A Modern Piece of History: The Making of an “Escritoire”

The many beautifully crafted desks produced by Guild members are amongst the most popular items we feature here. Each desk has its own origin and story and meets its user with its own personal history. This is no less true of this small writing desk by member Erin Hanley, originally created as an assignment back when she was a student at the North Bennet Street School.

“This small desk is made from mahogany, and has drawers lined with Spanish Cedar,” Hanley explains. “It was actually an assigned project when I was a student. I pared down some of the more fanciful details, opting for a more modern look with straighter lines.” Mahogany_Writing_Desk_Erin_Hanley

“The writing surface is made of an amazing piece of old mahogany that has a beautiful curl to it, and the drawer front on the small upper drawer is from a piece of wood given to me by my instructor, something he had been squirreling away for a few years.

I loved its character, and the organic form of the grain is a nice contrast to the otherwise straight lines of the design. The writing surface is actually quite small, and the overall piece is rather diminutive. It fits the bill for a small desk. A friend once called it an ‘escritoire,’ French for ‘small writing desk.’ I think that is a pretty apt name for her.” Mahogany_Writing_Desk_detail_Erin_Hanley

The escritoire was originally a small desk consisting of little more than a box with drawers in it, intended to be a portable writing surface. By the end of the 1600s, this type of small desk had become mounted on either legs, as in this modern example, or sometimes even a chest of drawers. Eventually, bookshelves or other shelving was affixed on top of the desk, and the writing surface typically folded out and it became well-known as a “secretary desk.” What started as a small, portable writing surface had morphed into a huge piece of immovable furniture with a fold-out writing surface.

We think this one fits well somewhere in the middle of the history of the escritoire, before it had become the secretary desk. But, no matter what you call it, we love the classic look of this piece.

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