From the earliest days of the scribe to the modern writers of today the evolution of the writing desk has been a movement to meet the needs of the writing market. From its very humble origins as a scribe’s box to the models that fill offices today key design elements can be traced back to eras like Victorian Great Britain and later periods in the United States. Our contemporary desks pay homage to their earlier ancestors.
The first writing desks were portable boxes with slope hinged lids that contained everything a scribe needed for his craft, though they weren’t recognizable as desks. On location these boxes were placed on a raised table or platform for the scribe to write on. Interestingly the first mention of the word desk wasn’t found until about 1450.
The modern desk began to take shape with the introduction of the clerk’s desk, circa 1660. The basic model of the clerk’s desk was a scribe’s desk setup on a raised stand, first temporary and later permanent. The next design modification followed shortly by adding drawers to the clerk’s desk. This was the basic design of the bureau. Late 17th Century France eliminated the sloped lid replacing it instead with a roll-down lid of wooden slots glued to cloth, thus revealing a flat writing surface.
Near 1700 came the next phase in the evolution of the writing desk known as the knee-hole writing desk. This desk design usually contained a cupboard at the back of the knee hole allowing the writer to maintain a more comfortable posture and freedom of movement while providing more storage for writing supplies and personal affects. In addition to this function modification desks began to see more ornamentation during this time period.
During the Regency period of England a cabinet maker by the name of Chippendale introduced the Serpentine Fronted Knee-hole Desk as the new design standard. Several later designs can be traced back to his model. As more writing desks came into production cabinet makers in several countries modified the imported designs to create their own distinctive styles. In the United States the two most notable designs were the Shaker design and the Arts and Crafts design, featuring a back-to-basics commonality focusing more on function than ornamental form.
In today’s market it can be hard to tell a writing desk from a computer desk or other type of office furniture simply because while these terms used to be very different, the modern multi-task demands of most office works have helped to assure that virtually all desks have to be all three. Writing desks have survived and thrived by adapting to the needs of workers, and that continued ability to change and function will help insure that the writing desk has a bright future ahead of it, as well.
This is a short video of how I get the top ready. I cut it to width and length, then route a decorative edge on it.
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