A man’s desk is his life. It’s where he does his work, pays his bills, keeps his keepsakes, composes his words and his thoughts. It might be the most intimate piece of furniture in the house — it’s where one is most fully alone, and where, tethered to an often unassuming 50 square feet, a man can finally get down to business. That’s why finding the right desk is so important.
In college, it was enough to throw an old door on top of some milk crates and call it a day. But all flat surfaces are not created equal. A good desk should, first and foremost, address your working needs. Must it be purpose-built for our hyper-connected world, with carved out places for unsightly cords and cables, or integrated drawers and nooks to hide away the clutter of a not-quite-entirely paperless world? Or does it need to be big and flat and have a drawer to stash your checks? Or does it just have to blend in with the living room, or the kitchen, or the bedroom, because who actually has a separate home office anyway?
Whatever the case, a good desk should also look good — after all, you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time sitting in front of it. Fortunately, plenty of bespoke furniture makers sell gorgeous, modern workspace options. We’ve narrowed down the field with this list of great contemporary desks at a variety of sizes, styles and prices. Actually getting down to work, though, is up to you.
Herman Miller Airia Desk
Editor’s pick: That’s a lot of money, right? Sure. But that’s not the point. Herman Miller’s Airia desk, designed by Kaiju Studios, is an elevated, symphonic battle between form and function. On the one hand, the clean, flowing lines of burnished walnut and gleaming white aluminum are reason enough to spend the cash, if you have it. On the other hand, it does so much more than just look good. It has a hidden drawer along the front, a raised surface along the back, and a trough for stashing cables or pens or whatever else you don’t want seen. The design makes for a clutter-free workspace, even for those with chronic clutter issues. So buy it or covet it from afar. Either way, this desk is the benchmark.
BlueLounge Studio Desk
Best desk for plugging in: It’s almost a cliché now, but it bears repeating: we don’t work like we used to. Everything important’s on a hard drive, every action’s on a screen, every minute of the workday is tethered to a piece of tech. And when all those things — laptop, external hard drive, cell phone, speakers — need to be plugged in, a desk can become an annoying mess. Enter the BlueLounge Studio Desk, which cleverly has a cut-out for cables and a built-in power bar hidden under its main surface. That way, all the cables bunch up out of sight, and only a single cord emerges from the back of the desk, taking up a single space on your wall outlet.
Celine Desk by Nazanin Kamali
Best desk for design enthusiast: OK, all of these desks are meant for design enthusiasts. But the Celine Desk is for a special breed. Look more closely at its form: a series of hard rectangles on top, with curved, slanting legs below. Designer Nazanin Kamali has crafted a paean to the mid-century modern aesthetic, a desk that would be as at home in a Frank Lloyd Wright house as in a modern condo. It’s almost surprising it doesn’t come in teak — though maybe that just would’ve been too much on the nose. One thing’s for sure, though: sixty years from now, it’s bound to look just as good as it does now.
The Covet Desk by Shin Azumi
Best desk for the open-minded: Glass surfaces are dangerous. They smudge, they crack, they showcase your under-desk clutter and they require a coaster. Shin Azumi, the Japanese-born, London-educated designer, doesn’t care about any of that. A massive glass surface anchors his Covet Desk, perched lightly on top of a walnut or oak frame that looks kind of like a set of IKEA trestles all grown up. The glass lets you see right down to the open storage shelf below, and right into the desk’s single tiny drawer. This is a desk for opening up to the world.
One Less Desk by Heckler Designs
Best desk for the short of space: Heckler Designs is all about finding solutions for problems you didn’t know you had yet. The One Less Desk is a perfect example. Given that most work is done on a computer, which ultimately takes up very little desk space, the One Less Desk aims to take up as little space as possible while remaining functional. Its sliding steel lower and upper decks nest on top of each other when not in use. The lower deck is the perfect height for a keyboard; the upper deck is the perfect height for a monitor.
Crate & Barrel Clybourn Desk
Best desk at which to always be closing: We couldn’t rightly put a big metal desk — the kind that’s populated every middle American office for the past half century — on this list. Crate and Barrel’s Clybourn desk is close, though. It’s a big desk for big business, a muscular riff on the classic American workhorse where generations of men accounted, legislated or sold. This one’s made in Wisconsin using brushed steel and walnut (both sourced in America, too). It’s solid, it’s symmetrical, and it doesn’t bother with hiding cables or keyboards. It’s meant to dominate a room, to say solemnly and almost smugly that this, right here, is a place where work — real work — gets done.
West Elm Flat-Bar Storage Desk
Best desk for filing that shit away: The Flat-Bar Storage Desk is small: at only 52 x 22 x 30 inches, it’s built to tuck into a corner or, thanks to its airy metal frame, all but disappear next to a guest bed or the living room couch. But it’s surprisingly functional, using asymmetry to its advantage. The desk is named for the two drawers hanging lightly on its left leg, one shallow for pens and things, another deep and made for standard size files. In fact, it’s one of the only desks of its size (on this list, or anywhere) that can accommodate such plentiful storage. Because what’s the point of having such a compact desk if you’re just going to have boxes of files lying on the floor beside it?
Room & Board Gallery Leaning Desk
Best multi-tasking desk: Is it a bookshelf? Is it a desk? Short answer: it’s both. Long answer: it’s a damn hard-working piece of furniture that doesn’t much care for your excessive use of labels, thank you very much. Rather, the leaning desk is made for those with little space and lots of imagination. It rises as high as a typical bookshelf, and with its four open shelves, it might be construed as one from the other side of the (likely very small) room. But its effortless lean allows for a deeper-than-average bottom shelf: your desk. And since the only thing you really need on your desk is a laptop anyway, it’s just the right size.
Float Wall Desk
Best desk for extreme minimalists: Orange22 Design Lab’s Float Wall Desk is a visual trip-up. It’s a 52 pound, 60-inch-long table hanging in midair, seemingly unsupported save against that lone back wall. That means it’s great for maximizing floor space in small rooms, or just for messing with people when they visit your office. And, because it can be mounted at any height, you can use it as a standing desk, which, all possible legless jokes aside, makes it one of the more ergonomically friendly desks on this list.
Torino Desk Table
Best desk for keeping secrets: It looks like a solid block of white acrylic you can put things on, and not much else. Hell, CB2 even calls it a table, and tables don’t usually have anything to hide. But pull a small, semi-secret handle and you’ll find storage space below. It’s better than a drawer, because the storage stretches the entire length and width of the tabletop — and also because unless you know that it opens, you probably won’t open it. As the saying goes, the safest place to hide something is in plain sight.