The Victorian oak pedestal desk evolved from the imposing 18th century library desks installed in country houses, and is uniquely British. The forerunner was the ladies kneehole dressing table, and desks such as the French Bureau Mazarin. These had only partial stacks of drawers, and so were limited in storage. Although this more delicate desk form was the preferred style on the continent, the English preferred the functionality of the twin pedestal design.
Thomas Chippendale is credited with being responsible for the pedestal desk design we know today, in which twin stacks of drawers – one each side of the kneehole – extend to the floor. These desks were designed to be placed against a wall. Where there are drawers on both sides, it was known as a partners desk and designed to be placed in the centre of the room.
Early pedestal desks were mainly walnut or mahogany. However, as time progressed Victorian oak pedestal desks began to appear. These were often highly elaborate, and fashioned after Chippendale’s French Rococo designs of the 18th century. Others were more workmanlike and neo-classical in design. Although most Victorian oak pedestal desks have drawers both sides, this is not always the case; in some designs, the storage is split between a pedestal of drawers on one side, and a cupboard on the other. Some Gothic Revival Victorian oak pedestal desks were made with cupboards on both sides. However, in other respects they were the same as conventional designs, with drawers placed above the knee and pedestals, and the top inlaid with leather.
Victorian oak pedestal desks are available in many styles, from simple Arts & Crafts to elaborate Chippendale Revival forms. However, they all follow the same three-part construction pattern, with a removable flat top placed above two beaded pedestals. This makes Victorian oak pedestal desks highly transportable – and a highly popular alternative to modern flat-pack office furniture.