I present another cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t take time to fully examine design elements, even ones that seems relatively minor. A badly placed sliver of wood can muck things up in unexpected ways.

Let’s examine this typical slant front desk:


A desk like hundred others I’ve seen.

Take a quick look at the back of the desk:


Interesting but not really germane.

A unique feature is this decoration on the bracket feet:


Not something I’ve seen before but there is so much furniture I have yet to see.

Today’s lesson exists in the gallery:


Looks ordinary and conventional. And it is, six drawers, a prospect and two document boxes (the door in the center and those skinny drawers on either side of it).

A closer view of the central area starts the narrative of the fail:


Quite handsome. No handles but big moldings.

Usually, if there are no handles on the boxes, there is some assist mechanism inside the prospect:


As is true here, a cutout in the back of the prospect that allows you to get your fingers behind the boxes and nudge them out.

The size of the molding on the right document box keeps the door from opening fully in turn prevents you opening any of the three drawers:


Hope there wasn’t anything you needed in the drawers.

The other problem you run into is that to open the door wide enough use the drawers, you need to remove the right document box. But if you open the door wide enough to get to the cutout in the back of the prospect, the door blocks the removal of the document box.

Not related to that issue the shrinkage of the wood making the sides of the document box:


A couple of splits and a little simple math.


I saw another example of questionable design in a secretary I saw at MESDA (Museum of Southern Decorative Arts) in Winston Salem. It was in this secretary:


An above average secretary. Lots going on here.

Then you see the back of the prospect door:


Was it known in advance that they needed to provide clearance for the drawer pulls or did they discover it the first time they tried to close the door?

One of the truly great mysteries of furniture design. We will never know.

It is claimed that George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate (in Asheville, NC, built 1889 to 1895) was one of the first residences to have fully plumbed bath tubs. The tubs all have overflow drains. Was this need anticipated or discovered?