What's the purpose of this oddly shaped desk?
November 11, 2022 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I just noticed this antique leather-topped desk for sale (full size image). Is it a particular type of desk? Is it for a particular purpose?

It's not all that unusually shaped, I guess, but I've never seen a desk like it. Is it for charts or something specific? It looks like it's meant to be used in "portrait mode" (tall orientation) rather than "landscape mode" (wide orientation) like most desks.

Anything that you know or can guess, please share! I'm not going to buy it but I'm just very curious.
posted by wintersweet to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not an expert, and you probably see this yourself, but my first thought is, "Put some cushions on top and along the drawer fronts and take a read-until-you-nap."
posted by amtho at 12:19 PM on November 11, 2022

It looks like it's meant to be used in "portrait mode" (tall orientation) rather than "landscape mode" (wide orientation)

I disagree. It has drawers and an indentation, as well as a cutaway for the knees, on the long side, as if someone is supposed to be sitting there. It seems to have a matching indentation on the opposite side, so I suspect it's designed for two people to be using it at the same time, both having access to the drawers on the side.

I've never seen one like it before either but now I want nothing more than to OWN THAT DESK.
posted by bondcliff at 12:20 PM on November 11, 2022 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know about the purpose, but I found another one! A Google image search got me this listing for a "Louis XV Style Ormolu Mounted Kingwood Desk with Bombe Cabinet", which seems to be its slightly more ornate cousin. Sadly, none of those words identifies the piece of furniture as a whole as anything specific, and that site seems like one that would be using the specific term if it existed, so I'm guessing it doesn't have a name... which is unhelpful.

My guess is that you'd sit at the desk in the usual orientation; it gives you (moderately) easy access to the drawers without having to sacrifice the elegance of the legs or block your view of the room (or other person) on the other side.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:43 PM on November 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

I am certain that you sit along the long edge. It is probably used in a situation where you want to be able to look across the desk at someone else—or perhaps just look out at a nice view—but still have ready access to papers and sundries. Otherwise you'd use something like a rolltop desk that has all the nooks and crannies, but they're in your way.

I don't think this is deep enough to be a partner desk, but I could be wrong.

I love it, but as a southpaw, it would drive me nuts.
posted by adamrice at 1:02 PM on November 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think it may be deep enough for a partners desk/writing table - 36.5" deep, circa 1800 example. 2
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2022

Yeah, that's a gorgeous desk.

My guess: It appears to have been designed to be a much more charismatic item-of-furniture-anthropomorphized-and-brought-to-life than a typical desk would be in a Disney's Beauty and the Beast scenario.

This is quite unlikely, but it is also my best guess.
posted by whatnotever at 1:18 PM on November 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

yea, it does look like it's for 2 people to sit opposite and write together. Though you could get it and hand carve a matching game set for a rousing round of "Thou Hast Besunken Mine Battleshippe"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:26 PM on November 11, 2022 [14 favorites]

Maybe the emblem above the drawers isn't purely decorative and gives a clue to its use? It looks like a ribbon or chain and a torch and.... two other things?
posted by sevenless at 3:32 PM on November 11, 2022

Response by poster: Now that I see there are indeed drawers along the left side, perhaps I need to undertake a research expedition and find out whether there are drawers on the side that's hidden from view as well. You know, for science.
posted by wintersweet at 3:55 PM on November 11, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm just googling because this is a cool desk and I thought I recognised the symbol, so don't take my word with any authority!

I think the emblem on the top is the the royal symbols of Louis XVI. The arrows of justice crossed with a flaming torch of truth are joined by a floral wreath and a bow tied ribbon. Though I can find places on the internet where people say these are just classic symbols of love.

This desk style might be a style called a Bureau Plat Cartonnier - this site describes it a lot like yours! So seems like 18th century french style?
posted by euphoria066 at 5:23 PM on November 11, 2022 [6 favorites]

I think euphoria066 has the name, with bureau plat cartonnier or plat cartonnier.

Have to share my next thought that gave me quite a laugh - it's the antique version of this workstation!
posted by stormyteal at 7:20 PM on November 11, 2022 [7 favorites]

For the use, I can imagine it being used to gift wrap presents or purchases, with the paper held in the long drawer below and the ribbons in the smaller drawers at the end.
posted by Lanark at 4:38 AM on November 12, 2022

Best answer: FYI, on a lot of these desks the drawer section (the cartonnier itself) is mobile. It can be moved from side to side, or to rest in the center of the desk. This one was likely designed to fit into the decor of a specific room, in a specific orientation, but it also looks like a fairly recent build. It may be a reproduction of an older piece, but you see a lot of these in antique shops in France (sometimes the cartonnier is on a sort of separate table that can be positioned alongside the table to it appears to be a seamless single piece of furniture).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:48 AM on November 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Not a partner's desk. My parents had one and it's nothing like that.
I'm thinking it is some sort of work bench.
The crest or whatever it is on the top of the drawers could be the answer.
posted by james33 at 7:37 AM on November 12, 2022

I don't think it's deep enough to allow two people to sit opposite one another, but I am also a tall person by 18th century standards, and I forget sometimes just how short everyone was at that time...
posted by The Adventure Begins at 8:43 PM on November 14, 2022

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