Desks have long been the home of the mind: an intimate space where you figure out what you think. Desk spaces have changed through the years to accommodate different styles and types of work, and the recent trend toward co-working also represents a change in the nature of the workplace. You can now rent workspaces around the world with funky furniture, pool tables, rock-climbing walls, and free wine. In London, people even rent chairs at their dining-room table by the hour—an attractive alternative to those living in small apartments who are tired of working in coffeehouses.
I think of desks as the home of the mind. In many particular ways, desks are the portals where ideas birth into art or action. I’m not proud to say it but mine is a mess. If our desks give us a glimpse of our thought process, I’m hoping my organized chaos implies spontaneity and invention, along with disorder. In my travels over the last few years, I’ve stood near the desks of Ernest Hemingway, Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, Madame Sun Yat-sen, and Mahatma Gandhi. Places carry their own power. They make us remember; they stimulate senses and ideas.
What can we learn about the mindset of these particular world figures just by seeing their desks?