No one really knows when the first real business office was created. That historical development will be left to the ages. What we do know is that business has made some important transitions since the days when cottage industries were the norm. The shift of work from the home to a centralized location created a completely new work environment and also created a need for specialized furniture.
In an interesting twist of history, working from home has made somewhat of a comeback. The growing trend towards telecommuting is a direct result of the boon in office technology that allows many people to work from remote locations.
The Office Basics
The desk is and has been the core piece of office furniture. The desk is often our home away from home. In short, the desk is where most office gets done. Home to a computer, telephone and other pieces of office technology, the desk is the frame, the lattice work of our daily work routine. Colloquial expressions like desk jockey, flying a desk, driving a desk and so on, give us some indication of how many folks feel about being, you should pardon the expression, deskbound.
In the days before electricity, ballpoint pens and other advancements in office technology, desk designs had some features unique to the times. Before the invention of the pencil, the ink pen was standard equipment for most desks. The feather quill was eventually replaced by ink pens, and ink pens replaced by the fountain pen. Common to all of these devices was the inkwell. Most every desk featured a spot for an inkwell that was in reach of the writer. Imagine having to dip your pen into the well hundreds of times a day. I get writers cramp just thinking about it.
When In Doubt File It
The file cabinet is another essential piece of office furniture. Even in this day of mass digital storage, paper still plays an important part in many work environments. Creating paper documents creates the need for a place to properly store them. There has been literally hundreds of different office furniture pieces designed to store different documents.
The Seat of Power
No, this does not refer to the chair in the bosses office. Early designs for office chairs were based on the ergonomic knowledge available at the time. From steno chairs, desk chairs and, of course, the chair the boss sits in, the office chair has changed dramatically over the years. Long hours spent sitting at an office desk often resulted in physical problems like bad backs and other occupational hazards of office life. Office furniture designers have turned to the world of occupational therapy and ergonomics to make office chairs more user friendly.
More padding, lower back support and adjustable heights are just a few of the design changes we have seen in office chairs. The ergonomic approach has been extended to many aspects of office furniture design including desks, computers and even filing systems.
Electricity Comes to the Office
Lacking electricity until the turn of the Twentieth Century, no well equipped desk was complete without an oil lamp, and a place to put it. Even when electricity came to urban areas around the world, many rural areas would go many years without electric light. The introduction of electricity into the office environment produced a change in the design of office furniture.
Electricity made it possible for electric typewriters, computers and other technology driven office tools to increase worker productivity. Besides, no well equipped desk is complete without an electric pencil sharpener. Seriously, the electronic digital office has completely changed the way we work. In spite of advances in technology and office design the desk and chair will remain as essential pieces of office furniture.