Roll top desks were the desk of choice in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. The cubbies were convenient organizers and the ability to lock the drawers and the roll top closed overnight were valuable security enhancements. Of course, for many, the ability to close the roll top also preserved (or hid, depending on your perspective) the careful placement of countless papers and other oddments from the persnickety eyes and hands of those who would think they were doing a favor by "organizing" everything into neat piles. It's a wonder the roll top desk hasn't experienced widespread adoption in modern offices for the same reason.
Since the dawn of the electronic era, roll top desks have been difficult to integrate into a work environment dominated by a desk top computer. The roll top would not close with a computer in place. However, as the trend is moving more toward the adoption of laptops, roll top desks are having a mini revival. Roll tops create an ambience of durability and stability. Some design contexts are also complemented by the inclusion of prominent antique pieces.
If you are thinking of reintroducing an antique roll top desk into your environment, most likely it will need some attention before it is ready to be placed in service. On this page, we offer information and illustrations of work we have done on roll top desks to aid you in developing a vision for what you might want to do with yours. When you are ready to get started on your project, we will be ready to help.
This is the most unusual tambour unit we have encountered. It takes the usual tambour construction with the flat part of the tambour slats facing inward, and has instead placed them outward. The tambour cloth was still glued to the flat part of the slats but over the cloth was laid this beautiful quarter sawn red oak featuring the broad arcing rays so unique to this wood. We didn't see the desk this came from but it must be beautiful.
As often happens with tambour units, the cloth will age and begin to split at the seams between the slats. The normal method to remedy this problem is to replace the cloth backer. Not in this case. We had to be creative and used surgical gauze glued to the inside of the slats. It worked! A few other cosmetic repairs and back into service it went.
This was another one of many unusual items we have seen--a roll top desk for a child with a built in slate / chalkboard work surface. Once again, too late, we thought of how good it would have been to have taken a "before" picture. You can still see the light colored seam on the top where we re-glued a break. The legs were off, twisted, and made the desk wobbly when mounted. Rather tricky to figure out how to fix that. The tambour unit did not open or close smoothly. A few other minor problems. All working well when we were done.
We like "projects". This job and the job we describe in the section below were both "projects." This one had been in a fire--you can see the charring in the photo below and also in the one to the left. Parts were damaged, cubby drawers were missing entirely, the leather writing surface was not reusable. Our assignment was to make this desk look and operate like new. How did we do?
Another "project." Parts were broken, parts were missing. We had to figure out how it went together, what the missing parts might have been, how they would have worked and what they might have looked like. Challenges like this prevent brain stagnation.
This customer wanted only the restoration done. She intended to re-oil the entire desk herself. Everything worked properly when we were done. It would have been nice to see it oiled, but there is satisfaction in knowing we did for her the part she could not do and that she had the opportunity to do the part that makes the piece beautiful again.
Lots of gluing and clamping. Drawers, pedestal cases, cubby surround all needed re-gluing.
One of the more interesting parts of the job was to figure out how the locking mechanism for the drawers and tambour unit worked. It had been disabled by removing the locking mechanism. We had to re-invent and then re-make it. Worked perfectly when we were done.
A few of the tambour slats were broken or missing. We went to a local milling shop to have replacements made. Unlike most roll top tambour units, there was no cloth backing on this one. Each slat had a hole drilled through each side and at the center through which a heavy wire was threaded and then anchored at each end. Worked well.
The cubby unit was missing the parts you can see in the light colored wood. One center door, two small drawers and two "hidden" drawers, that look like decorative elements but pull out for holding pens, pencils or coins.
What you can't see in this picture is several repairs that are hidden below, behind and around. There were a number of parts of the cubby surround that needed rebuilding.
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