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Wood Writing Tables

The main types of wood writing tables and ideas on furnishing writing table tops with accessories.

Pens, ink and blotting pads cry aloud for reserved spaces ; they must be kept apart from other things, and much thought and ingenuity on the part of furniture designers has been spent on behalf of their exclusiveness. The art of writing has been well catered for in the past, and it is to the past that we will turn first to meet the simple needs of writing tables, though to begin with we must examine the qualifications such tables should possess.

We must have plenty of elbow room; there should be nothing cramping about the size or shape of the top ; we must never experience a feeling that we should like to sweep half the things upon it to the floor in order to get more room to write really comfortably. A highly-polished surface will soon get marked, and a writing-pad or a blotting-pad would slide maddeningly on it. It must not be very high, the height of an ordinary dining-table would be comfortable, and there must be no complicated under-framing, for any table with a stretcher is uncomfortable to write at.

As for its position, it can occupy a corner of a sitting-room, or a window recess ; and furnished with a lamp or a pair of candlesticks, a pen tray and inkstand it can create an air of finish, and induce a curious and indescribable sense of comfortable surroundings. An ideal place for any writing table or bureau is beneath a window; and occasionally such an ingenious device as a flap, hinged below the sill in a window recess so that it may be raised and supported by hinged brackets, may be contrived. In a small room a hinged writing-shelf of this description would be valuable, and could be constructed without difficulty in oak or mahogany, or in some wood that could be painted without sacrifice ; in a room of fairly large size it could be a permanent fixture instead of being movable.

Writing Table, 1870
Writing Table, 1870.
Veneered in tulipwood, harewood (stained sycamore), box and other decorative woods on a carcase of oak; set with plaques of painted and gilded porcelain, and with lacquered brass mounts.

A simple table is sometimes preferable to a bureau, despite the special advantages offered by the latter. Many seventeenth century tables possess stretchers that may prevent their use for writing purposes ; but the table that seems to be entirely suitable is one expressly designed for a writing or dressing-table by some craftsman of the Queen Anne period. It has cabriole legs, no stretcher, and drawers framed beneath the top. Such tables are to be found in lacquer as well as walnut, and good reproductions are sometimes obtainable.

Table with Writing Slide
Table with Writing Slide, 1740.
It has a pull-out writing panel between the top and the drawer. The top is veneered with padouk and cross-banded with partridge wood.

Both in walnut and mahogany there are many designs that can be used. There is a type of Sheraton table, excellent for writing at, with tapering legs and flaps that are hinged to provide additional space if desired. It is extremely simple, and has perhaps a line of satin wood inlaid round the edge of the single drawer beneath its top ; the flaps being supported by a couple of folding brackets. There is a gracefulness about the design that makes it particularly pleasant in a room with furniture of a light type, such as Sheraton or Hepplewhite. There are tables in the Chinese taste by Chippendale, lacquered or in plain mahogany, that make good writing tables; and although the more elaborate examples are costly, it is sometimes possible to find a bargain that may be in need of a few repairs but will by its ultimate appearance more than justify the small amount of work necessary.

Table furnishings and accessories must be thought of, and inkstands and pen trays must have their place. A table furnished with articles that have been collected separately, each with a separate interest of its own, possesses a distinction that a commonplace writing set never approaches; and the furnishing of a writing table is more important than the furnishing of an escritoire, which is not so open or so immediately before our vision as the plain, unshadowed and unsheltered table top.

Ink and Watch Stand, 1855
Ink and Watch Stand, 1855.

A box on the table for stationery is the best plan and is a much tidier manner of storing it than in a rack which gets dusty however much care is bestowed on it. There are some writing sets that have real character and beauty of design to recommend them, and among these the lacquer sets in scarlet, cream, yellow, green or black, with oriental designs in gilt on them can give real, vital colour that brightens the whole setting of a table and its accessories. Such sets include a pen tray with an inkpot fitted at each end, backed by a stationery rack, which in spite of its dust-acquiring habits can at least have a decorative value. Blotting books in leather, or made with cardboard backs covered in old brocade or velvet have distinctive interest as well as thorough utility as recommendations. But however the writing table is equipped, it must never be overcrowded, or loaded with objects that have no real use on a space reserved essentially for work.

Next: Writing Desks.

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