When advising fledgling writers, the author Anne Lamott suggests imitating the voice of those they look up to as a way of finding their own voice before giving back to the creative ether. Similarly, even the most seasoned artists spend hours looking at masterworks to better conquer form and style. So, if we are to also mimic the spaces of our favorite designers, artists, and tastemakers, why not start with the very place their magic often begins: the desk. If the success of auctions such as the recent Joan Didion or Ruth Bader Ginsburg collections are any indicator, the special power of objects to spark creativity and carry on the work of our heroes is omnipresent.
In the spirit of inspiration, we’ve asked a our favorite artists and designers to share the items that delight them in their workspaces every day. From the utilitarian to the exuberantly decorative, here are their personal picks.
“Everyone should have a neat and tidy desk. A big, blank expanse of tabletop. And then you can get over it. Add a Mexican ceramic dish, ideally one that’s too pretty for storing paperclips. The paper clips live in a Chinese export saucer nearby. Next to this, you might have—as I do—a vintage wooden corkscrew beside a tortoise-shell cup which holds markers you could use but—isn’t it funny—you never do, since you prefer pens. Pilot Fineliners in black. I like to keep mine in our Garden Box, made of a deep Atlantic blue resin with suspended, glittering flakes of gold leaf and a cast mushroom pull. Sometimes it’s nice to hide things under a lovely lid.” – Kyle Marshall, Creative Director of Bunny Williams Home
Garden Box with Mushroom Lid, $165, bunnywilliamshome.com
“This folder is not actually made from bone—it’s some kind of resin—but it looks and feels like it was carved from a tusk. I got it at the special bookbinding supply store, Talas, in Brooklyn. I use it to separate the pages from my watercolor paper blocks, and smooth over collages. I take it with me everywhere, and the TSA doesn’t seem to mind!” – Happy Menocal, painter and designer
Teflon Folders, from $19, talasonline.com
“I still read books.
So, i still use a Filofax. Turning the pages – looking back – looking ahead. All a treat.
And I use a Blackwing pencil (as did Nabokov) to write things down.
The important part is that it comes with a good eraser.
Things change. We are flexible. We sharpen. We write. We erase appointments.
– Maira Kalman, author and illustrator
Daniel Rauchwerger & Noam Dvir
“Knowing some of Tino Seubert’s work as an industrial designer, we found this piece particularly interesting as it almost feels like a little model of something bigger, like a prototype. Cast in one solid material and color, it has a very sculptural presence on the desk, making it a cool object to look at both when it has pens in it and when it is empty.” – Daniel Rauschwerger and Noam Dvir, co-founders of BoND Architecture Firm
Flute Pencil Tray, £95, tinoseubert.com
“We just can’t resist a happy pattern and these charming Batik File Folders from Amanda Lindroth make staying organized chic and easy!” – Gen Sohr, founder of Pencil & Paper Co.
Batik File Folders (Set of 12), $25, amandalindroth.com
“Antique pink lusterware is delicious in any form, but small ‘Sunderland’ pitchers are particularly common on the antiques market, making them extremely affordable—and all the more tempting for it. At my desk, I keep a newer model produced along traditional lines by a pottery in Sussex. In it goes pens, highlighters, and scissors, and because it’s so sturdy, I don’t worry about chipping it or splitting it in two during a moment of workday distraction.” – Michael Diaz-Griffith, executive director of Design Leadership Network and author of The New Antiquarians: At Home with Young Collectors (The Monacelli Press)
Take Me to London Small Jug, £75, sussexlustreware.co.uk
“This tole tulip lamp designed by Carleton Varney is the perfect addition to my desk. It’s great to have blooming flowers all year round, even if I don’t have time to get fresh ones. A decorative desk lamp not only adds function, but also adds some softness to what can be such a utilitarian setting.” – Rudy Saunders, Senior Designer at Dorothy Draper & Co.
Spring Multi-Color Tulip Lamp, $765, dorothydraperhome.com
Scot Meacham Wood
“My favorite desk companion is my well-worn monogrammed notebook from Smythson of London. It’s the perfect place to jot down a quick note while walking or measuring a job site and shopping for textiles. I know many might prefer taking notes on a device, but the feel of ink on paper always delights me. I love the permanence of paper.” – Scot Meacham Wood, interior designer
Soho Notebook in Panama, $250, smythson.com