Before deciding to build my own desk, I explored ready-made furniture options ranging from Ikea to boutique SoHo stores in Manhattan, with middle-market retailers like Macy's and Crate & Barrel in between.
It was October 2010 and nothing had changed in the furniture industry since I last researched that market for a Lucent Bell Labs new venture ten years prior: attractive, good value and good fit remain mutually exclusive attributes in today's furniture industry.
During this search, I identified attributes that appealed to me and sought to incorporate them into my own design. The Frank Lloyd Wright design-patented desk, which he created for the Johnson Wax company in 1936, illustrates these attributes.
The Johnson Wax desk looks like it is hovering; the cabinets do not touch the floor and there is open space between the dual desktops. The shelf and desktops are thin and separated and appear as if one can move a magician's wand between these spaces to show that nothing lies between. This design appears lightweight and reminds me of the Shaker designed furniture I observed while touring historic Shaker farms.
The desktop is wide, deep and open. Even the supports for the optional shelf curve around the upper desktop so as to keep this area clear of obstructions.
Shelving is provided by the optional shelf on top and the lower desktop on the bottom. Papers can be moved to the lower desktop and materials can be placed on the upper shelf so as to clear the main work area of clutter.
The side cabinets are just drawers; there is no cabinet frame to waste storage space. These cabinets are deep and wide and swing completely open. They have just enough hinge hardware to be useful, and nothing more.
The warm wood and glossy surface, curved metal sides and ovals are details that make the desk visually appealing.
Defects in the Wright Design
From an ergonomic perspective, the Johnson Wax desk is a crippler. When I attempted to imitate the dual-level desktop in my own design, I realized the that minimum height requirement of the lower desktop pushes the top desktop above a comfortable height. From the High Museum of Art's exhibit photo above, one can see that the typewriter is too high for comfortable work.
My design would need to be executed entirely from wood, as I lacked the metalworking tools required to cut, bend, punch and weld metal into such original forms as present in the Johnson Wax desk.
My desk will need to efficiently fit a space between two walls. The visual appeal of curved sides and oval tops will be replaced with more efficient rectangles.