Double-Duty Davenports

Cameron and I visit both the Blue Bird Circle and the Guild Shop – two of Houston’s best resale shops – every week or so. We’re not hoarders, but we do like to find old stuff for our old house: vintage light fixtures, brass hardware, old art books, blotchy antique mirrors, wood frames. He can rewire anything electric; I enjoy refinishing wood. One of our recent searches was for a desk.

The place for the desk had already been identified. It was to go in a wide hallway on the second floor near a window. Cameron wanted a quiet spot near the bedroom for working on his laptop and handwriting notes. The desk had to be small and fairly light in style – nothing big, brown and blocky. The wood should be genuine and old, but in decent condition. Points given for drawers that were still tightly joined and in smooth working order.

Nothing quite right had surfaced over the course of a couple months. So a few weeks ago, we visited an old favorite haunt that had moved, Thompson’s Antique Center of Texas. (In case you lost track of Thompson’s after their old sprawling location at I-10 and the West Loop was torn down, you’ll find them now on the west end of the Northwest Mall.)

There we found a little desk in the Eastlake style identified on its tag as a Davenport desk. Online research revealed that a Davenport desk is “a small desk with an inclined lifting desktop attached with hinges to the back of the body,” something like a schoolhouse desk. Lifting the desktop accesses a compartment with drawers, cubbies and/or pigeonholes. Two things that are notable about a Davenport desk is the stack of drawers on one or both sides of the back of the desk (sometimes the drawers are concealed by a panel) and the legs or pillars (sometimes elaborately carved) that support the front. Its name apparently comes from a Captain Davenport who first commissioned the design from Gillows of Lancaster (England) near the end of the 18th century.

The desk style was popular throughout the 19th century, and you can still buy a nice vintage piece. On eBay original Davenport desks cost between $500 and $2500, though some are listed for several thousand dollars, depending on their rarity. In addition, reproductions are widely available. 

The wood finish on the desk we bought was a little abused but we anticipated it would clean up nicely. One thing we especially liked was that all of the desk drawers were like new. More research revealed that the curious half-moon joinery (photo below) was invented by Charles Knapp right after the Civil War and is also called pin-and-cove, which dates our desk to having been made between 1870 and 1900.


So suppose you inherit a Davenport desk, but you don’t need another desk in your home. The Davenport desk is so handsome and functional that it can be repurposed many ways. It would be charming as a lady’s dressing table in a closet or in a bedroom nook in front of a window. Or give it a new life as a cocktail station, in either a guest bedroom or your library.