Before filing cabinets, we had the coolest desks

Originally published at:


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Moving one of those desks must be a nightmare. However they’re certainly very cool.


Mmmmm cabinet pron…


Though the really complex ones were already gone by then. It seem like roll-tops, secretaries, and other old fashion desk styles went out completely because of computers. Its very difficult to stick a computer on those things, often times even a lap top. And as they’re not often shaped in a way that comfortable to type at they just sort of faded out in favor of flat top and table style desks with room for a tower and large monitor.

Desks from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco period were ahead of their time and you can easily imagine a lap top or an imac sitting on one of these:

I’d be happy with either one of these.

Mmmmm black lacquer…


See this is what I’ve been thinking as the solution to the robots taking all the jobs. They’ll never hand-make custom hardwood cabinetry. When the few have all the money, we better learn how to make things they want - and nothing is better marketing than bespoke.


No reason you couldn’t get a full sized desktop on those either. But any flat, open topped desk is fine with whatever size of PC. And those have never been unpopular. Its those other formerly common sorts of desks that disappeared. Roll tops, and anything made up of densely packed cubbies and cabinets. They were great for organizing papers, office or art supplies, and had enough room for a writing surface or small type writer. All while keeping everything sort of bundled up and out of the way when not in use. But they’re for crap if you need to put a computer on them. When I was 13 or so I was handed down a cheap, worn, roll top. Wasn’t even enough room for the CRT monitor. Didn’t have enough room for the tower anywhere. And even with the smaller computers today you’d be limited to a 13" laptop on there. I put my first PC on my end table instead, till we found a better desk.

You’re not lying. Even now since the US can’t compete on cheap manufacturing thanks to those pesky labor rights. What growth the US manufacturing scene is seeing is almost entirely in high quality, or high end goods. Can’t compete on price, so you compete on quality.

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Some of those sturdier looking desks are the ones I’d prefer diving under if caught in an earthquake. At least when compared to the flimsy hi-tech ones we use at work.


If I had one of those desks I’d feel obligated to clean out the nearest office supply store to have enough stuff to fill all those drawers.


Agreed. I had something similar to this up until just after college:

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Mine was salvaged from an old West Virginia coal mining engineering building I helped demolish for summer $$. It served my needs until it was just too damn heavy to keep moving around from apt to apt. Mine had a 5ft wide desktop and was just too ungainly for walkups, etc. I wish I still had it today.

My retirement plan.


I have a soft spot for the craftsmen that created handmade stuff for the Neo-Victorians in ‘Diamond Age’, where anything could be 3-d printed in the “matter compiler”.


Drafting tables are awesome. Old school models don’t always have a place for a PC, but its easy enough to incorporate a non-tilting flat top for that like the one you’ve got there (but with more space obviously). I’ve always thought the trend for standing desks was just a half-assed to over complicated way to replace the drafting table.


That’s my drawing desk from technical high school!!!


I suspect because of typewriters, first.

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Eh most of them could accommodate a type writer. And these desks remained popular right up until PCs hit the scenes. When I was a kid all dads had to have a classy roll top, to be properly prepared for the important business dads have. I don’t remember most people having a type writer at home. And desks like this in offices had already gone out due to the whole file cabinet/open floor plan/efficiency and typing pool office model in the post war period. So in professional spaces type writers would have been part of it.

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One of these Wootens just sold in Boulder this past weekend for $7,000.


Desks for people who used typewriters had a return which was physically a little lower than the main desk, to accommodate the necessary height for comfortable typing. Particularly important when typing on a manual typewriter!


I read a sci-fi novel like that where poor people had basic needs given to them via Star Trek replicator type technology, and really rich people enjoyed 19th and 20th century technology because handmade goods (furniture, newspapers, etc.) and natural food were relatively unique and really expensive.

There was, of course, a small middle class of people making that stuff.

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If I ever make my eleventy billion dollars, I’ll be consuming bespoke stuff like a coke fiend. Not quite so much because I need a bunch of bespoke stuff, but because I want an excuse to look over a true craftsman’s shoulder and be a bit of a pest.