Desks are one of the most commonly used pieces of furniture in the world, and this includes for both residential and commercial use. Chances are, you have a type of desk in your home, right alongside your other common pieces of furniture like your table or sofa. The Latin word desca is believed to be the origin of the word desk, and you can translate it into a table to write on. Desks have been in use since the 14th century. However, different types of desks have cropped up over the years to address different needs people had.
Traditionally, people used different types of desks for storing documents or writing. However, your desk can serve a huge range of purposes, and knowing which type of desk will work best for your needs ensures that you’ll get the most use out of your investment. We’ve outlined several popular types for you below.
Picking out a desk can be a process, but knowing what the main use of it is will help you narrow down your choices to ensure you pick the one that is going to serve you the best. The Desk by Hayley Constantine / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
1. Armoire Desk
If you’re looking for a type of desk that allows you to keep your floor space while giving you a place to store a lot of items, try this option. This desk type is widely rumored to be the forerunner for today’s modern computer desk. The word armoire has French origins, and it was originally armoire. This loosely translates to a set or closet, and it refers to a type of storage space.
At the base, this desk is a combination of a large cabinet and a writing table. The height can fall between 4.5 and 6 feet, and it has two or four doors to enclose the cabinet. You’ll typically place this heavier desk against a wall for support and stability.
2. Bargueño Desk
This is a traditional type of desk that has a rich history. It’s not as commonly found as it once was, but it has great aesthetic value that makes it a coveted furniture piece. This is a more portable desk that features two chests, and the lower chest typically comes with two drawers. The top chest has a hinged surface on it, and it works as a side-mounted lid. The desk’s interior has smaller drawers and pigeonholes where you can store small items.
The first time this type of desk became popular was in Spain during the Renaissance Period. It was typically made out of wood, and it was a wooden desk that came with durable iron handles on each side to make moving it easy. Today, this desk has more value for looks over function. You’ll typically find it in a living room, entrance hall, or bedroom in a house. It also works well to store valuable jewelry items.
3. Bedside Table or Desk
This type of table is usually one of the most underrated pieces of furniture you have in your bedroom. It may not be as important or necessary as a wardrobe or bed, but think about how much you use it. Where else would you put an alarm clock, bedside lamp, or your wallet or purse so it’s in easy reach? You want something that is small enough to sit right up to your bed without interfering with you getting in and out of it.
You won’t get as generous of a surface area as you’d get with a computer desk. However, it has more than enough space to accommodate your essential items like a table lamp or alarm clock. Most bedside tables have shelves and drawers on them for storage purposes too.
4. Butler’s Desk
This type of desk isn’t as contemporary as some others on the list. However, it could work as a piece of furniture that introduces elegance and flair to your home. It was originally designed during the 18th century for use by the home’s head servant, as the name suggests. It worked to hold records and documents, and it was originally designed to be a higher desk to use while standing.
You get a drop-front design that is compact and short while being square-shaped and heavy. It has several letter slots and smaller drawers all centered around a central door. The lower half of this type of desk will have three or four drawers and shelves hidden behind doors. It’s very common for this desk to have secret areas or drawers for hiding valuable items or documents.
5. Coffee Table Desk
This type of desk isn’t designed for you to work or write on. Instead, you put this piece of furniture in front of your sofa, and it works to hold items like remote controls or magazines. It’s also a nice place for you to serve refreshments or snacks when you have guests. When you arrange it correctly, this type of desk and the sofa work to be the centerpiece in your living room.
You’ll get different features on these types of desks. Some models will offer a lift top using a hinged mechanism. This allows you to have more storage space or a surface area to work on. Some other models come with drawers, bins, and shelves where you can store newspapers, magazines, or similar items. You may get models that come with shorter stools for additional seating. You can slide them under the table to store them. You may also find options with rolling legs or casters for better mobility.
6. Computer Desk
The computer desk is very similar to the writing desk, but the main difference is that this type of desk offers more space for your printer, computer, keyboard, and other hardware components. They usually always offer storage space for the CPU and a keyboard tray, and it’s slightly bigger than a writing desk while being smaller than an executive type of desk.
Since more and more people are shifting to using mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, the popularity of this desk dipped. However, the recent work from home movement spiked new interest, especially when you pair them with the correct office chair. You can still use this desk when you work on your tablet or write something out by hand.
7. Corner Desk
Just like you’d get from the name, this type of desk goes well right into the corner of a room. A lot of people like these L-shaped desks because they give you a large amount of working space where you can put several different computer screens with documents on both sides of your setup without having to move around much to reach things.
