Futurepieces Past: Multipurpose and Moveable Custom Desks Inspired by Innovative Historic Designs
Halloween Eve is the perfect time for talking about ghosts and fears. If you search carefully, you’ll surely find a few ghosts in the CustomMade galleries. If you read our blog, you might even find a post or two that frightens you. Or perhaps, you just don’t believe in ghosts. As for those scary stories, well, you don’t scare so easily.
But there really are ghosts in here, and something scary really is heading our way.
First, a ghost story from the custom desks gallery.
You must look at all the pictures of this table/desk by artisan Barry Tribble of BWTribble.com to appreciate the beautiful marquetry and the variety of woods used to construct this piece. BUT before you do, take a look at the picture below.
This is an interpretation by Barry of a table/desk patented by one Stephen Hedges in 1854. Barry writes that according to Mr. Hedges, this invention was “A new and useful Piece of Furniture, Intended to Serve as a Table Alone or as Chair and Table combined,” with a unique hinged design that united a table and chair into one piece. (You can view his U.S. Patent here). Hedges’ creations came to be known as “Aaron Burr Desks.” As you can see below, this was a wonderfully designed multipurpose combination table, desk, and chair.
Barry added a unique oriental dragon marquetry design to the panels. The desk is made from walnut and features imbuya burl, English fiddleback sycamore, pommele sapele, makore, and black dyed pearwood. The drawer features pommele sapele inset with ribbon banding. Contact the artisan if you’re interested in commissioning something similar for your home.
What is the connection between Hedges’ design and the American statesman Aaron Burr, who is best remembered nowadays for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel? It’s only a phantom. A figment. Specifically, a popular but mistaken association that stems from a 1911 newspaper article which featured an illustration of this style of desk and stated, erroneously, that “not only had it belonged to Aaron Burr, but, with its small size, had been specifically designed to accommodate his ‘short stature.’” Hedges’ patent for his table/desk was issued 18 years after Burr’s death.
I’m not sure where the Dragon motif on my desk came from, but upon reflection, Dragons are traditional in oriental furniture, New England was a hub of the China trade in the 19th Century and therefore was familiar with oriental furniture and motifs, Aaron Burr was from New England, therefore Aaron Burr = Dragons! Right?
Now, some of you might be mumbling, “some ghost story this turned out to be!” A little patience, please. The “Aaron Burr Desk” IS a ghost, and not just because of its phantom provenance. Let us now face our fears, and we’ll see this piece for what it is.
The future. This has always been a popular topic on the CustomMade blog, from the coming custom revolution, to the impending transformation of the American workforce, to the emerging realignment of the consumer/manufacturer interface. Another recent blog post highlighted the predictions of the International Furnishings and Design Association regarding home and furniture design in the year 2020. What are the furniture trends for the future? Multipurpose, moveable, and modular. So they say.
Many people do fear the future for the changes it may bring and for the changes it will bring. The words and ideas we use to envision the future can complicate matters, too. We associate the future with progress and increasing efficiency. Our computers will be faster. Our medical treatments will be more effective. Or so we imagine. Matters of style, however, don’t lend themselves to prognostications of efficiency. When we envision “future styles” we tend to imagine sleek, clean, ultra-modern works in which function dictates form. (When we do imagine more “baroque” future styles, they usually accompany a vision of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic nightmare society, a la Mad Max, where “progress” has failed).
What do you associate, stylistically, with “multipurpose, movable, and modular?”
What will your future furniture look like? Are you looking forward to it? You do have choices. You can embrace ultra-modern chic…
Or look to the ghosts of “multipurpose, moveable, and modular” past.
Don’t be afraid that your cherished “traditional” furniture styles can’t make the transition to this brave new multipurpose world. Artisans have grappled with problems of space, portability, and efficiency throughout history and have successfully created custom solutions in many styles, like Stephen Hedges’ table/desk. Here are a few more projects created by CustomMade artisans today but informed and inspired by yesterday’s futurepieces.
Laptop computers were not the first portable desks. Something like the rosewood and suede ecrire by MissionCraft Canada could have accompanied a traveler on a journey by train, stagecoach, or steamship in the 19th century. This item was designed to hold writing materials and serve as a writing surface. Can you imagine similar pieces created today as portable custom made computer desks perfect for the slim electronic devices we carry that often do require a stable, comfortable surface to use efficiently? Contact George Kiorpelidis and commission a 21st century laptop desk with a 19th century sense of adventure.
You will rarely find furniture pieces for the home inspired by their military counterparts. The campaign style desk of the 19th and early 20th century, however, is precisely such a crossover. Gene Smith of Noble Son Woodworks, LLC, created this campaign desk for a customer who was impressed with the durability and functionality of these desks that were literally designed to be easy to set up and transport during military campaigns. This custom built wood office desk was made from cherry and features a leather writing surface and metal brace corner coverings “that acknowledge a history of being transported by cart, wagon, or truck.” Need a desk that puts the move in moveable? Contact Gene for a campaign desk of your own.
Words can freeze us as surely as the touch of any ghost. Furniture made from barnwood doesn’t have to be rustic in style. Furniture made from recycled resources is not “tainted” by its past use but enriched by its history of use. The multipurpose, moveable, and modular furniture of the imminent future doesn’t have to be “futuristic” in appearance. CustomMade is your source for local custom makers who can combine your needs and stylistic preferences in unique pieces for your home, for today and tomorrow, even if they draw inspiration from the ghosts of yesteryear.