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Consider This: The Design Workhorse No One Talks About (That We Happen to Love)

image via architectural digest | design by thom felicia

Hi, everyone! Contributing writer Laurren here. Today, we’ve got a little something different for you. It’s not so much a trend discussion as much as it is an awesome-furniture-we-don’t-see-enough-people-using discussion. But before we jump in, let’s go back in time for a moment…

Every Saturday during my last year of college, my best friend and I would have brunch at this spot that served $1 mimosas. (Class!) The restaurant was attached to an antique mall, so it wasn’t uncommon for us to mosey our way over after eating. Most of the time, things ended harmlessly enough, but one day I laid eyes on a green secretary desk and, without much thought as to how I’d use it, told the dealer I’d take it. (How I managed to shove it in the back of my two-door Dodge Neon when I picked it up the next day is still a mystery to me.)  It wasn’t really something I could afford at the time—and I probably wouldn’t have purchased it without that tiny bit of liquid courage—but I never regretted it. It was the first piece of furniture I bought on my own based on want rather than need, and I felt very cool and adult about it. 

photo by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | from: the portland project living room reveal

Over the years, as I moved from apartment to apartment and city to city, that impulse buy became a lot of things—bathroom storage, a bar when I wanted a bar cart but couldn’t afford one, a makeshift jewelry cabinet, a desk-shaped junk drawer, lol, and even an actual workspace for actual work. It’s still the most versatile piece of furniture I’ve ever owned, and though I don’t regret finally getting rid of it a few years ago (my style took a more minimal turn), I’ve thought of it a lot since then.

With secret compartments and drawers that can be hidden away by a drop-down or roll-down panel, secretaries fall somewhere between a dresser, hutch, and desk. (Remember when you were young and cleaned your room by shoving everything under your bed? Adulthood is cramming your stuff into a secretary desk.) And these days, with so many styles on the market—from sleek and modern from big box stores to traditional vintage or antique pieces from places like Chairish—there’s really an option for every space. (See the roundup at the end.) All of this is to say we think it’s high time these multi-tasking workhorses (design darkhorses?) get the recognition they deserve. Here’s some inspiration for how you can work one into (almost) every room of your home. 


Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 6
image via house beautiful | design by juan carretero

Entryways are a space known for collecting clutter—let a secretary desk remedy that for you! The interior cubbies were practically made for corralling mail and other things you want to forget about.

Living Room

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 8
image via design*sponge

Thanks to its stealthy design, a secretary desk is an obvious choice for a living room that needs to double as an office. (There’s nothing relaxing about looking at a traditional desk from your couch!) If you have the space, opt for a taller piece with a hutch. Not only does it provide tons of storage, but it also draws the eyes up and brings height to the room. As with anything design related, it’s all about balance. Here, a more traditional style in a rich wood finish (remember when we said brown furniture is back?) is a refined counter to the room’s modern mushroom-y lamp and printed sofa.

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 16
image via domino | design by lynn k. leonidas

An antique secretary desk corrals a collection of books (and hats).

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 12
image via domino | design by lori paranjape

A paint job can be all you need to breathe new life into a tired piece. Here, a pinky-coral is a wild color choice made palatable by the desk’s more traditional shape. It could all be a little much in a smaller space, but it works here thanks to the room’s tall ceilings and otherwise neutral color palette.

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 13
image via manhattan nest | design by daniel kanter

Not all secretary desks are tall and stately, though! A shorty like the one pictured above is a great option for smaller spaces. 

Dining Room

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 3
image via lonny

In the dining room, a secretary desk with a glass hutch is a lovely way free up space in your kitchen and display special occasion items. (Because let’s be honest: if you can’t see it you won’t use it.) Utilize the drop-down table as extra serving space when you need it or style it up as a bar cart, as seen here.


Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 19
image via the washingtonian | design by darryl carter

No linen closet, no problem! Here, an antique Swedish secretary adds storage in a bathroom. (Pull up a chair—and a mirror—and you’ve got yourself a vanity, too!)

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 1
image via architectural digest | design by thom felicia

A honey-colored piece warms up this, large cool-toned master bathroom and also serves as a dressing table.

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 15
image via the makerista | design by gwen hefner

A petite secretary desk, like the one seen here, can go a long way in keeping countertops clear when space and storage is limited. (They’re a great option in a bathroom with a pedestal sink if you can squeeze it in.)


Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 5
image via lonny | design by robert passal

Plopped next to a bed, a shorter secretary desk with drawers (something larger could overwhelm a small room) is triple-threat piece, acting as a nightstand, desk and dresser in one.

