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It’s not surprising that antique desks have surged in popularity recently, as we more work from home. If you are looking for something compact and versatile, the secretaire chest of drawers might be for you. It not only adds character to your home but is an incredibly functional piece of furniture too! When open, the secretaire is dynamic and multifunctional. When closed, it’s a sophisticated, space-saving piece of furniture.

Here we explain what a secretaire chest of drawers is and explore its history, different styles and enduring appeal.

The Secretaire Chest of Drawers - Secrétaire à abattant - The Past Perfect Collection - Singapore

A secrétaire à abattant features in a Park Avenue Apartment in New York. AD- Photo Roger Davies


Taking its name from the French word for the piece, secrétaire, the  desk dates back to the 18th century, when Paris-based cabinetmaker Jean-François Oeben, known for his exquisite marquetry and clever mechanical desks, is thought to have invented the secrétaire à abbattant, or drop-leaf desk.

Simply put, a secretaire desk is a piece of furniture with a hinged writing surface that folds open or drops down. When the leaf is folded out, small inner storage compartments — pigeonholes, cubbies, recesses or drawers — are revealed.

While the defining drop-down feature of the secretaire desk has remained constant, the materials used, as well as its configuration, size and style have evolved over time.


The interesting feature of the secretaire chest of drawers is that the top drawer opens to a secretaire interior. By pushing the buttons on the inner side of the top drawer, the front falls down and provides a fine writing surface, equipped with pigeonholes and drawers. And how exciting: most of the secretaire chests of drawers have many secret compartments that are not easy but fun to find!

The lower drawers have ampel storage space for important business and family documents.

A British colonial secretaire chest of drawers made of rosewood ©The Past Perfect Collection

Top drawer opens to reveal a secretaire interior, fitted with a black leather writing surface


Campaign furniture, or ‘knock down’ furniture, is a type of colonial furniture made specifically for travel. Most of it was made for military campaigns and was designed in such a way that it could easily be disassembled, packed and carried on the march.

The campaign secretaire chest of drawers comes in two parts with carrying handles on the sides. The design is compact yet feature-rich, fitted with a drop-down workspace and multiple drawers with recessed brass handles.

A Campaign Secretaire Chest of Drawers
©The Past Perfect Collection


Fitted with drop down working space and clever storage for treasured items



The secretaire chest of drawers is an ideal statement piece for the living room, or a storage companion for the bedroom or study while in hallways it makes a very stylish storage place. A versatile piece, it will stand out and add a touch of class to any room where it’s placed, even in a bathroom!

Secretaire desk in bathroom

Bringing a secretaire desk and chair into a bathroom warms up the space. Photo Christopher Shane.

Camphor Secretaire Chest of Drawers gracing an elegant hallway. The Past Perfect Collection - Singapore

A camphor secretaire chest of drawers gracing an elegant hall way ©The Past Perfect Collection

A handsome Camphor Secretaire Chest of Drawers ©The Past Perfect Collection, styled with artwork of Marijke Böhm


Versatile and elegant, the secretaire chest of drawers provides a compact working area and plenty of storage space.
A fine writing surface, file and stationery storage, shelves for personal things, pigeonholes and drawers, it has got it all!

If you want it to look neat, you can simply close the drop front, and it looks like a beautiful chest of drawers. Then, if you want to turn it into a functional space, all you need to do is pull up a chair, drop the leaf and start working. The fact that it can take different forms makes the secretaire chest of drawers extremely appealing, in addition to its beautiful look.
A versatile piece, it is a must have item for antique lovers!

The Past Perfect Collection regularly brings in special colonial furniture from India, including secretaire chests of drawers.
View what is new in store.

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