New era of desk design reflects consumers' tech trends

Universal UclickJanuary 17, 2014 

Portability and connectivity – with the explosion of smartphones, notebooks, tablets and Wi-Fi – have been game changers in the way we think of home offices. They have expanded the options for working just about anywhere, including at 40,000 feet.

Even the peripherals have downsized, such as super-small printers and compact projectors for those PowerPoint presentations or family slideshows.

So a move to more minimal desks started taking root two or three years ago, as the need for mega-footprint towers, printers and monitors lessened. Hulking furniture is not necessary for your personal workstation, unless it’s your style to rock a honking executive desk.

Still, it’s nice to have a clean surface for at-home work.

“We see work styles and workplaces all over the country really evolving these days,” said Kim Shaver, a spokeswoman for Hooker Furniture. “When you bring work home from the office or check email or pay bills online, you want to stay connected to the people and activities around you. ... Because of portable electronics, we want to seamlessly integrate them in the home with multifunctional, high-fashion, high-style pieces that can go into any room. That allows you to blend work and family life.”

Some recent furniture introductions nod to beautiful classic pieces that are as decorative as they are functional – 18th century, 1930s Art Deco or midcentury modern styles made from exquisite woods and veneers, allowing their craftsmanship, form and style to speak volumes. Other desks are more generic, with simple lines, pleasantly traditional with familiar details such as cabriole legs or reeded aprons, transitional, like campaign styles with crossed legs, or ultra modern.

Even the sleek offer surprises. One simple design (the Torino) by Manuel Saez at CB2 has a matte lacquer white top that sits on a white oak stretcher base with U-shaped legs that are braced with intentionally exposed hardware. Peek inside: With an integrated pull, the top opens to reveal 9 square feet of stash space for laptop, smartphone, tablet, projects, books, planners, folders and supplies – even hidden cord cutouts to charge electronics.

Industrial influences

There especially has been an uptick in the industrial look with metal or raw, grained, often reclaimed woods sometimes combined with steel and iron. These materials lend themselves well to clean-line designs. There’s also the allure of the back story, such as the use of reclaimed telephone poles that celebrate distressing, knobs, drill holes and splits, at Crate & Barrel.

A desk with rounded corners anchored by cast arched trestle legs at Restoration Hardware is a faithful reproduction of a 1950s English garment factory table. Also at RH is another 74-inch metal desk with an ample-sized surface, complemented by a symmetrical pair of curving, open compartments for storage, a slatted shelf stretcher and a hidden slide-out panel beneath for a keyboard. It’s truly an elegant form.

Most retailers now feature home-office categories, as well as those dedicated to storage.

With so many options, some are looking to stand out from the pack. A new desk from the Keno Brothers, the popular antiques experts from the PBS “Antiques Roadshow” series, for example, has a hidden WOW factor. The mahogany burled veneer makes it a little jewel, but open the top and the big reveal is a brilliant blue lacquer.

Not that this device hasn’t been employed before, but it’s always a fabulous furniture tour de force. One recent bold example is a glamorous secretary designed by Marjorie Skouras for Currey & Co. It’s finished in faux malachite and dazzling with a drop-down desk in poppy red.

Multifunction pieces

Manufacturers also seem to be promoting the idea of double duty. And why not?

“First of all,” said New York-based designer Jena Hall, “when people are not furnishing a home office, they don’t think about desks. Often (existing) furniture is used impromptu – like sitting at a dining or breakfast room table.”

Tables that morph into desks or desks that convert to dressing tables are so practical, especially when space is limited. A nearly 8-foot cherry veneer-topped table with a zigzag stainless base, from the Italian company Selva, takes on a dramatically different look when teamed with tall-backed bergere chairs rather than a desk chair.

Similarly, the Strut table, with angled wood legs, a floating glass top and X-bar support that is integral to the design, is shown at Crate and Barrel in several settings – including dining.

“A desk is a multifunction value,” Hall said. “It makes a room more interesting stylistically as well as functionally. I like a desk as an end table next to the bed, instead of a matched nightstand. It’s a more eclectic look.”

So is floating a desk behind a sofa, where it also serves handily as a table.

“With mobility and wireless (devices), you may think of eliminating desks,” Hall said. “But you still need a surface to spread papers out.” And the decorative aspect can’t be overlooked, especially with more creative placement.

As an interior designer as well as someone who designs furniture, Hall does think about consumers’ needs in concert with home layouts.

“I like desks in bedrooms, for example, at right angles, perpendicular to a wall. It helps break up space. A desk can even make a wonderful dressing table in a bathroom.”

As far as corralling potential clutter is concerned – the rest is up to you. Right up there with losing weight, getting organized makes almost everyone’s top 10 resolutions list every year.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service