The secretary, once fashionable, is coming back


December 09, 1990|By RITA ST.CLAIR

All of a sudden there seems to be widespread interest in a piece of furniture that, in our computer age, might be considered rather archaic. I'm referring to the decorative bookcase-secretary.

Lately, I've been receiving several inquiries about its proper use and display. Some want to know how best to place it in a room, while others ask how to get the most out of its functional potential.

I'm not sure why the secretary is now enjoying such a strong revival, but I do know that it should never have fallen out of favor in the first place.

One general bit of advice I offer is that so imposing a piece ought not to be isolated in its location. The wall space around it needs to be dressed up with sconces, paintings and other decorative objects.

A tall bookcase-secretary must also be properly lighted if it is to fulfill its intended role as a room's focal point. The type of lighting will vary, however, depending on the style of the piece.

Undershelf interior lighting in the bookcase cabinet itself is most suitable for a simple, unembellished secretary that derives its decorative value from the objects it contains. For a more elaborate piece, like the one shown in the photograph, it makes sense to install properly directed, low-voltage ceiling lighting, either recessed or affixed to the surface. A Bouillotte candlestick desk-top lamp with a metal shade makes a nice addition to this type of secretary.

From a functional standpoint, this is a good place for locking up important papers. All sorts of other personal items might be stored as well in the many drawers that a secretary contains. The drop-front desk, meanwhile, can be ideal for writing letters and for making notes while talking on the telephone.

This is one of the original pieces of multipurpose furniture.

The model seen here is a beautiful reproduction of an 18th century Venetian secretary. The original is part of a collection assembled by Eleanor McMillen Brown, the founder of McMillen Inc., a New York interior design firm. The Baker Furniture Company manufactures this and other reproductions of pieces in that collection.

Expressing the glories of Venice in its prime, this secretary is done in brilliant red lacquer and is decorated with Chinese scenes in gold and black lacquer. It has a baroque, fitted interior and antique-style hinges and teardrop pulls.

A piece this striking will almost automatically have a commanding presence in any room -- all the more so if it is flanked with pull-up chairs, light sconces and other objects that will act as a frame for such a noble work of art. Any secretary, whether highly adorned or simply designed and finished, should never be shoved into whatever space happens to be available. A piece strong enough to have an entire room designed around it deserves to be properly adorned on the inside and in the surrounding area.

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