Origins of the Roll Top Desk

Have you ever wondered where the idea for your roll top desk came from. Like most great designs they have evolved from previous works. In this case we can identify three distinct types of desks that influenced the final design of the now classic roll top desk.

The Carlton House desk is a typically stunning antique writing desk. It has a nice set of drawers for holding writing implements and paper.  These drawers form a u-shape around the writing surface. Although there are only a few drawers below the writing surface we can immediately see how this desk led to ideas carried into the roll top design.

Next is the tambour desk. Here we really start to see ideas that have ported into the roll top, namely the tambour or rolling door. In this case the doors open sideways to reveal pigeon holes and drawers. The concept was later adapted to fit a rolling door sliding downwards. The larger stack of hiding spots were another feature that made it into the roll top as was the larger array of drawers found below the desk.

Lastly we have the cylinder desk. Just like the roll top it is a desk of drawers upon which sits a writing surface and some compartments for your writing gear. Some differences include the closing door. A cylinder desk sports a solid cylinder that rolls shut, there is no tambour (slats making up a flexible door). The cylinder desk will have standard pigeon holes but no secret compartments as is often found in a roll top. That being said the cylinder desk itself is a beauty.

These three important antique styles each lent features the the American classic roll top desk.  First made in the early nineteenth century they are still going strong. Of course they have gone through some adaptations and now can be seen to house computer components. They still represent some of the finest designs in American furniture making.