Design and Decor - The Modern Office

In May of 1989, the Wall Street Journal reported that the model office for the future can be found in the past, at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. In 2009, Wired.com called Monticello an "18th Century Palace of Gadget Geekery" that featured the latest "inventions and hacks." Jefferson filled his Cabinet with devices designed "with a greater eye to convenience" to make his work comfortable and efficient. A virtual reality movie of the Cabinet is available in the "House" section.

"An Abundance of Books"

Among the devices was what might be called a "database" today: a revolving bookstand (Bookstand.mov), probably of Jefferson's own design, which was made in the joinery on Mulberry Row at Monticello. The bookstand could expand to hold five books open at adjustable angles, allowing Jefferson to consult multiple works at once. The slave Isaac Jefferson recalled that Jefferson had an "abundance of books," with as many as twenty down on the floor at one time.

Well Designed, Well Lighted

Next to the bookstand was Jefferson's work table, featuring a revolving tabletop that gave him easy access to everything on it. His chair revolved, as well, and under the writing table was a sofa on which he could prop his legs and feet.

Jefferson maximized the Cabinet's lighting by using large windows and French doors designed to capture the full southern exposure. Candlesticks attached to the arms of his chair gave him further light.

"The Finest Invention . . ."

Finally, Jefferson had at hand the ultimate office necessity, the copying machine. Jefferson was enraptured by copying devices and called them "the finest invention of the present age." He owned several styles throughout his life, and his favorite of them was the polygraph (Polygraph.mov). The device holds two sheets of paper and two connected pens, so that as Jefferson wrote with one pen, the other pen followed to make an exact copy. Occasionally, Jefferson is falsely credited with the invention of the machine; though this is not the case, he did correspond with one of its makers, Charles Willson Peale, to suggest improvements on its design. More information on the polygraph is available in the "Resources" section.

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Image Credits

  • Revolving Bookstand, c. 1810. Made at the Monticello joinery from walnut. Photograph by Edward Owen.
  • Cabinet. Photograph by Robert Lautman.
  • Polygraph (see above).

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Discussion

says

On the one hand, Jefferson's and Adam's relationship is easy to grasp. How many of us know what it's like to have a good friend, become estranged, and then reconcile? On the other, it's hard to imagine writing with a friend knowing that your correspondence embodies the hopes and challenges of a new nation. I especially enjoy the human moment that is captured above detailing the friends visiting a historic shrine in their time - Shakespeare's home in Stratford upon Avon.

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