Courtesy of Tom Spina Designs
Courtesy of Tom Spina Designs

5 Pop Culture-Inspired Desks

Courtesy of Tom Spina Designs
Courtesy of Tom Spina Designs

Feeling studious, crafty, or better yet, both? If your workspace is in need of a makeover, get inspired by one of these custom-made, pop culture-themed desks.

1. A TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES-INSPIRED DESK

A "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" desk designed by Tom Spina
Tom Spina Designs

Tom Spina runs a New York-based custom design studio that creates custom-themed furniture and décor, among other items. When a “kooky (in the best possible way) client” commissioned a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-inspired desk, he decided to go all out, Spina tells Mental Floss.

“We figured, why not tell a bit of a story with it?” Spina says. “[Colleague] Richard Riley came up with the overall design, and I think the final piece is super unique, using the cutaway of the sewers to show the story of the ooze and how it flows down through the pipes, eventually getting to each baby turtle.”

"The design also gave us a chance to layer textures, which is always fun,” Spina adds. "We always love the chance to create stuff like faux cement, bricks, and rusty pipes. We love things that have a sense of age and character. What can we say, we like to play in the sewers!”

To learn more about Tom Spina Designs (or to commission your own TMNT-themed desk), visit the studio’s website.

A "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" desk designed by Tom Spina
Tom Spina Designs

A "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" desk designed by Tom Spina
Tom Spina Designs

2. A DOCTOR WHO-INSPIRED DESK

A "Doctor Who"-inspired Tardis desk, created by Natalie Buske Thomas, her husband Brent, and their son, Nicholas.
Natalie Buske Thomas

Hoping to bond with their quiet, college-bound son, Natalie Buske Thomas of Savannah, Georgia and her husband Brent teamed up with him to build a full-scale, interactive replica of a TARDIS console. "Nicholas was into Doctor Who, and that's the language he spoke,” Thomas tells Mental Floss. “We planned to get involved in the 2015 Doctor Who convention in Minneapolis to be a part of his world.”

The TARDIS console was a hit at the convention: “The convention's BBC guest Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor) saw our console and spontaneously launched into live improv,” Thomas says. “I became his companion. That was an unexpected turn of events! I earned serious Cool Mom cred for that.” Nicholas played bass guitar in front of the console with a keyboardist who played both the Doctor Who theme song and another tune from the show. (For the full story, and more pictures from the convention, visit Thomas's website.)

Today, Nicholas uses the console as a computer desk—its slanted planes are perfect for accommodating a flat-screen computer and keyboard. We’re sure the Doctor would approve.

A "Doctor Who"-inspired Tardis desk, created by Natalie Buske Thomas, her husband Brent, and their son, Nicholas.
Natalie Buske Thomas

A "Doctor Who"-inspired Tardis desk, created by Natalie Buske Thomas, her husband Brent, and their son, Nicholas.
Natalie Buske Thomas

3. A HARRY POTTER-INSPIRED DESK

A "Harry Potter"-themed desk designed by Anne Rozkydal and her partner, Larry
Anne Rozkydal

After retiring from the Air Force 10 years ago, Anne Rozkydal of Palmer, Alaska and her partner Larry began upcycling and refinishing old furniture.

“Our first hand-painted piece was a cute little antique desk done in a French theme with curly script and the Eiffel Tower,” Rozkydal tells Mental Floss. “My daughter and I have always been close, and all of my kids have introduced me to various young adult series, the overwhelming favorite being Harry Potter (all of my kids are grown and they have matching Deathly Hallows tattoos!). When Katie saw the Eiffel Tower desk, she loved it, but then suggested the next piece I do be Harry Potter-themed.”

Rozkydal took an old, beat-up desk that she had purchased from a garage sale and got to work. The desk’s wing-like drawer pulls were already characteristic of Hogwarts, so Rozkydal left the hardware alone, except to add vintage skeleton keys to the handles. She lined the drawers with papers decorated to look like Daily Prophet newspapers, and topped the desk with a bookcase (another garage sale find).

The bookcase is adorned with “potion” bottles, and contains a hidden compartment that’s covered in book spines painted to look like Hogwarts books. The luggage cart is actually a desk chair: The upper trunk’s lid opens to reveal a seat upholstered in Gryffindor colors.

You can view more of Rozkydal’s creations on Facebook, where she shares—and sells—them under the name AnneTiquesAlaska.

