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A secretary desk is a type of furniture more often found in homes than offices, despite the name. The basic design of the compact, but tall, secretary desk consists of a set of drawers topped by a fold-out desk, with a set of shelves or a hutch perched on top. The essential design is quite old; intact antique examples from at least the 1500s suggest that the desk was widely used at that time, and possibly before. Modern offices tend to use a differently styled desk design with more room to spread out and slightly less private storage, but many people keep a secretary desk at home to use as a small workplace or as a family organizing area.
The base of a secretary desk is a sturdy set of large, flat drawers. On top of the drawers, a hutch with shelving, usually enclosed, is installed, with an area underneath the hutch for small nooks and other storage areas located in the back of the desk. A folding section encloses the open area underneath the hutch when not in use, and flops out to create a desk space when it is needed, usually supported with wooden runners underneath it to keep it steady. A variation on the secretary desk uses a roll top mechanism to secure the desk space, and generally does not include a fold out section.
The footprint of a secretary desk is relatively small, because the base of the desk is not as wide as the potential available workspace. However, the desk is quite tall to accommodate all of its features. The folding nature of a secretary desk means that it cannot be used to spread out long-term projects, but does make it easy to secure information by locking the folding desk area, drawers, and or hutch. A secretary desk also provides ample organizing space in a variety of different formats, so the user can store flat files, books, miscellaneous documents, and small, oddly shaped items.
In a modern office, a secretary desk is not terribly practical, but when one considers the original function of a secretary, it starts to make sense. Traditionally, secretaries managed correspondence and sensitive documents; a secretary desk is ideally suited for filing and arranging correspondence, as well as securing works in progress. The folding desk area readily fits letter paper and writing utensils, which can be tidied away when the work is done. When the secretary's services were not needed, the desk would not take up excessive space in the office environment, and would look neat and orderly, as well.