire body. The idea has since been translated into an electric format that is still commonly used in Japan, and shares similarities with other similar heated tables in other countries around the world. 

While the design firm is based in Chicago, we employ Japanese and Japan-based team members, who contributed to the research and design detailing for this idea through firsthand knowledge and experience.

Covid-19 Safety

The comforTABLE allows for an outdoor dining experience that provides climate comfort while allowing for true open-air dining. Since the equipment required is contained within each table, the solution allows for maximum use of circulation space, meaning that the tables can be spaced according to social distancing requirements while also allowing for ample physical distance between the servers and diners. 

The weather-resistant top surface of the blanket can be easily sanitized as any other surface between users and/or can be easily removed to be washed regularly. 

Using comforTABLE is easy. First, wear it - put on the blanket and get seated. Second, enjoy your food while you are warm and cozy. Third, wash and sanitize as often as needed. Repeat!

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Founded in 1990, site design group, ltd. (site) is an award-winning landscape architecture, urban design, and architecture firm based in Chicago, Illinois. We are recognized by our ability to visualize and communicate innovative design concepts and spatial experiences throughout the design process. We provide professional design services to architects, engineers, municipalities, corporations, and institutions throughout Chicago, the United States, and Asia.

Please describe your legal or organizational structure

site is a private limited company.

In what city are you / your team located?

Chicago

In what country are you / your team located?

United States

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)

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