Like putting on a crisp, new white shirt or climbing into your own freshly made bed after a long-haul flight, settling down at a perfectly tidy desk is one of life’s greatest small pleasures. The hectic pace of modern existence dictates that so much business is now carried out via smartphones, on the road and on laptops, in a procession of hotel rooms, airport lounges and clubs, that when we slide our knees back under the desk we regard as mission control, it’s vital that it feels as good as coming home. And the way we arrange our working space is like a microcosm of that home. Our desks are highly tactile places, and smart product designers are developing new ways to enhance the working day, crafting desk accessories from luxe, often unexpected materials. We’ve come a long way from Newton’s Cradle and the executive toys of the 1980s. The desktop has never looked so good.
The celebrated artist and architect Ron Arad has collaborated with Swarovski to create a highly covetable collection of desk accessories. For his Alphabet & Numbers range (from £849) – in a font he created for the collection – Arad has cut chunky, tactile 15cm high crystal sculptures in the shapes of the letters of the alphabet and numbers from 0 to 9. It’s a delightful jeu d’esprit, but functional too: the pieces could serve as bookends or as paperweights, numbered and lettered to denote specific projects. You may never find a more glamorous way to organise piles of reports and correspondence.
The choice of material is also key in Tom Dixon’s Cube collection, which he describes as “continuing my exploration into cabinets of curiosities”. Dixon has already incorporated rose-tinted, copper-plated zinc alloy in a number of his design projects, including the interior of the Mondrian Hotel in London. His use of the material now in small desk objects is inspired – they have meticulous polish, are reflective, and have a mellow, warm glow. The tape dispenser (£60), desk tidy tray (£60) and stapler (£50) look like they belong in a sci-fi laboratory. There’s also a sculptural tablet stand (£60). The sheen that these objects have speaks of efficiency and order – just what is needed for a centre of operations.
Last year, Hermès launched the impeccably well-turned-out Equilibre d’Hermès collection at Salone del Mobile in Milan. As is the way with most things Hermès, everything looks like a gently mannered, futuristic interpretation of classic craft and styling. A fawn calfskin blotter (£4,310), for example, with a natural solid maple stand, is anything but staid. Meanwhile, the gold-plated-brass magnifying glass (£1,240) that balances like a set of scales on a leather cone looks like it could be a particularly stylish prop from a Peter Greenaway film about Fermat or Descartes. Ditto the Icosahedron paperweight (£3,670), which is fundamentally a function-free purchase (unless any paperwork finds itself within perilous range of a desk fan in summer), but is so delightful to touch and roll around and, with numbers on each panel, might just have its owner channelling The Dice Man and using it to decide what to order for lunch or where to go later that evening.
Understated elegance is the order of the day at Smythson, where the serene dove-grey calfskin Grosvenor collection, including a letter rack (£495), blotter (£495) and pen pot (£195), has joined the range of desk accessories. Over at Vitra, the designer Michel Charlot’s O-Tidy (£26) is a fun, slightly cartoon-like plastic saucer, incorporating a pen pot that comes in six different colours.
Klemens Schillinger’s Tabletop Landmarks have been fashioned from concrete and will appeal to fans of brutalism. Some look like Greek hippodromes or theatres, some like Mayan pyramids. Each piece is also a playful experiment in formalism. “I started by experimenting with simple geometric shapes and repetition,” says Schillinger, a product and furniture designer based in Vienna. “I wasn’t intending to create something that resembled these archetypal building shapes, but the resemblance was obvious when I designed the large Landmarks bowl [€49], so then I just went with it and designed my bookends [€69 for a set], based on the shape of a pyramid. The choice of concrete is functional as well as aesthetic: “It emphasises architectural resemblance,” explains Schillinger, “but also gives weight to the pieces – the bookends really need the weight to be useful for larger books.”
Punctuating a desk with interesting shapes and textures is rather similar to hanging art on a white wall, but for many people, harmony is more appealing than a bold statement – particularly when our desks are so frequently dominated by computer screens. The Connecticut-based design studio BassamFellows is known for sleek modernism that harks back to midcentury innovations. Its two designers, Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows, use the term “craftsman modern” to describe their aesthetic, which is embodied in the home they share in New Canaan – one of Philip Johnson’s 1950s architectural masterpieces, right across the street from his landmark Glass House.
Their desk accessories are made of walnut – a favourite material – and come in two styles: the Sharp Series and the Soft Series. The former is defined, as its name suggests, by precise and architectural lines, in the style of a parallelogram. The latter features gently rolled edges. Each set is carved from a solid wood block and both are modular: there are three Sharp boxes (short, $260; tall, $280; and long, $310); and two Soft boxes (long, $290, and short, $260) with a Soft tray ($190). At home, Bassam has the Soft series on his table, while Fellows uses the Sharp objects. “Both of us prefer to work on large tables, rather than desks,” says Fellows. “And tables don’t tend to have drawers, so we developed these pieces to satisfy a need. We want pieces that are beautiful and tactile to the touch. We use off-cuts of walnut that are too small to be used in our Tractor stools, chairs and tables. They have a heft to them that makes them feel special, like little sculptures.”
What Fellows likes most is how ordered the objects make them feel while they are working: “The desk accessories share many of the same details as our furniture. We strive for clarity in our environments and want things to coordinate.” Just as tidying a desk that has fallen into chaos feels so satisfying, sitting down at an immaculately ordered one, offset with simple, beautiful objects, is the perfect way to start the day.