Space, work style dictate desk’s construction and size

Our plane touched down in San Francisco early that morning, and my clients and I were off and running on a mission to locate the perfect desk for their beloved grandchildren. Of course, there were other items to be selected as well, but the desk was top of our list.

En route to our shopping destination, I began to think about desks in general and just how vital a tool they are in creating an ideal workplace — for people of any age. I thought how much easier it is to work well when you start out with the right desk. I was resolute that we would decide on the perfect one for Eloise, Margot and Logan by day’s end.

As the taxi bumped along, stopping and starting for traffic lights and pedestrians, I went on to consider the fact that even though we all have different work needs and even styles of how we work, there still are common factors to consider before purchasing a desk, budget being one of the foremost.

I thought it best to decide from the onset whether you want a desk designed for a home office or one for corporate or commercial use. That’s probably the most basic and easiest choice to make. And you really can’t get into too much of a muddle making that decision.

Next, it seemed to me that one should consider the amount of available space for the desk, which in turn might determine its actual style and size. As a designer, I was keenly aware of the many styles of home office desks and hoped that it wouldn’t prove too overwhelming for us to pick only one that day.

It goes without saying that a cardinal rule of desk shopping would be to limit your desk to one that will fit in your available space. Makes sense, no? It’s essential to measure your space carefully and be sure to take note of just where the electrical and phone outlets are located.

Also to be considered is the material the desk is made from. For example, is it wood or metal? Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. A solid wood desk offers sturdy construction and a timeless appeal. For something a little more modern and interesting, you might consider a metal or chrome-plated desk. And an acrylic one will make it seem as if items are floating in midair; I have this material as a desk in my bedroom.

My clients, though, were on the prowl for one in a maple finish with a few red accents to work best with the other furnishings in the room. (Personally, I was praying for divine intervention as that exact finish is not found on every showroom floor)

Another consideration would be how much electronic equipment you might need to have on or around your desk at home or in your office, as well as how much storage the desk will provide and, most importantly, the actual work space. Your goal should be to have a desk style that is designed with an eye to you actually working at the desk.

You need to determine exactly what you want from your desk. To be sure, you’ll want to have something highly functional and equipped with good storage space and one that will be comfortable to sit at for several hours.

In the case of my client’s desk, the grandchildren could get by with something more simple, with space to hold a computer and some desk accessories. It would no doubt be more decorative and feature less drawer space.

Then, after considering what your needs are, you need to consider the size of the room. If you have a large home office, then a bow-front executive, U-shaped or an L-shaped desk will give you plenty of work space as well as room for your computer and plenty of storage.

In tighter areas, hutch desks, secretary desks or corner desks will be a great help in saving precious floor space without losing function and storage needs. A clean-lined Parson’s desk is a great choice if all you need is something decorative at which to pay bills and answer a few emails; it is a style that works great in almost every design scheme.

Setting aside your taste and needs for a moment, there are a few things a good basic desk needs.

Begin with a file drawer with two shallow drawers above it located to one side of the desk’s knee hole. Next to that you might have a vertical cabinet for a hard drive. Then a drawer or what could be a keyboard pull-out above the knee hole, and a pair of cabinet doors on the opposite side of the knee hole.

There might be one wide shallow drawer above the pair of cabinet doors, which can be a good place for pens, pencils, paper clips, etc. The two cabinet doors can hide a shelf holding the printer. But, I believe it’s much better to use a fake cabinet door front on a pull-out shelf instead of having cabinet doors that can become cumbersome for the person sitting at the desk trying to reach around to use the printer.

A blackboard on the wall above the desk can be utilized for messages and the knee hole should be wide enough for the chair to fit as well as a waste paper basket. (A common mistake is having no place for a waste paper basket.)

Thinking about all these points regarding desk design made the taxi time fly by and suddenly we were at our destination. Taking a deep breath I set out with the highest of hopes and, wouldn’t you know, my prayers were answered and the perfect desk for my clients is now in production.

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is president of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to

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