Desktop decadence: what's atop your workspace speaks volumes about you

Splurge a little. What's atop your workspace speaks volumes about you.

A neat desk may, as they say, be a sign of a sick mind. But a boring desk? Surely that signals much worse about the person who sits behind it. Aside from providing a place at which to work away your days, your desk is the ideal space from which to transmit all kinds of signals about who you are–from curious to tasteful, resourceful to rich. It's also a perfect place to house furnishings and gadgets both useful and frivolous that can make your time at the office aesthetically pleasing, hassle-reduced and maybe even fun.

First things first: Any desk worth its salt needs a desk set, and there's none more classic than that sold by Hermès, whose leather goods deftly combine masculine, simple and chic. Begin with the mail tray or “paper bin,” as they call it at Hermès outlets in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Sheathed in buttery calfskin in a choice of colours, and stitched by hand, it sells for $4,725. With that as your base, check out Hermès' elegant pen holder, roughly the size of a soup can, in bentwood with leather casing on top and bottom, $2,195; the two-colour reversible leather mouse pad, $275; and (oh, what the hell), the Post-it Notes holder in green or red-dyed lizard, with sterling clasp, $250.

There, you've got your bare bones, and they're even covered in flawless French hides. Now to a few other desk basics. It's not hard, of course, to spend a fortune on a pen. Beyond the usual suspects of Montblanc and Waterman (whose gleaming LeMan 18-karat gold fountain pen with gold iridium-tipped nib retails in the neighbourhood of $17,500), consider something more simply priced but three times as useful. The stylish Presentation Pen from (and Brookstone locations throughout the U.S.) at US$50, encases both a laser pointer and a 64-megabit USB memory stick, with secret password, onto which you can download presentations for out-of-office use.

Even among some professionals, the pencil, not the pen, is the writing (or drafting or ledger-entering) instrument of choice. lets you keep your leads and and your desk looking sharp with its 23-karat gold-plated pencil sharpener with old-fashioned hand crank and built-in shavings drawer (US$212.80). Back at Hermès, what might be the nicest pencils in the world are laced in leather, and just waiting to be sharpened, for $95 apiece. Hermès also sells a sterling-silver pencil sharpener of its own, about three inches high and in the shape of the company's trademark H, with a sharpener cartridge (one narrow, one wide) in each leg, $395.

Assuming the pen is your office sword, and you find yourself collecting a few quality models, why not give them proper desktop display? Among the poshest pen cases anywhere are those made by the Venlo Co. Available online at (and at retail outlets in a handful of American cities), Venlo's Sicily Vetro model, wrapped in black Italian calf with an inlaid, beveled-glass lid, holds 20 pens and sells for US$449. A matching carrying case, which you can slip from desktop or drawer to jacket pocket with your two favourite pens on board, also in black leather, is US$59.

Depending on the size of your desk, you may want to flaunt more than just your fine pens. Smythson of Bond Street, London, handmakes superb quality lockable watch boxes in vat-dyed pigskin, lined with beige calf suede. The lockable six-watch model, about the size of a large cigar box, sells for $1,145 at Holt Renfrew stores. Smythson also makes a gracious secretaire, at $5,145. Effectively a foot locker for the literate, it opens up to become a correspondence cabinet, housing stationery, fold-down blotter, address book, ink pot and all kinds of little drawers for things like stamps and currency. Brass latches mean you can carry it with you–it's basically a tiny desk all its own–when you travel.

Speaking of travel, National Geographic makes a great update on the classic office globe. Along with the usual political demarcations and topographical details, the luminescent Planet Earth Globe (12-inch diameter, US$379; 14-inch, US$499, available at has an interior lighting system that projects–for the current day, or any day of the year you choose–where and when it's daytime, dark, dusk and dawn. A roving pinpoint of light shows which spot on Earth is closest to the sun at any time.

Back at home, you'll presumably know whether it's dark or light outside your office window. But will you need a raincoat by the time your lunch date is through? Sharper Image's Sun/Moon Wireless Weather Center, available at its website and outlets across the U.S., about the size of a slim hardcover book, provides indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity and barometric readings, and includes a rain gauge and optional alarm for temperature change and storm alerts. Its clock is set to the U.S. atomic clock in Colorado. Its price is US$199.

Or just tune to the Weather Channel on Sony's desk-friendly LocationFree television. In seven-inch and 12.1-inch flat-screen models ($1,600 and $2,000, respectively), the ultra-slim LocationFree uses wireless technology to provide clutter-free TV and Internet access. You can even hook up a separate camcorder to keep an eye on the office underlings (discretion is advised). Or take your spying up a notch and grace your desk with Brookstone's handsome digital LCD binoculars. For US$179, they offer not only eight-times magnification but the ability to record whatever it is that's caught your fancy in the office tower next door. They even store up to 140 photos, or 90 seconds of video footage. Ditto on the discretion.

To temper all that high tech, you might also want to incorporate one or two office standards of the antique variety. At the Shand Gallery, on Toronto's King Street West, manager Leonel Pedroso gave me a time-gone-by tour of three French art-nouveau letter openers, in gilded bronze, signed by their artists, and topped, respectively, with a preening heron, a simple rose and a nubbly pineapple, $800 to $950. On another shelf in Pedroso's shop sat a Meiji-period, late-19th-century Japanese paginator–looking not unlike a letter opener, but lighter, and with a blunt end. Overlaid with the image of a dragon, and made to turn pages without leaving even a trace of dirt, oil or dead skin–but also an obvious choice for a modern-day paperweight–it's asking price was $850.

Of course, there's always the modern but timeless. Alongside all those diamond chokers and crystal carafes, Tiffany & Co. has a couple of cabinets, tucked away on the second floor of its flagship Canadian store, on Toronto's Bloor Street West, reserved for extremely tasteful office supplies. They include a sterling magnifying glass, about an inch high and two across, which for $310 will make fine print your new friend; a six-inch sterling-silver bookmark resembling a ladder with shiny roman numerals for rungs, $175; and, for those quick little checkups just before clients come waltzing into your den, a discreet three-inch mirror with swivel sterling lid, handily doubling as a high-end coaster, $345.

Worried, even after judicious desk redecorating, that your workspace will look a tiny bit pretentious? Then you've found the perfect excuse to finish it off with a little fun. Tiffany's Silver Building Squares, a sort of Lego for grownups, are eight sterling-silver interlocking discs you can form and re-form into mini architectural masterpieces at $520 per set.

Even less highfalutin is Sharper Image's Jolly Joker Electronic Wit Enhancer, a mere US$19.95. About the size of a box of coasters, its 1,001 jokes by the likes of Dave Barry, Lily Tomlin and Jerry Seinfeld are organized into 282 categories, displayed on an LCD screen, for all your last-minute, tough-client, ice-breaking needs. And should you rashly choose the “blonds” category, only to discover your audience is married to one, make room as well (perhaps discreetly tucked behind your secretaire) for the Excuse Ball.

Available from for US$6.49, its flat-bottom window delivers up 20 handy reasons why you might have just done what you clearly should not have. That 24-hour flu, perhaps? Or the equally plausible “full moon.” Should all else fail, take a gamble on “The voices told me to.” If nothing else, it sounds like a surefire way to empty out your office, and get your well-appointed desk all to yourself.