8. Credenza Desk
This is a very modern type of desk that you put next to a wall. It works like a secondary surface to another desk when you look at a typical office setup. Credenza desks usually have several drawers where you can place your pens, documents, and other work materials. Also, this desk gives you a great amount of knee space and legroom when you sit, just like standard desks.
9. Executive Desk
This is arguably one of the most prominent pieces of furniture you can own, and it gives you a huge amount of writing surface and storage opportunities. It does eat up a lot of floor space though, and this means that you’ll have to have a larger room if you want to buy one for your home office. You can get one of three shapes with this type of desk, including the U-shaped, L-shaped, and open plan. The L-shaped option works best in corners and larger areas, and it connects using a perpendicular bridge or wing.
You also get a lot of space for your various office tools and for multitasking. A second big advantage of this style of executive desk is that it gives you space to put your office or home decor items. You can put plants, photos, and books on it. It also comes with additional file cabinets where you can store your papers. You could get a keyboard tray to leave more room for your pencil holders or other items.
The U-shaped executive desk is very similar to the L-shaped one as they both have bridges to connect a few desks to form a wrap-around design. It works best in larger areas while giving you enough space for office or home supplies and equipment. The design of this type of desk also allows you to keep your important items within easy reach to enhance how productive you are.
Finally, you can choose the open plan desk. These are rows of desks without dividers. Unlike the other two types we outlined, it has one desk without any accompanying furniture pieces. It’s very popular in the corporate world because many people believe that this arrangement of desks promotes close coordination and teamwork among employees.
10. Floating Desk
A floating type of desk is designed to work well in small rooms or houses without a lot of available floor space. You may hear them called on-wall desks, and it has no legs because it attaches or mounts straight to the wall. You can install this desk in the smallest areas in your home. It gives you the workspace you need to type on a laptop or write, and you can usually fold it up to get it out of your way when you’re done using it.
11. Hallway Desk
If you have a bigger home and you want to fill up your entryway or hallway, this type of desk is a nice option. It works as a minimalist piece of furniture, and it’s slim enough to fit at the end of your hallway. You could argue that this desk’s design doesn’t support working on a computer or writing, and it’s partially true. However, this can still be a valuable piece of furniture if you have items that you want to display.
It offers minimal storage, and some models come with one or two drawers. However, this shouldn’t be surprising because it has a more aesthetic use to it than actual function.
12. Lap Desk
If you’re someone who likes to work while sitting on the bed or couch, a lap type of desk is a great option. You get a very sturdy surface and height to allow you to work from your bed, couch, or anywhere in your home office. This is usually an adjustable desk, and this means that it won’t strain your back and neck while you work. You may even be surprised to learn that this type of desk has been around for centuries.
In fact, former-President Thomas Jefferson was rumored to have a lap desk made out of mahogany that he used to write parts of the Declaration of Independence. This desk even came with a built-in drawer to help him store his ink. Today, most modern lap-style desks come with ventilation and padding on them. If you want to keep your phone near you while you work, you should look for a lap desk with storage compartments.
13. Lectern Desk
Unlike some types of desks we touched on so far, you won’t commonly find this one in homes or offices. This is a very specialized desk that gets designed for people who are giving presentations or speeches. This is an elevated but small desk that allows you to place your notes while you stand in front of an audience. Today, this type of desk usually has a screen mount or laptop.
Along with the smaller footprint, one of the best characteristics of this desk type is that it is highly portable. You can fold some models down and place them in a case to make transport and storage easy, and others come with retractable legs. It’s also possible to find lectern desks with specialized carrying bags. You’ll get accessible shelving to allow any presenters to store their items quickly and easily, like computers, papers, or pointers.
14. Roll-Top Desk
When you were growing up, chances are, someone had an antique roll-top type of desk in their home. Today, you can get both antique and more modern designs when you shop for this desk style. As the name suggests, a roll-top desk has a hood that rolls down over the desk’s surface to secure everything inside it. This may not be the most practical option available, especially for using a computer, but it can be a gorgeous piece of furniture for your living room, office, or bedroom.
15. Secretary Desk
If you’re looking for a desk where you have space to store a host of paperwork and office essentials, that is the type of desk you should go for. This desk has undergone changes throughout the years, and the original design looked like a combination of a dresser and a desk. It has lots of cubbies, compartments, and drawers concealed behind a panel that acts like a desk when you open it.
Today, modern secretary-style desks are less bulky and smaller when you compare them to the antique models. A lot of them still have the drop-down covers and hidden compartments. The covers make this desk style inappropriate for using them to store a printer and desktop computer. Smaller ones can offer space to accommodate a mouse or laptop though.
