The name “secretary desk” conjures images of an old-fashioned piece of furniture. In fact, these classic desks have been around since the 1700s, although they’re still very much in use today. Antique secretary desks will often command very high prices, but you can also find reasonably-priced pieces in styles ranging from mid-century modern to Scandinavian.
You usually won’t find a secretary (or as we call them today, a personal or administrative assistant) behind a secretary desk. These pieces are designed primarily for an inner office or a home. The classic design features drawers built into a wide base, and a hinged desktop which folds down for use and then folds back up to cover more drawers, storage nooks or shelves. With most antique secretary desks, supports must first be pulled out to hold the desk top before it is lowered. More recent units have automatic mechanisms to raise and lower the top.
The desk’s upper drawers and shelves are normally housed in a hutch sitting atop the base, and taller hutches are likely to feature bookcases or bureau drawers concealed behind glass or folding doors. In most cases, the hutch and base are constructed as an integral unit, although less-expensive units may consist of a separate hutch to be mounted on the base after purchase.
If the name secretary desk doesn’t sound familiar, that may be because it often goes by other name such as secrétaire or escritoire. It’s even called “desk and bookcase” in some European nations, since the furniture often resembles a bookcase or bureau when the writing surface is folded up. Half-wide secretary desks can sometimes be found in antique shops.
Modern versions of this classic desk are likely to be called reproductions because they resemble the antiques that inspired them, but you also can purchase high-quality secretaries hand-crafted from solid hardwoods like oak or mahogany. Less-pricey models will usually be manufactured from MDF (pressed wood) and then painted or covered with a durable veneer.
A secretary desk isn’t the type of furniture which will blend seamlessly with the rest of its surroundings, because of its elegant style and large size. Whether it is a true antique or a reproduction, however, it will stand out and add a touch of class to any room where it’s placed.