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Desk job

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I don't often criticize the work of others, but the desk I'm using at this moment is nearly impossible to use. Sure is pretty, though.

I'm visiting my daughter in Connecticut, and borrowing her office to write this. It's bad enough typing on a strange keyboard (I had to backspace to fix typos eight times in the previous sentence alone), but this desk is awful.

It's an old piece of production furniture, and it's not only well made but is quite handsome – all dovetail joinery, pleasing lines, interesting beaded trim and a veneered top done with a single full-width sheet of quilted maple. Matching veneer on the drawer fronts is vertically continuous. But as far as usability is concerned, I think it may have been designed by the Marquis de Sade.

To begin with, it's so low I feel like I'm sitting on the floor. And although my daughter found a short chair to use with it, it's still not low enough to get my legs underneath. It's also too narrow if you have a normal human anatomy. To make it worse, the designer added decorative scrollwork to the upper corners of the desk opening, right about where my knees go and I've already banged them several times. My right knee is bleeding. (This is not an exaggeration.) And while I have no need to go rummaging through the desk drawers, it's clear I wouldn't be able to open them because the chair – which you'd already consider to be pretty narrow – blocks the drawers on each side.

You're probably thinking it's a child's desk, but you'd be wrong. It's an adult desk, just tortuously small. I'm not sure how my daughter uses it without injury.

By comparison, my daughter also has a desk I made her two decades ago. That desk has a wide expanse of oak-trimmed plywood for a top, an enormous opening underneath roomy enough to keep a low file cabinet. The support pedestals are comprised of a storage compartment on one side with a door, and a slimmer compartment on the other with drawers – both sides open easily no matter where the chair is. She uses that old desk as her main work area because of all the room, but her computer is relegated to the torture desk.

There's no comparison to the workmanship of these two desks. One has dovetails and solid wood and is absolutely beautiful, but is almost nonfunctional. The other is mostly plywood, simple and decidedly plain, yet completely usable and adaptable to a variety of tasks.

I hope it's not mere ego, but I like mine a lot better.



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