There are two kinds of trestle desks, the antique form and the modern improvisation.
Antique trestle desk
The antique trestle desk is usually very much like the writing table desk form, which offers a simple flat desktop surface with a few drawers underneath it. Unlike the writing table the trestle desk is supported by two legs instead of four, and the legs are designed to be dismantled easily in order to store or move the desk efficiently. More precisely, the two legs are two strong side supports which branch out in two feet each (for a total of four) at the bottom.
Some antique trestle desks are fitted with small cubbyholes and nooks or small drawers at the extremity of the work surface, and thus resemble a bureau à gradin.
As with most antique desk forms, this trestle desk surface is usually 29 inches (73.7 cm) from the floor.
Modern trestle desk
The modern trestle desk is not so much a desk form as a desk improvisation. In shape and manufacture it sometimes resembles certain variations of the antique field desk which was used by officers not too far from the battlefield. Basically, the modern trestle desk improv is a plank of wood set on two trestles.
It is eminently portable, and eminently practical, when care is taken to provide stable trestles. The advent of the cubicle desk created a market for independent desk elements of all kinds, such as short, rolling filing cabinets. These proved suitable for use under a trestle desk and encouraged improvisation.
During the heyday of the dot-com boom, many companies liked to go to the extremes in office furnishings. Some would stock rooms with expensive Aeron chairs and the most lavish type of ergonomic desk available, while others would have their employees sit on boxes and work on desks made of used doors set on old trestles or crates. Others still mixed the costly and the cheap, sometimes to the advantage of the user, by doing things like picking good quality chairs and making cheap but sturdy trestle desk improvisations. These activities popularised the trestle desk as a desk form, and some of this survived after the dot-com burst in the year 2000.
In the United States, a desk or a table set on X-shaped trestles is sometimes called a sawbuck table.
See also the list of desk forms and types.
- Gloag, John. A Complete Dictionary of Furniture. Woodstock, N.Y. : Overlook Press, 1991.
- Moser,Thomas. Measured Shop Drawings for American Furniture. New York: Sterling Publlishing Inc., 1985.