Decorating & Entertaining Ideas

The Essential Guide to the Secretary Desk

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The secretary desk goes by several aliases: secretaire, bureau, and even escritoire. No matter what you call it, this charming, multipurpose piece of furniture can be used in infinite ways in every room of your house.

Typically secretaries come in one of two heights—low or high—and as each most definitely has its perks, we thought we’d share a few and let you decide which style will work best for you.

GO LOW

Photo by Annie Schlechter/GMA Images

Photo by Annie Schlechter/GMA Images

What’s not to love about the Scandinavian stylings of a secretary that recalls a certain show about men who are mad? Calling Don Draper! A midcentury take on this typically traditional piece plays well with mod accents, of course, but it would also look amazing next to a fancy upholstered chair—think velvet, floral, or leather. Stick a secretary in your bedroom (shorter styles won’t overwhelm small spaces) and it’ll function as a one-stop shop: Clothes in the bottom drawers, knickknacks and jewelry up top, and a shelf that doubles as a writing desk.

Photo by Jessie Webster

Photo by Jessie Webster

Low-slung antique secretaries have always reminded us a little of old-school captains’ desks. To score a maritime or beach-house feel, accessorize yours with items like seashells, old buoys, and nautical paintings (one of the benefits of these shorties is that there’s plenty of wall space above them for art). You’ll be smelling that salt air in no time even if you live nowhere near the beach.

Go High

Photo by Fernando Bengoechea/Beateworks/Corbis

Photo by Fernando Bengoechea/Beateworks/Corbis

In a glam bedroom, a rich wood design riffs beautifully off touches of gold (think lamp bases and picture frames if your place doesn’t come with gilded molding) and a bed dressed in crisp white linens. Flip open the desk when your pen pal or diary is calling, then shut it tight to cleanly corral your clutter.

Photo by Peter Margonelli/ Photoshot/ Red Cover

Photo by Peter Margonelli/ Photoshot/ Red Cover

When done in clean lines with a chic monochromatic finish, secretaries look as slick as can be. Glass-fronted versions store your favorite items and show them off at the same time. To keep the bookshelf portion from feeling too one-note, flank your volumes with a few beloved objects. Using a mix of shapes and sizes will create an artistic tableau.

Photo by Simon Upton/The Interior Archive

Photo by Simon Upton/The Interior Archive

Tuck a secretary into a little-used corner of your home, add a comfy chair, and voilà, you’ve got yourself a mini home office or a reading nook—or both. Though the tall boys take up relatively little space thanks to their small footprints, they can hold items galore, from linens to barware to your stationery collection.

Want to grab your own beautiful workstation?  Shop all secretary desks >

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