The concept of an office as a place where work takes place, documents are stored and records are kept. The earliest offices on record were part of temples and palaces in the Roman Empire. The word ‘office’ derives from the Latin root ‘officium’, which has several meanings including ‘service’, ‘courtesy’ and ‘duty’. Over the centuries office furniture has changed to adapt to the differing needs of modern workers. This was especially true throughout the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s, where office jobs became far more prolific.
For centuries papers were simply bundled together in groups for data storage with no real system. This was true until the mid-1800’s when the first filing cabinets were created. In 1868 there were two models competing on the market – the Letter File and the Document Cabinet. Letter files had flat drawers with metal devices to hold papers in place, and the drawers were labelled alphabetically. Document files were designed to hold legal documents that were traditionally folded twice before storage. These proved popular with legal firms and the railways. By 1897 Sectional or Expanding cabinets came onto the market, and as early as 1898 we saw the precursor to what we think of as a filing cabinet today.
The first desks, or bureaus, were recorded in the 1600’s. They were sloping affairs designed for writing letters and other correspondence. By 1702 we saw the first ‘kneehole desks’, which were essentially chests of drawers with the middle cut out underneath. By the mid-eighteenth century ornate wooden desks were featured in all the libraries of all the grand houses. The pedestal desk which is currently common came into being in the early 1800’s and has changed little in design ever since. The materials used have altered dramatically however, as desks have gone into mass production to fulfil the demands of growing businesses. They are now relatively cheap to produce and far less ornate than they were a few hundred years ago, but still just as practical.
Office chairs have perhaps undergone the most innovation of any type of office furniture. On today’s market there are hundreds of designs to choose from, many of which are ergonomically designed to support the human frame whilst sitting. The first mobile chair on record belonged to Charles Darwin, who reportedly attached wheels to his chair so he could reach his specimens more rapidly. This design caught on in the US at the time of the railways being built, as the first real administrative jobs opened up. Since then chair design has progressed so that now we can sit in an office chair and be fully supported in every muscle group whilst also being able to remain mobile.