Flipping Jefferson's desk



I've been fascinated with Thomas Jefferson's revolving desk for a very long time. The arrangement is always the same 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. It was very difficult to get my legs onto the ottoman. I wasn't able to cross my feet as I typically do using an ottoman. The writing position was very uncomfortable. I also found the rotating features to be fairly useless. I wondered why two sides of the desk were made flat and two rounded? It all felt entirely unnatural. Jefferson wrote 9,000 letters while sitting at his desk. How? 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 spin around 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 sit erect or lean forward, in a natural position, to write thousands of letters. Then he can turn the desk, either direction, one-quarter turn, to spin around to the ottoman, swinging the legs up to rest and lean back comfortably. In this position, 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 by easily spinning around and then turn the rounded side of the desk towards him so it is close and comfortable for writing.


In this arrangement, I use my Jefferson desk for many hours every day. It feels perfectly useful, versatile and natural. I sent a letter to The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello to get their opinion on the arrangement. Update to follow.


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