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Let's Talk Rolltops! Your Ultimate Guide

CEO Khai Intela
If you believe that real desks have curves, then you must be familiar with the elegant and versatile rolltop desk. For those who are not acquainted with this curvaceous workstation, it's time to get to...

If you believe that real desks have curves, then you must be familiar with the elegant and versatile rolltop desk. For those who are not acquainted with this curvaceous workstation, it's time to get to know it better. Similar to a secretary desk, the rolltop features a retractable domed lid that conceals the work surface and reveals a writing space and a collection of drawers when opened. With its unique design and beautiful contours, the rolltop desk is a true work of art that deserves a place in your home.

Classic wood roll top desk with metal desk chair and tufted gray armchair Photo courtesy of Spencer & Wedekind

The History of the Rolltop Desk

Legend has it that the rolltop desk was born out of a request from Louis XV of France. In the 18th century, the King commissioned a desk from his cabinetmaker that resembled what we now know as a Carlton desk. This desk had a writing surface surrounded by drawers and a unique feature - a retractable cover that could be pulled down in a circular arc to encase the drawers, providing privacy and security.

Today, desks with rigid covers like Louis XV's are known as "cylinder desks," a subcategory of rolltop desks. However, most rolltop desks nowadays feature flexible tambour doors instead of rigid covers. These tambour doors are retractable and made of stacked strips of wood mounted on a flexible backing. This innovation, introduced by Abner Cutler, a furniture maker from Buffalo, New York, in the mid-1800s, revolutionized the production of rolltop desks, making them more affordable and easier to mass-produce.

Traditional wood roll top desk with wicker accent chair and blue and white striped ottoman Design by Gauthier~Stacy Inc. / Photo by Sam Gray

How to Style a Rolltop Desk in Any Room

When it comes to decorating with rolltop desks, the options are endless. From classic cylinder desks to dresser-like models with fold-out writing ledges, there are plenty of styles to choose from. Here are three ways you can incorporate a rolltop desk into different rooms of your home:

In the Dining Room...

If you're looking for a unique way to display your spirits and craft cocktails, consider using a rolltop desk as a dry bar. Look for a model that resembles a dresser with no or very short legs. These models often come with flip-out or pull-out writing ledges, eliminating the need for a kneehole. To elevate the look, choose a desk with marquetry or inlays, and look for embedded velvet or leather writing blotters that can double as a stylish bar mat.

In the Bedroom...

The rolltop desk's versatility shines in the bedroom. Opt for a dresser-style rolltop desk that offers extra storage with its stack of drawers. The pull-out writing portion allows you to use the desk as a functional workspace, whether you work from home occasionally or regularly. If you want to incorporate a TV into the setup, choose a model with a flat top or ledge. While you may need to downsize your screen to maintain the right proportions, a rolltop desk can seamlessly function as a media center.

In an Entry...

Entryways often require multi-functional furniture that can serve as a console and an organizational unit. Compact rolltop desks, reminiscent of petite writing desks, are a perfect fit for these spaces. Rolltop desks provide ample storage with their drawers, pigeonholes, and letter racks. You can use these compartments to store everyday essentials like chargers, car keys, and even grocery bags. For a less imposing look, opt for a Carlton desk-inspired rolltop with dainty cabriole legs, which will resemble a side table rather than a bulky filing cabinet.

Hallway with wood roll top desk with floral armchair and wood sideboard Photo by Perry Mastrovito / Alamy Stock Photo

Shop Vintage Rolltop Desks

If you're inspired to add a touch of elegance and functionality to your home, consider shopping for vintage rolltop desks. These timeless pieces of furniture not only serve as practical workspaces but also bring a sense of history and charm to any room. So go ahead and explore the world of rolltop desks, and find the perfect one to complement your style and enhance your living space.

Lead image by The Interior Archive x Trunk Archive / Photo by Simon Upton