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 17
image via pink peppermint design | design by tammy mitchell

In a kid’s room short on space, a small secretary desk in lieu of a traditional nightstand carves out a place to do homework.

Emily Henderson Secretary Desk Inspo Pic 2
image via anthropologie

This piece, with its cream and mint color combo, brass details and mirrored interior is a glam take on the traditional wood secretary desk.

Now that you’re thoroughly convinced to bring back the secretary desk (are you?), here’s a roundup of 39 of our favorites, including some pretty special vintage and antique finds.

Emily Henderson Secretary Desks Under $500

1. Fretwork Rattan and Seagrass Wrapped Secretary Desk | 2. IKEA Secretary Desk | 3. Fold Down Secretary | 4. Arian Secretary Desk | 5. Imported English Secretary with Leather Insert | 6. Mid-Century Mini Secretary Desk | 7. ACME Mullener Desk in Walnut | 8. Boone Secretary Desk with Veneer | 9. Drop Front Secretary Desk  | 10. Natural Rattan Rashida Secretary Desk | 11. ACME Wyanie Desk | 12. Loring Secretary Desk | 13. Mid-Century Fold Out Desk | 14. Thorton White Secretary Desk | 15. Secretary Desk

Emily Henderson Secretary Desks $500 $1,500

1. Mid-Century Hand Painted Chinoiserie Desk | 2. Arts and Crafts Mission Solid Oak Secretary Desk | 3. Gaston Floating Secretary Desk | 4. Covert Grey Secretary Desk | 5. Austin Work Station | 6. 1960’s Danish Teak Secretary Desk | 7. 1960’s Secretary Desk | 8. Eastman Secretary Desk | 9. Amish Mini Secretary Desk | 10. Nolan Secretary Desk | 11. Egon Ostergaard Teak Secretary Desk | 12. Mid-Century Secretary Bureau 

Emily Henderson Secretary Desks $1,500 & Up New

1. Traditional Baker Petite Secretary Desk | 2. Exec Secretary Desk | 3. Jace Desk | 4. Cameo Indigo Right Secretary Desk | 5. Vintage Baker Mid-Century Ebonized Campaign Desk | 6. 19th Century French Walnut Secretary Desk | 7. Black & Gilt Chinoiserie Desk | 8. Grove Office Armoire | 9. Brass Key Secretary Desk | 10. Italian Secretary Desk | 11. 19th Century French Iron Desk | 12. 18th Century Swedish Secretary Desk

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3 years ago

LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. Unexpected and great. Love to see the different uses and suggestions. It really is a workhorse.

3 years ago

So nice to see antiques in the mix of these contemporary rooms. That keeps a home from looking like a catalog. I have an antique cabinet and a “ladies desk” in my home and they balance out all the newly manufactured and more modern stuff quite nicely. I’m actually thinking of removing the china and glassware from my turn-of-the-century china cabinet and turning it into a book case. It’s fun to play with the purpose of these pieces.

Loveley of
3 years ago
Reply to  LouAnn

i was thinking too as i looked thru the pictures. it was nice to see those traditional/antiquey pieces used in modern spaces. i see so many of those on craigslist for super cheap. i think people figure they are outdated, but really, they just don’t know how to use them as a part of a mix of styles.

also, this post reminded me of a post that i wrote for my own blog (which i haven’t written in a long time) about the versatility/workhorseability of credenzas and how they work in every room.

3 years ago

Loveley: You mentioned Craigslist, so I stumbled over there again. Turns out the “Antiques” section has much more interesting furniture than the “Furniture” section! (At least in my neck of the woods in Philadelphia.)

Paula Carr
3 years ago

Yeah, I got a lot of my furniture decades ago from The Antique Guild here in L.A. The owner would go to the UK and would get container loads of “old” brown furniture for super cheap and sell them for super cheap. You can’t get that quality anymore unless you spend BIG bucks. The few pieces I bought new are long gone because they mostly fell apart.

3 years ago

The link for #4 in the $1500&up category doesn’t match the image 🙂

3 years ago

I’m sold! Great post.

3 years ago

I have my grandfathers secretary. Looks just like the coral one above. The drawers still smell like they did when I got my crayons out of them as a kid. Not painting it pink. No way. No how 🙂

3 years ago

My grandmother has one of these and I was always enchanted by it as a kid. I think they bring so much character to a room!

3 years ago

Agreed! And diaper storage/changing table too. I’ve had my grandmother’s secretary for almost 20 years and have used it as nightstand/dresser, desk, bar, hall decor, diaper storage/changing table, and nnow back to dresser. This is great inspo for another repurpose!

