I've been fascinated with Thomas Jefferson's revolving desk for a long time. I studied the photos taken from inside Jefferson's private cabinet room at Monticello. The arrangement is always the same set up with three elements: a desk with rotating top, a swivel chair and a bench ottoman.
I liked the 3 pieces together so much that I made a measured reproduction for my own use. Unfortunately, I could never get comfortable using it. It was clumsy getting into position: with my legs scrunching down the ottoman. I wasn't able to cross my feet under the desk. The writing position (body leaning toward the desk) was very uncomfortable.
Jefferson wrote 9,000 letters while sitting at his desk. How? I also found the rotating features to be fairly useless. I wondered why two sides of the desk made flat and two rounded? I couldn't figure it out, so the desk went nearly unused for a year. However, my admiration for Jefferson kept pushing me to figure out why he designed his desk this way. Then one day it hit me; the flat sides of the desk are made to turn toward the sitter so that the chair can rotate 180 degrees without banging into the desk. Why does the chair need to do that? It's because the ottoman belongs behind the chair - not under the desk! In this arrangement, the convex and concave curves of the chair and ottoman fit together perfectly like a chaise - only an inch apart. The sitter can sit comfortably at the desk. He can lean forward and write thousands of letters. Then he turn the desk either direction one-quarter turn, spin around to the chaise and lean back comfortably. He can easily cross his feet or pull up his knees. He can read from a rotating book stand or converse with visitors. He can slip back into the writing position with a quick turn around and then turn the rounded side towards him so the desk is close and comfortable for writing.
In this arrangement, I use my Jefferson desk nearly every day. I sent a letter to The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello to get their opinion on the arrangement. Update to follow.
Newell 2003 © All rights reserved.