The Evolution of Office Furniture: From Humble Beginnings to Modern Comfort

Office furniture, an integral part of our work environment, has evolved significantly over the centuries. Let's embark on a journey through time to explore the fascinating history of office furniture and how its earliest forms were anything but the comfort and style we associate with today's modern workspaces.

The Ancient Office: From Scrolls to Simple Seating

In the ancient world, the concept of a designated office space was quite different from what we know today. The earliest "offices" were often communal spaces where scribes and administrators gathered to conduct bureaucratic tasks. Instead of sophisticated desks and chairs, the primary tools were simple wooden tables and stools.

In ancient Egypt, for example, scribes would use wooden tables to unroll and work on papyrus scrolls, while basic stools provided a place to sit. The emphasis was on functionality rather than comfort or aesthetics.

Medieval Manuscripts and the Birth of the Desk:

During the medieval period, the need for more structured workspaces emerged with the rise of manuscript writing. Desks, in the form of lecterns or slanted writing surfaces, became more common. Monks and scholars used these desks to meticulously transcribe religious texts and other important documents.

However, these early desks were still rudimentary, lacking the drawers and compartments we associate with modern office furniture. They were often heavy, immobile structures with minimal consideration for the comfort of the user.

The Renaissance and the Secretary:

The Renaissance period witnessed a significant shift in the design of office furniture. The introduction of the secretary desk marked a departure from the bulky, fixed structures of the past. Secretary desks featured various compartments and drawers, providing a more organized workspace.

Despite these advancements, the secretary desk remained a luxury item, limiting its accessibility to the elite. The majority of office workers continued to rely on basic tables and stools well into the 18th century.

The Industrial Revolution and the Birth of the Office Chair:

The Industrial Revolution brought about transformative changes in the workplace, leading to the establishment of larger offices and factories. With this shift came the need for more practical and comfortable office furniture.

The mid-19th century saw the introduction of the first true office chair, designed by Charles Darwin's cousin, Francis Darwin. This early office chair featured casters for easy mobility and a swivel mechanism, setting the stage for the ergonomic office chairs we use today.

20th Century Innovations: Steel, Plywood, and Ergonomics:

The 20th century witnessed a surge in innovation and the widespread adoption of new materials. Steel desks became popular for their durability and functionality, while plywood allowed for more dynamic and modern designs.

The mid-20th century marked a turning point with the introduction of ergonomic principles into office furniture design. Designers like Charles and Ray Eames embraced ergonomics, paving the way for the comfortable and stylish office furniture we see in contemporary workplaces.


Commercial furniture has a long history, and it is fascinating to compare the furniture from thousands of years ago to the revolutionary products that exist today. We are no longer living in ancient times, and you should do yourself a favour and embrace modern office furniture! Simplova is a commercial furniture supplier based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and can provide you with all your office furniture needs!