We might be returning to offices but, almost two years into the pandemic, some element of WFH looks set to stay forever. Phoebe McDowell looks at how to achieve peak desk
Formerly underused, if existent at all, home desks have really come into their own. Kitchen tables sufficed for a few months, but then The End, that thing that was supposed to be in sight, never quite made it. And so we fashioned something sturdy. Really, it just had to function. That was until we switched on our televisions to watch the season’s most talked-about series, everything from Succession and Emily In Paris to And Just Like That, and realised that desks say more about us than we care to think, providing visual cues as to who we are; how we think, delegate and negotiate. If 2020 was the year of the bookshelves, 2022 is the year of the desk. The new status symbol, if you will.
Take Shiv Roy’s on Succession, for example. Contained and energisingly clean, it adheres to a strict – and sombre – colour palette, conveying subtle power. Tidy desk, tidy takeover? Then there’s Emily Cooper’s in Emily In Paris, which is very, well, social media. The millennial pink pen pots; the plant; the cutesy wooden calendar. Not so Parisienne. Meanwhile, over on And Just Like That, LTW’s – Lisa Todd Wexley’s – is as commanding and chic as the initials Charlotte’s fashionable new friend goes by.
For women like these, whose professional lives are as important as their personal ones, desks are an extension of their wardrobes. An expression of their being. Sure, satin Manolo Blahnik pumps are nice, but have you seen Cassina’s chrome office chairs? And really, what’s the point in having a vintage Chanel if you don’t have a Marcel Breuer writing desk to plonk it on?
With WFH showing no sign of slowing, it’s high time we nailed our own desks, once and for all. Thing is, they’re expensive. Choosing the right one is only marginally less daunting than selecting a sofa. It is, however, a justifiable expense. An investment in and promise to yourself, not only that you’ll work hard but, more importantly, that you’ll be happy while doing it.
First, you must identify your work personality. Are you someone who likes to compost ideas while surrounded by stuff, your surface awash with paper, succulents, scented candles and a cat? Or are you a poised and methodical type, who combs their Japanese desk garden with a miniature rake when stressed? Wherever you sit on the scale, ask yourself how your desk needs to function. Do you need a big surface area for three-plus screens? Drawers for filing? Something you can wipe coffee rings off?
You also have comfort to contend with, because office furniture must be that most unsexy of things: ergonomic. Chairs must be posture-improving and desks must be slouch-proof. They need not only exist, but serve. Your desk should also have a lamp, so that you can see adequately, yes, but also to soften the edge of early mornings and later nights, with a bulb that’s mellow and yellow, to counteract the blue light from screens. Wires are unavoidable, but you can upgrade to braided and bright extension cables.
To offset the displeasure of headsets and muck-engrained keyboards, introduce a tchotchke. Defined as a ‘small object that is decorative rather than strictly functional’, interiors experts preach the pleasure of them often. Think less silver-plated family photos, more paper geraniums, glossy pen pots, bowls, busts and vases. A diversion from drudgery, the alpha move is to have a few, arranged in a way that photographs well and attracts lots of likes on Instagram. And don’t feel bad – our desire to have a nice desk might come from the internet, but studies show that jolly and organised ones, just like made beds, help us feel productive and in control.
For the desk itself, there are affordable options on the high street, or better yet, on second-hand sites. The trick to avoid aimless trawling is to get your keywords right and go granular with them. Instead of wood, for example, try iriko, walnut or pine (reclaimed, if you must). Also consider your preferred era and style, something that you can get to grips with on Pamono or 1st Dibs (two vintage and antiques sites) before heading to Facebook Marketplace or eBay.
If we can’t convince you to shunt Operation Desk to the top of your to-do list, then turn on the telly. We don’t mean Netflix. With expert opinions on how many more years we’ll be living with this thing (six, apparently), the BBC will do just fine.