Most people are familiar with the simple writing desk, which consists of four legs and a flat surface. Earlier versions of this type of writing desk did not have a drawer at the top because we didn’t need to put our pens away. Instead, people used ink wells and quills that were stored on a stand on top of the desk. Later, when we needed to store our writing utensils and paper, we added a drawer at the top. And just to make them more visually appealing, designers began adding spindle or carved legs, leather tops and then rails so that our pens wouldn’t roll off the flat desktop.
As time went on, the writing desk became more of a compact office system. A pedestal or two with side drawers were added to keep files, folders and journals. Tops were added to maintain some semblance of privacy and protect what was being produced. Not to mention, it made things nicer if everything was put away nicely when company came calling. The designs became even more intricate with carvings, different woods and brass or silver pulls. As time went by, hinged flat tops gave way to roll tops and many writing desks had hidden “pigeon holes” for storing valuables or important papers.
Today, many of us don’t need a writing desk because most of us no longer put pen to paper. We use computers and word processing software for letters and correspondence and we use e-mail or “chat” services for more informal communications. A lot of people and designers are sanding the old varnish or veneer on the flat top antique writing desks and painting them. These make great functional tables in foyers, bathrooms or bedrooms, where a pretty vase of flowers can be displayed.