The writing desk or bureaux originated in the early seventeenth century from old-fashioned Bible boxes. They were flat boxes just large enough to hold the family Bible, which was the most treasured possession. These boxes were almost always kept on a shelf in the living room. With the box’s flat surface and conveniently high form, the owner became accustomed to standing and writing their letters on the Bible boxes.
It can easily be imagined that this became wearisome. Indeed, some seventeenth-century writers evolved the idea of making a Bible box on a stand. The stand allowed it to be a movable piece of furniture. The frame was made low enough to let the owner sit during their writing time. The amount of correspondence written was a time-consuming occupation in its early days. Thus was brought to light the first real bureau writing desk, and such a story of evolution can be found in every piece of furniture.
A slanting lid
The next stage was to fit the top of the desk with a slanting lid, which was more ergonomic and convenient for writing. It is not until very late in the seventeenth century that a bureau writing desk was not also used as a Bible box. It was found that a place was needed in which might be kept all writing materials and knick-knacks. The Bible was most likely stored in a separate box. The top of the desk was fitted, inside the slanting cover, with pigeon holes, roughly fitted, and drawers.
The first bureau writing desk
The first bureau writing desk was used during the reign of William and Mary of Orange. Up to this time, the desk had been hinged at the higher edge of the slanting top. Now, however, for the first time, the lid was hinged at the lower edge so that the lid fell to form the writing table and rested on pull-out supports.
The era of the Willliam and Mary and Queen Anne styles added much to the beauty of writing desks. An example of the former period is those desks from the 1920s made of walnut, beautifully grained, while the marquetry decorations are on the legs as well. The lid and the drawer are now fitted underneath the cover as an additional storage place for valuables.
The Queen Anne period saw the production of a bureau in which the legs took the form of small drawers down to the floor. There were five drawers on each side and one at the centre and the top. The whole desk stood upon tiny Queen Anne’s feet. Towards the end of the Queen Anne period, an upper structure was added to the bureau. This had mirrors in place of ordinary doors, and inside were shelves for storing stationery.
This was the beginning of the bureau bookcase. Chippendale first produced such an item, substituting window glass for mirrors and using the shelves for books.
During the eighteenth century also was evolved the real writing table as opposed to the writing bureau. Both Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton produced beautiful work in this endeavour. These writing desks were in the familiar flat tables, the top was covered in leather. The legs were formed by drawers in the creation of Chippendale. Sheraton scorning the heaviness of Chippendale’s designs, preferred to do without the drawers to make room for slender and dainty tapering legs. Realising, however, that some receptacle was necessary, he introduced drawers to the top of the table. All the desks of this period were highly finished at the back because they were placed not against the wall but in the centre of the room. The chief decoration was obtained by the use of marquetry in place of the earlier mode of carving.
A list of 20 different types of writing desks;
- Secretary desk: A tall, vertical desk with a hinged, sloping writing surface that can be folded up to conceal the writing area.
- Roll-top desk: A desk with a flexible wooden cover that can be rolled down to secure the contents and provide a clean surface when not in use.
- Writing table: A simple, small table used for writing or working, often featuring drawers or compartments for storage.
- Bureau desk: A large, often ornate desk with drawers and compartments, typically featuring a hinged writing surface that can be folded down.
- Campaign desk: A portable desk designed for easy assembly and disassembly, often used by military officers on campaigns.
- Computer desk: A desk specifically designed for computer use, often featuring compartments for cables, a keyboard tray, and a dedicated space for the monitor.
- Standing desk: A desk that allows the user to work while standing, offering health benefits and promoting productivity.
- Partner desk: A large desk with two identical workspaces facing each other, allowing two people to work side by side.
- Slant-top desk: A desk with a slanted writing surface, usually featuring a hinged lid that can be lifted to access storage compartments.
- Escritoire: A compact writing desk with a hinged writing surface that opens to reveal small drawers, shelves, and compartments.
- Writing armoire: A tall, cabinet-like desk that combines a writing surface with storage compartments, often featuring doors that can be closed to conceal the writing area.
- Drop-front desk: A hinged front panel that folds to create a writing surface, revealing storage compartments inside.
- Library desk: A large desk typically found in libraries, featuring ample workspace, storage drawers, and often incorporating bookshelves or display areas.
- Davenport desk: A compact desk with a slanted writing surface, typically incorporating small drawers and compartments.
- Pedestal desk: A desk supported by two or more pedestals, usually featuring drawers and storage compartments in each pedestal.
- Credenza desk: A long, low cabinet-like structure placed behind the main work area, offering additional storage space.
- Trestle desk: A desk supported by two horizontal beams (trestles) and a flat writing surface, often characterized by its simple and minimalistic design.
- Corner desk: A desk designed to fit snugly into a corner, maximizing space utilization and providing ample work area.
- Floating desk: A wall-mounted desk that appears to be “floating” in the air, offering a modern and space-saving solution.
- Ladder desk combines a ladder-like structure with shelves and a writing surface, providing workspace and storage.