Portability and connectivity — with the explosion of iPads, notebooks, tablets and Wi-Fi — have been real 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 supersmall printers and compact projectors for those PowerPoint presentations or family slide shows.
So a trend to more minimal desks started taking root two or three years ago, as the need for mega-footprint towers, printers and monitors lessened. Just as bulky TVs have given way to uber-slim models, hulking furniture is not necessary for your personal workstation, unless it’s your style to rock a honking executive desk.
Still, in spite of the fact that you might even set up shop in bed (say it isn’t so!), it is nice to have a clean surface for at-home work.
“We see work styles and work places all over the country really evolving these days,” says Kim Shaver, a spokeswoman for Hooker Furniture. In the past few years, the company has aggressively researched sites like Houszz, Pinterest and design blogs to get a pulse on how people are solving their work-at-home issues, and they have been impressed with a range of creative ideas.
“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,” Shaver says. “You’re looking for an unconventional office — one without walls. 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 mid-century modern styles, for example, 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.
According to the description, “the immaculately clean” desktop may be “the sign of a highly organized, compulsive neatnik.” Peek inside: With an integrated pull, the top opens to reveal 9 square feet of stash space for laptop, iPhone, iPad, projects, books, planners, folders, smalls and supplies — even hidden cord cutouts to charge electronics.
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 backstory, 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 petitely proportioned, mahogany burled veneer make 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.
Manufacturers also seem to be promoting the idea of double duty. And why not?
“First of all,” says Jena Hall, a New York-based designer, “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 multi-function value,” Hall says. “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 says. “But you still need a surface to spread papers out.” And besides the functionality, Hall says 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 most everyone’s top 10 resolutions list every year.