3 years ago

I found a mahogany secretary at a popup shop that I had to have. But how would I transport it home in my Camry? Serendipity! A neighbor I barely knew from a few blocks down our street appears and offers to take it in her Volvo! We formed a friendship that day and I scored my desk.

3 years ago

I love my secretary’s desk (although I call it a bureau – maybe that’s a British thing?). It used to belong to my great-grandmother (born in 1880) and still has a 10p stamp half stuck to the inside lid (it’s the current queen’s young head so not Victorian!) as well as black ink stains.

It now has my modem and cordless phone perched on the side, as well as house plants and antique books. It’s were I keep all those important documents and occasionally I will still use it to write out a cheque.

When my son sits in front of its perfectly proportion height and size, I wonder about the five generations of my family who have used this item.

Loving this post – and still loving my bureau.

3 years ago

I bought the small West Elm secretary (#6 in the under $500 section) to use as a makeup table/vanity when we moved into our new house. Do to an interesting window/built-in-closet situation, I have a little alcove that is JUST wide enough for this piece. I hung a small-ish mirror above it, pulled up an antique bentwood chair, placed my pretty stuff on top like perfume bottles and a necklace holder, and I can close it to hide all of my makeup mess!

3 years ago

I got a secretary last year for my entrway. Living in 800 sq ft means maximizing storage so I love the amount of stuff I can cram inside this guy, yet it still looks nice and clean on the outside. Here;s the entryway:

3 years ago
Reply to  stephieZ

Beautiful! I love the wallpaper too!

3 years ago

Oh my gosh I LOVE THIS! I have a vintage secretary desk from my great grandmother and I’ve been so worried about how to use it in my new house because we don’t have an “entry” (where it’s always lived). I never would have thought of all these uses but now it seems so obvious! Thank you for the inspiration!!

3 years ago

Love this!! A few months ago, I drove 5 hours (one way!) to pick up a 100 year old secretary for my 13 year old daughter’s room refresh. It’s been the perfect addition to her space for so many reasons- storage, pretties and a place to do homework!

Emily Jane Zarov
3 years ago

Before I even opened my eyes this morning I was thinking about utilizing my space more efficiently -by using a secretary desk! Wild… Great post -thank you : )

Roberta Davis
3 years ago

This made me go to 1stdibs and chairish and seriously consider buying a similar type piece for a particular spot in my home.

3 years ago

I was the stylist on that shot of Darryl Carter’s bathroom and it’s so fun to see my work on here!

3 years ago

I love this post! So nice to see antiques mixed with more modern rooms and rooms with color! As much as I love to look at the California neutral style, I just can’t decorate my house like that. I find it almost impossible to not put color everywhere and I love to mix up more ornate antiques with some modern pieces. This was right up my alley.

3 years ago

Thanks for showing the use of secretary desks in a number of scenarios. I love love love secretary desks and have been wanting one for my home for a while. It is definitely on the list of things to be done by my furniture guy – I live outside of the US and with the exchange rate, shipping and duties, the cost of these online beauties would more quadruple.

3 years ago

So I have a vintage secretary in my living room AND I used Brady’s hide-the-tv-in-a-cabinet tutorial to outfit it to hide all the electronic things.

My Emily Henderson worlds are officially colliding!

3 years ago

Great post Lauren. What I love about these pieces is that you can really show your style…color, finish, wild mouldings…because they are small and don’t overwhelm the room! Roundup is great!!

Sonia Quinones
3 years ago

OMG, it’s like you read my mind! I’ve been searching for an affordable, good looking secretary desk on and off for the last couple of weeks. These are such great options!

Tina Schrader
3 years ago

Wow! I kind of wish now I’d tried to find a secretary for my small room instead of a desk — not that I don’t like my desk; it would have just saved room. These are beautiful! Also, side issue — I am binge watching “Secrets From a Stylist” on the HGTV app (thanks Orlando! I’d been wondering where to find them!) and am wondering if you still have your diagnostic test online somewhere? I know what I like, but if I could classify it as a cohesive theme I think that would help me with my design challenges. Super bummed the show was cancelled, by the way. I love it!

Cris S.
3 years ago

Very mixed feelings about this post. It is awesome and exactly my style mix in most of these photos, and I love it all! But also, no, don’t tell people that brown furniture is back and show them these great examples until AFTER I’ve purchased the furniture I want for our new house!!! Sigh. You try to believe you are above the trends and the algorithms, but you really aren’t.

Anne Davis
3 years ago

#2 on $1500 and up is not from ETSY but CHARISH and not $845 but $1967.