16. Standing Desk
The standing desk is very similar to the treadmill desk because it forces anyone who uses it to stay standing while you write something or work. You can consider it a viable solution to sitting down for hours at a time while you work. Also, it’s possible to sit while you use this chair if you don’t think that you can stand for hours on end, but you will need a taller office chair handy to do so.
You can choose from electric or manual standing desks to adjust the height. Being able to adjust the height allows you as a user to not slouch as you work. Some models also come with sit and stand reminders built in that tell you when it’s time to change position, and others have LED displays that show you the desk’s height. One popular variation of this type of desk is the desk converter. You can place it on your existing disk to adjust it from a standing or sitting position while you work.
17. Telephone Desk
This is a nice type of desk that is considered to be an antique. It’s a fixed desk style that is very small and designed to give you enough surface area to write notes while you speak on the phone. It was extremely popular during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, as use of the traditional telephone goes down, these desks are much less visible today.
18. Treadmill Desk
Some people dismissed this type of desk as a trend that would fade away. However, as the health-conscious movement takes hold, these desks are retaining their popularity. Just as the name suggests, it’s a combination of a desk and a treadmill. The treadmill slips under the desk, and this arrangement allows you to work out while you work on your computer, either composing memos or sending emails.
This type of desk works well to lessen the sedentary nature of most jobs. Also, it’s a great way to potentially increase your focus and productivity levels while you work.
19. Trestle Desk
This is a smaller and more modern variation of the writing desk. It gives you a more spacious work surface with a lightweight, contemporary, and compact design. It’s trendy, cool, and the modern look made it immensely popular throughout Europe. It’s a plank of wood that gets placed between two trestles. This makes it practical and portable, and it’s great for apartments or small houses. You commonly pair it with a rolling and short filing cabinet for storage.
20. Writing Desk
The final type of desk on the list is the writing desk. It gives you a comfortable and stable space to write a letter, work on the computer, or even pen a novel. It’s very versatile too, and you can easily use it for other purposes like crafts or working on projects. It can be the centerpiece of your workspace.
Due to the flat surface, this desk gives you a distraction-free and basic space for typing or writing on your computer. The sizes can vary, but most of them are 36 inches wide by 24 inches deep. Styles also differ from desk to desk, and you can get everything from options made out of rustic barn wood to sleek, modern designs. Most of these desks come with thinner legs because they’re not meant to support a lot of storage.
Popular Materials for Types of Desks
The desktop is the space where you make contact with your desk, and this is where a huge amount of the interaction with this piece of furniture happens. Whether it’s acting like a simple table top or hiding storage, the material will determine how the desk feels and looks while you use it. The most popular materials are:
Glass surfaces add a very modern look to any type of desk. When you pair it with metal or wooden construction, the glass makes your visual space appear larger while lightening the furniture’s look. It’s often removable to make cleaning easy, and this also makes moving it or routine maintenance quick and easy. You can find them in a host of configurations and shapes.
Laminate surfaces act like a protective material on top of a wooden desk, just like laminate flooring. The coating is usually a type of plastic, and it’s meant to keep your actual desk warping and stain-free. This isn’t the most luxurious option you can get, but it provides versatility, practicality, and peace of mind.
A metal desktop gives you an industrial or utilitarian design. It works well to help you resist scuffs and stains with heavy use, and it’ll stay cool to the touch. It’s a very modern material when you pair it with a modern design, like glass. You can typically pair this type of desktop for a high-contrast look and feel.
Wood is the single most popular and traditional desktop material available. You’ll typically get them in a solid wood desk, but you can easily mount the wooden desktop on top of a metal frame for more durability.
Four Popular Desk Finish Options
Just like the construction material can vary for different types of desks, you can pick from a large range of finishes. We’re going to outline the most popular ones for you below.
A black desk will hold a slightly more modern tone to it than a more traditional wooden style. It also offers a more serious, stately look. Metal frame desks are also available in black, and the black desk will give you a more modern vibe than traditional wooden styles.
A grey wooden finish on your type of desk will lend a neutral and calm tone with a modern edge. It’s less traditional and warm than natural wood, but it’s also less serious and brighter than pure black. It allows the finish to strike a fine balance.
The natural wood tone, no matter if you stain it darker or lighter, it’s the most common finish available. It offers a timeless and classic look, and it’s stayed very popular to this day.
The final popular tone for your type of desk is white, and white finishes have seen a huge jump in popularity. It adds a sparkling, bright tone to any room you put it in, and a large white desk can work to open up your space.
We’ve outlined 20 types of desks that you can consider using in your own home if you’re thinking about buying one. Some may work better for specific spaces or needs, so it’s a good idea to sort through the products on the list to find the best option for your needs. This way, you’ll get a beautiful and functional piece of furniture that you can use for years at a time.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.