How the Traditional Office Desk Has Changed over Time


traditional office desksThe traditional office desk has seen many changes in its history. Back in the days of papyrus scrolls and parchment, desks were built much like drafting tables. The beautifully illuminated, handwritten manuscripts produced in times of antiquity called for an artistic approach to the furniture that supported these endeavors. According to Mitchell at Cubicles.com, the level of architectural detail was a status symbol, with ornate carvings being common on the desks of the wealthy. The scribes of the day who worked for the rich and famous had more utilitarian sloped working surfaces.

Desk Designs Diversify

Fast forward to relatively modern times, and the style of traditional office desks for the upper crust was still very elaborate and ornate. Meanwhile, the proliferation of white collar work meant that desks became more and more specialized based on tasks. Some had lots of built-in shelving with “pigeon-holes” for holding letters and other documents. Others had a roll-top to keep contents private and secure when the desk was not in use. Below desk storage was common in single or double pedestal desks, with drawers for personal effects and files. Above desk storage made an appearance as well with the secretary desk—a convertible bureau with a drop-down writing surface.

The Flat Surface Reigns

According to Inventors Expert Mary Bellis, the next big change in traditional office desk design came with the invention of the typewriter. Roll-top desks and secretaries became less popular since they had no space for the clunky metal machine. Materials changed as well, with a shift away from wood and toward durable metal. Over time, the desk for office workers became a built-in component of workstations and cubicles. At the same time, many executive office desks became more streamlined. A simple surface with four legs and little storage hinted that the person sitting behind it could simply call for an administrative assistant to go fetch any files needed.

Less Clutter, More Room

Today, most office desks are simple in design. With the push toward a paperless office, filing is often centralized or transitioned to mobile storage pedestals that are not attached to a specific desk. Table-style desks are also enjoying surge in popularity compared to integrated cubicle worksurfaces because of the sit-to-stand trend.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of modern desk design is the fact that this piece of furniture is becoming less and less necessary. The Harvard Innovation Lab makes a good point in their “Evolution of the Desk” video produced by Best Reviews. With mobile devices and the cloud, almost any flat surface might be used as a desk these days. But that doesn’t mean every workspace is equally ergonomic. To create a truly supportive work environment, you still need the right office furniture. Fortunatey, we can help! Contact our office for a free consultation today.


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