That’s Charles Dickens’ very own desk. You can’t have it, sadly, and neither can I, because it sold for £433,250 at auction in 2008. That’s a little over my desk-buying budget. And my house-buying budget.
I’m about to be using my own desk lots more, so I’ve been thinking properly about the space I use to work from home. Pinterest is helpful, as it’s chocker with dreamy, idealised home offices, though they’re all broadly similar: reclaimed pine against white walls, an industrial metal lamp and quirky vintage desktop accessories, the scene awash with cool morning light.
Pinterest desk via MaiSpy
A thorough Pinterest search shows you some questionable hipster gems but also the building blocks of the elegant office. These seem to be a solid wooden desk, a really decent anglepoise, and some kind of chair that sums up your status anxiety (hand-reupholstered vintage armchair or faux-leather ‘executive’ swivelling monstrosity? Take your pick; I won’t judge).
But the real gold, the payload, the milk and honey of desk inspiration for bookish people comes in perving over the workspaces of literary heroes. Writers’ desks can be glorious. This is where Charlotte Brontë wrote, for example:
Obviously it’s been gussied up by some well-meaning museum curator so not absolutely authentic, and I like to think that Charlotte would have been a little neater in the way she arranged her papers. She strikes me as quite a neat writer. Something her desk has in common with Dickens’, though, is the angled writing surface. Why don’t we do that any more? It must be quite a lot comfier.
I like that whoever has arranged the papers has included a piece of paper with ‘BOOKS’ written on it in big letters, in case Charlotte sat down to write and forgot what her end goal was supposed to be.
This is Thomas Hardy’s desk. Nice artful clutter.
Thomas Hardy’s desk, via Chrisbj
Note the excellent blotting paper, too. I can still remember the smell of the blotting paper on my grandpa’s desk, and getting into trouble for spilling ink onto it, to see how quickly it was soaked up. There’s not much need for blotting paper in a modern home office (have you ever tried blotting a laptop?) but for some reason I still want some.
All these writerly desks are covered in very pretty, old accessories, but I’m aware that if I covered my own desk in similar paraphernalia it would look like a museum exhibit rather than a working office space. Thomas Hardy’s magnifying glass would have looked state-of-the-art to him.
It’s a bit of a challenge to balance beautiful objects with modern practicality (a brand new book stand isn’t quite as pretty as Hardy’s magnifying glass), but ultimately I think the best desks are ruthlessly functional. Jane Austen leads this way of thinking – her desk is surprisingly spartan.
Anyway. I’ve spent enough time talking about my desk fantasies. What about you? Where do you work or study? Do you even need a desk? Virginia Woolf famously didn’t need to be comfy to write, as she apparently wrote standing up. This is awe-inspiring for me because I can barely make a cup of tea standing up.
’All the world’s a desk.’ - Hilary Mantel