Such compact, beautiful secretary desks like these often had a hutch above with bookshelves and storage space, sometimes with glass-fronted doors. And, best of all, the interior of the writing area was typically filled with an array of cubbies, tiny doors, little drawers, and maybe even some hidden compartments.
Let’s take a dive into the world of these stunning, multifunctional pieces to see the many variations produced over the years — and perhape even consider how a vintage secretary desk can bring a touch of classic elegance and practicality to your home today.
A secretary desk makes a house a home (1936)
Excerpted from The Tampa Tribune (Florida) October 4, 1936
In this fine, stately, dignified piece of furniture, we find all of the qualifications we are looking for — all of those things we want in our home.
There is comfort and utility. A writing desk and a bookcase in one. A chest of drawers and a halt of little cubbyholes. Everything about the secretary suggests use, and friendly furniture is always furniture that is used, or at least bears the suggestion of having been used.
The secretary is an old piece of furniture from the standpoint of design. Our Colonial ancestors knew the secretary well. A secretary in our own home is likely to bring us a certain warmth of feeling and homelikeness that no other kind of desk could possibly give us.
Block front mahogany secretary (c1760)
The scrolling of the pediment, with its beautifully proportioned moldings, the delicacy of the partitioning of the upper case, the finely-balanced architectural effect of the cabinet with its central door flanked by arcades pigeon holes, the well-modulated blocking of the drawer fronts — these are among the subtleties of this secretary which lift it out of the category of early furniture into that of antique masterpieces. (Shown by antique dealer Henry V Weil, New York City in 1925)
Vintage secretarial desk made in Baltimore (seen in 1961)
Baltimore craftsmen stressed inlays. On the desk, Federal eagles combine with Grecian urns and rosettes. The balloon-back chair (foreground) was inspired by Heppelwhite.
Stylish Queen Anne furniture included the secretary desk (1937)
Excerpted from The Capital Times (Washington DC) March 34, 1937
Period reproductions have taken the lead in the procession of furniture trends for 1937. And most popular of all seems to be the Queen Anne motif.
Queen Anne living rooms are perhaps the most gracious and livable of all in the more ornate periods. There is just enough elaboration to suggest enviable richness and formality without fussiness. And there is just enough restraint to make our busy lives seem consistent with these luxurious furnishings.
The secretary desk is one of the most beautiful pieces of furniture from this period, and there is a place for one in every home.
Some have plain tops, and others have a curved cornice, broken in the center for an ornament. The glass-enclosed shelves may be used for books or to display your favorite collection of bric-a-brac.
Antique secretary cabinet from the late 1700s
A writing cabinet of about 1780, the construction and decoration of which are uncommon. In the satinwood veneer, parquetted and bordered with tulip wood, are painted imitations of the jasper Wedgwood plaques to often inserted on furniture, while in the center of each door there is a mirror.
The lower portion is composed of a writing drawer painted with a festoon of flowers, and a cupboard decorated to match the upper panel. (Property of Messrs. D. L. Isaacs – Featured in The New Country Life – 1918)
Antique secretary desks: Artistically-shaped furniture (1897)
Excerpted from The Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 13, 1897
The shops are running over with the most tempting and artistic furniture. The craze for old pieces is keener than ever, and the woman who is furnishing her home sighs for mahogany and antique oak.
The tall, stately dressing case is a thing of the past, or at least its medieval parentage removes it from favor. The small mirror, perched on the top of an old-fashioned sewing table or on a low dressing table, is the order of the hour.
It has one great advantage, which is that it necessitates that fair dames should sit when they arrange their locks. Few things are more tiresome and unwholesome than standing to comb and brush the hair.
Four-post bedsteads, carved and canopied, and dainty, spindle-legged chairs embellish the most up-to-date sleeping apartments. This is truly an age of craving for all that is antique.
Quaint old washstands have flowered china toilet sets sunken in their tops, and Recamier lounges, weighted down with pillows, occupy space in charming boudoirs.
Women no longer answer letters at wee little writing desks — they also are of too recent parentage — and their places are filled by dignified tall secretary desks, with quantities of secret drawers and a bookcase above.
A room recently furnished with old mahogany has its walls faced with yellow denim. The paint is white, and the hardwood floor is stained to a deep green. On it are Japanese rugs in notes of green and yellow.
Antique curved and decorated secretary desk in ornate furniture style (1909)
Antique bombé front desk (1920s)
A fall-front desk with outward curving lower part known as a bombé-front. Delicately carved capitals surmount the two slender pilasters on either side of the upper front.
Antique Hepplewhite secretary (1925)
This American conception of a Hepplewhite secretary with its diamond-paned doors and brass finials. It is fashioned of mellow-tones mahogany with a delicate tracery of lighter wood on the drawers, and a fine inlay of ebony in the cornice.
Chippendale breakfront reproduction with antique secretary desk (1946)
White decorated vintage secretary desk from the 1950s
Decorated secretary brings a romantic aura of the 18th century to this formal living room. Trompe l’oeil paintings on white door panels, drawer fronts and desk top are complete to the last shadow.
American Chippendale maple furniture of the mid-18th century (1952)
Philadelphia woodwork admirably sets of this rare, honey-colored maple furniture. The highboy’s swirling grain, its rococo touches match other pieces in this handsome bedroom. On the round table is a tea-and-coffee service of shining black Jackfield ware. The Filson carpet is a little-known pattern.