Lynn W
3 years ago

Love this post!!!
My Mom has my Nanny’s mahogany secretary desk. There are still reminders of my Nanny left in a couple drawers and a tiny yellow dachshund figurine with a pink bow that my Nanny taped onto the front of one of the drawers. As a child I was allowed to sit and open the drawers to see what was hidden in them. Such great memories!
Thank you for letting me share ?

3 years ago

My teenage daughter never did homework on her desk because it was always covered with stuff. After endless and fruitless “clean-up!” arguments, we replaced her desk with a secretary desk. Lots of drawers to put her stuff and always a clear surface to do her homework. It’s her favourite piece of furniture (yet she still does her homework on the floor!)

3 years ago

I also used to have a Dodge Neon and I felt like the car loved me and would always come through in amazing ways! I also have a love of secretary desks, and if you plan to use it every day you need to find one with room underneath for your feet and legs, or else your body is not positioned correctly and you end up with mysterious pains. I just had to put mine in storage for a time when I have a bigger house, and then buy a more practical work from home desk. Luckily, I found a pretty desk with some nice curves, so it made the loss a little more bearable.

Monique Wright Interior Design
3 years ago

I have an idea! Since you have expanded your team so much at the top of each post there could be a picture of who wrote it next to their name? That way we could put faces with names? Also love these pieces! ?

3 years ago

My mom inherited a very old mahogany secretary from her grandmother. I grew up with it in my childhood home, and after college my mom gave it to me. Now it’s in the house my daughter is growing up in! It’s gigantic and weighs one billion lbs and has been hard to lug from place to place, but it’s so sturdy. The mahogany has a flame in it so it ripples in the sunlight. I can’t remember a time without it. It’s like a sibling to me! I’ve literally never read or heard anyone talk about a secretary in the furniture sense before, so this was such a nice surprise!

Alice Y
3 years ago

I’m so thrilled to see this post! My sister lives in a small apartment and has no room for a traditional desk and just last night I was telling her to check out a small secretary desk. I can’t wait to show her this write up.

D Tis
3 years ago

Yes! Lucked out and found one for $30 (talked them down from $50!) at a garage sale up the road after watching Craig’s list for weeks. It needs some work, but the more I live with it the more I love the dings, scratches and missing part from the leg. I would love to add some tiny knobs to the drawers. An EH link up of those would be great! 😉

3 years ago

Oh my gosh, I was literally just thinking about how cool it would be if these would come back in style in a more modern day version !! Well not exactly become a trendy thing but bc they’re so useful! ?

Julie Eberle
3 years ago

You’ve got the first piece of furniture I ever bought, my Egon Ostergaard desk (a name I’ve learned from your article). Mine’s in rosewood. I’ve had it for 40 years and it’s the last piece of furniture I’d ever part with. I bought it from a store called The Contemporary House in Dallas, and told them I wanted the one on the floor because I loved the pattern in the wood. My mother told me to wait two months for the sales, but I wanted that one, and so glad that was the one I got.

data togel syd
3 years ago

You made some good points there. I looked on the internet for the subject matter and found most individuals will approve with your site.

3 years ago

Love this post! Hurray for secretary’s!

Cheryl Kohan
3 years ago

I totally agree that these are little workhorses. I have a small one in my small guest room. I have a mirror over it so it can be used as either a spot for makeup, etc. or a place for my guests’ laptops. I bought it on impulse, too, at a sweet consignment shop called Bella Galleria in Edina, Minnesota…one of my favorite places to find treasures in the Twin Cities.
3 years ago

A big yes to everything you said. Thanks

3 years ago

I love this post but I REALLY want to see a picture of your secretary desk!

3 years ago

LOVE this article!! Thank you for the reminder of what a useful, beautiful and practical item can do for the home. Paper “stuff” is a pet peeve and this would be a wonderful solution that I totally forgot about. LOVE the bathroom idea as a vanity and the photo examples are perfect.

3 years ago

Great article and lovely pictures. Now about Fridays post which seems to have disappeared thank you. I couldn’t get past the first few sentences so maybe it was a nice article. It just made me uncomfortable from the beginning. I know you don’t exist to make me comfortable but something felt weird about it Let’s encourage more volunteering and family time not analyzing whatever that article was about. Will be back tomorrow and thanks for taking it down. Love all the design stuff!

3 years ago

I love this! I have a vintage secretary that is closed up and kind of ignored. I’m inspired to style it up and put it in a more prominent place. Your examples are great. Question: why would anyone buy new when there are such cute vintage secretaries out there, sometimes for less money? Just
My opinion.

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