A "Harry Potter"-themed desk designed by Anne Rozkydal and her partner, Larry
Anne Rozkydal

A "Harry Potter"-themed desk designed by Anne Rozkydal and her partner, Larry
Anne Rozkydal

A "Harry Potter"-themed desk designed by Anne Rozkydal and her partner, Larry
Anne Rozkydal

4. AN UP-INSPIRED DESK

An "Up!"-inspired desk, created by design firm Twisted Image for Dublin-based advertising agency Boys and Girls
Liam Murphy/Boys and Girls

Dublin-based advertising agency Boys and Girls prides itself on providing creative solutions for clients, but their old office space was decidedly uninspired. “Our reception area in our old office was once described as 'small and routine' in design,” Kate Goldsmith, the company’s new business manager, tells Mental Floss. “To counter that, we designed a new reception desk in house to show off our creativity and then commissioned [design firm] Twisted Image to build our desk.”

The desk is supported by a stack of giant wooden Jenga blocks and a bunch of floating balloons that are reminiscent of the 2009 Pixar film Up. “By using a rubber composite that would never degrade, [Twisted Image was] able to fill the balloons with enough helium/hydrogen hybrid gas to float the desk indefinitely,” Design*Sponge explains. “The ribbons were reinforced with carbo-titanium, and an aerospace-grade titanium cleat was used to attach the strings to the desk.”

Since commissioning the desk, Boys and Girls has moved to a renovated former school building, which they’ve decorated with even more whimsical furniture items, including a table with a LEGO surface

5. A FANTASTIC FOUR COLLAGE DESK

A "Fantastic Four"-themed desk, created by Aimy Wombwell
Aimy Wombwell

Aimy Wombwell of East Aurora, New York loved the Fantastic Four as a kid, so she purchased vintage 1970s and ‘80s comics for her young sons. While decorating one of their bedrooms, the crafty mom—who runs an Etsy store called atomicfreckles—decoupaged these works onto a wooden desk, creating a colorful comics collage.

“It took me a while to do this by hand ... I covered every single bit of wood,” Wombwell told Mental Floss. “I also then added many layers of polyacrylic on top, and purchased a rounded, custom-made piece of glass for the top so when he writes it will be even. [For the] insides of the drawers, I hand-painted them orange for another pop of surprise color.”

Wombwell's Fantastic Four desk is listed on Etsy, but it isn’t technically for sale, as she simply wanted to show off her handiwork. That said, she’s open to commissions from customers who want their own personalized collage desk.

A "Fantastic Four"-themed desk, created by Aimy Wombwell
Aimy Wombwell

A "Fantastic Four"-themed desk, created by Aimy Wombwell
Aimy Wombwell

"A Fantastic Four"-themed desk, created by Aimy Wombwell
Aimy Wombwell
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Emojipedia
9 Smiley Facts About Emoji
Emojipedia
Emojipedia

For many people, speaking in emoji is almost as natural as speaking in, well, words. However, less than two decades ago, the collection of symbols was just a blip on the digital horizon. You may be adept at planning dinner with friends using only smileys and food characters, but how much do you really know about emoji?

1. SHIGETAKA KURITA IS CONSIDERED THE FATHER OF EMOJI.

Getty Images

In 1999, the Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita created the first collection of cell phone emoji for the debut of "the world’s first major mobile internet system," called NTT Docomo's i-mode. The program they were working with "limited users to up to 250 characters in an email," according to Kurita, "so we thought emoji would be a quick and easy way for them to communicate. Plus using only words in such a short message could lead to misunderstandings … It’s difficult to express yourself properly in so few characters." He used a variety of everyday symbols, Chinese characters, street signs, and manga imagery for inspiration, and eventually came up with 176 12-pixel by 12-pixel characters—a much-simplified version of the images we now text on a regular basis.

"At first we were just designing for the Japanese market," Kurita said in 2016. "I didn’t assume that emoji would spread and become so popular internationally. I’m surprised at how widespread they have become. Then again, they are universal, so they are useful communication tools that transcend language."

2. THERE WAS A LOT OF DEBATE ABOUT THE ADDITION OF A HOT DOG.

Seriously. Digital Trends reported on the dispute in 2014, when some users were so incensed over the lack of a hot dog emoji that they even petitioned the White House to make it happen. As it turns out, there is a very good reason that the character wasn’t initially created.

"The problem with the hot dog emoji," Mark Davis, co-founder of the Unicode Consortium, told The Wall Street Journal, "is, what do you then want with the hot dog? Would we do one with ketchup or without?" He makes a valid point—toppings are important. But Kurita wasn’t opposed to adding in the traditional stateside cuisine: "In Japan, we have onigiri [rice ball] emoji, so why not hot dogs? Hot dogs are onigiri for Americans, right?"

(Not to worry—the hot dog won out in 2015, and Apple now has a mustard-covered emoji.)

3. EVEN KURITA IS MYSTIFIED BY THE AMBIGUITY OF THE HEART EMOJI.

"People of all ages understand that a single emoji can say more about their emotions than text," Kurita recently said of his creation. "Emoji have grown because they meet a need among mobile phone users. I accept that it’s difficult to use emoji to express complicated or nuanced feelings, but they are great for getting the general message across." However, even he acknowledges that messages can get mixed when it comes to emoji like the heart, even though he initially designed the heart to mean "love."

