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What is a Cylinder Desk?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cylinder desk is a specific type of furniture that includes a curved upper portion. Some people call it a cylinder top desk because the top section of the desk is curved. A cylinder desk that has a roll down top is also called a roll top desk.

Some people confuse the cylinder desk with a circular desk. The cylinder type of desk is not a circular structure. It has a square work space with four legs or lateral sides. The only cylinder portion is the sides or top of the desk.

The cylinder desk generally resembles a special kind of historic furniture called a Bureau Mazarin. These early desk designs had some interesting provisions. They were designed for use with only one knee under the desk. According to experts, this was to accommodate wealthy owners who wore swords that could get in the way of conventional seating. Over time, the cylinder desk evolved from the Bureau Mazarin, which had a series of drawers, brace frames, and similar construction.

Although a cylinder desk is generally made mostly of wood, some models made of metal or other materials are part of the general market for these types of desk designs. The traditional cylinder roll top desk has a solid wooden construction, with a slatted wood roll top. Antique cylinder desk models demonstrate the care that went into these quality work furniture items during past eras.

Part of the appeal of the cylinder desk is visual, but the cover that a roll top desk provides is also very functional. Some cylinder roll top models include locks for the tops of the desks. Inside of the cylinder roll top, there are various small boxes and drawers that can hold important items. The simple locking of a roll top is generally less sophisticated than those of modern desks with locking drawers.

Antique buffs point out that many of the older cylinder desks designed like a Bureau Mazarin were not always meant for practical use. Some were more in the category of furniture that was made to impress, or to adequately furnish a formal space like a classical study or receiving room. Many of today’s models are scaled down from the designs a visitor might see in a museum or historic building.

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