"I wouldn’t know if she liked me or not," Kurita told the Verge, when asked what he thinks receiving a heart emoji means, "but I’d think it was a good thing. I wouldn’t think it was a negative."

4. THE ENTIRETY OF MOBY-DICK WAS TRANSLATED INTO EMOJI.

In 2009, Fred Benenson—Kickstarter’s second full-time employee—used his company's platform to fund an emoji-translation project, which he titled Emoji Dick. Benenson was an avid fan of emoji and wanted to find a way to push the characters' creativity. He raised more than $3500 to pay a team to help him translate Herman Melville’s saga of man and whale into emoji. While it doesn’t quite translate in each case, Benenson told Smithsonian magazine, "As a conceptual piece, it’s successful."

But why Moby-Dick, besides the translation’s fantastic title? "I needed a public domain book that I could get the plain-text version of easily," Benenson told The New Yorker. "The Bible seemed too obvious."

These days, Emoji Dick has a place in the Library of Congress, who acquired the work in 2014 and notes that it captures the culture in this particular moment in time. "It’s up to the readers of Emoji Dick to decide whether to take it seriously as content," Michael Neubert, a digital projects specialist at the Library of Congress, said.

If you’re looking for some light reading, you can purchase a copy of the 736-page translation here.

5. EARLY ON, BUSINESSES USED EMOJI TO CONNECT WITH CUSTOMERS.

Keeping in mind that emoji launched in 1999, long before cell phones developed into the tech-savvy devices we have today, emoji originally had much different purposes. For example, The New York Times explains that Docomo, the company that developed emoji, used them to deliver weather reports to pager users.

While this explains many of the weather-related emoji, such as the lightning bolt, sun, umbrella, and snowman, Docomo also used the characters to guide users to local businesses. A hamburger represented fast food, while the martini glass stood for a bar.

"Everything was shown by text. Even the weather forecast was displayed as 'fine,'" Kurita told Storify. "When I saw it, I found it difficult to understand. Japanese TV weather forecasts have always included pictures or symbols to describe the weather—for example, a picture of sun meant 'sunny' … I'd rather see a picture of the sun, instead of a text saying 'fine.'"

6. THE MOST POPULAR EMOJI ISN'T THE SLICE OF PIZZA—OR THE THUMBS UP.

The most popular emoji vary from country to country. In July 2016, Metro reported that Twitter ran some analytics and says the "despairing crying face" is the most-used in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. Another popular choice is the musical notes, which is a top pick in Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Additionally, Twitter users tend to favor the beer emoji over the steaming cup of coffee, and that the full heart is tweeted more frequently than the broken heart. When it comes to food, the birthday cake is most-used, followed by the classic slice of pizza, and the strawberry rounds out the top three.

The popularity of emoji is constantly in flux, so Twitter even did a month-by-month breakdown. Unsurprisingly, the skull was most-used in October, while the Christmas tree owned December. Another classic, the "100" symbol, was the most popular in November.

7. THERE'S A REASON THE IOS POOP EMOJI LOOKS SO SIMILAR TO THE ICE CREAM CONE.

In 2012, New York magazine interviewed Willem Van Lancker, who helped create 400 of the original 500 Apple characters. (The conversation took place over text, naturally.) When asked about the similarity between the poop and ice cream emoji, Van Lancker replied, "Some design elements may have been reused between them …"

8. THE FATHER OF EMOTICONS ISN'T A FAN OF EMOJI.

Long before emoji, people communicated with emoticons—representations of facial expressions created with punctuation marks. While emoji are undoubtedly the more detailed, colorful set of characters, Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Scott Fahlman tends to prefer his original form, which he traces to a 1982 message board conversation.

"I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways," Fahlman had told the group, and before long, the expression spread and was soon used at other universities before making its way into casual digital conversations worldwide.

But when it comes to emoji, Fahlman told the Independent, "I think they are ugly, and they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters. But perhaps that's just because I invented the other kind."

9. THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART OWNS THE ORIGINAL EMOJI COLLECTION.

Getty

Yep, the set of emoji Kurita created back in 1999 is now part of MoMA’s permanent display, starting in December 2016. And they aren't the only digital objects on display: The museum previously acquired the "@" symbol in 2012.

The collection resides in the museum’s lobby and represents a balance between modernity and hieroglyphics, one of the oldest forms of written communication. However, as ancient as the roots of emoji may be, the original collection's influence in modern culture remains strong. "It is hard to overstate it. I mean if you think about it, we cannot live without emojis today," Paola Antonelli, the senior curator in the department of architecture and design, told NPR. "We've become used into condensing our thoughts and our kind of emotions in them."

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