Ask Woodclinched: The perfect, minimized desk

A letter came in from one of my many, many adoring fans:

Dear Woodclinched,

My lease is up at the end of the year, and I’m looking to create the perfect office. I can handle the desk, the artwork, and the liquor cart but I’m a little stuck when it comes to my writing utensils and accessories.

Here’s the problem: I have a hard time focusing on getting stuff done. If I know there’s a pencil or notepad I want to use and it’s not right in front of me, I can’t get anything done.

So… If I’m going to outfit my office with one type of pencil, one pen and one notepad/notebook… what do you recommend?


Alex Jonathan

A nice, clean desk, via iDesk, a great Tumblr about Apple-accessorized desks and offices. Yes, I know that I am an Apple fanboy.

Excellent question, Alex! I completely understand your quest. I’ve been trying for years to minimize my desk. I am, by nature, a cluttered person. As much as I strive for a “less is more” mantra, I have realized that more often than not, I’m going to trend to “more is more”.

That being said, I have learned to pair things down to a few essentials. And when it comes to my writing paraphernalia, I’ve thought a lot about it. More than most sane people should. Read on for an exhaustive list.

The perfect notepad

Let’s talk about paper first. I would recommend a Rhodia notepad for you. Actually, two Rhodias:

  1. A gridded A4 (8.25×11.75) notepad for traditional note taking and large-format idea-mapping. Link.
  2. A gridded A5 (6×8.25) notepad for jotting quick notes and portable scribbling.

Rhodia paper is some of the best in the world. It’s heavy (but not too heavy), creamy, and very smooth. The cover is attractive, simple, and not too fancy. It looks just as nice in a fancy “padfolio” as it does sitting by itself on your desk.

I know you said you just wanted one, but these work in tandem, and you might often find yourself wanting one size or another for your purposes. I know I do.

As a side note, I LOVE the Rhodia N °08, too. The dimensions (3×8.25) are perfect to fit in the palm of your hand, and is great for the same uses a reporter’s notepad or a grocery list pad.

The perfect pen

There’s lots of really nice pens out there, costing upwards of $50 or more. I love pens. Fountain pens, ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens: there are so many out there. I’m going to assume you aren’t talking about high-end pens, since those are often chosen for style or sentimental reasons. I’m going to work within the quality, disposable pen category.

I like to write in green ink. It’s a personal quirk, though I have my reasons. If the usual suspects like black or blue is what you’re looking for, there are a few really good quality pens. I’ll break down my favorites in each category:

  • Rollerball: The best performing rollerballs I’ve used over the years is a simple Uni-ball Vision, it performs really well. It lays down a clean, dark line of ink with minimal effort, and they’re cheap. More often than not, you’re going to find the “Vision Elite” version of this, which works just like the original Vision, only with differences in design.
  • Felt tip: I recently rediscovered my box of Stabilo point 88 felt tip “fineliner” pens. They aren’t the best things to carry around in your shirt pocket, but sure do perform nicely. It has more staying power than many other felt tips I’ve used, and it feels like a solid, hexagonal pencil in your hand. Plus, it matches your beautiful Rhodia notepads.
  • Ballpoint: There are people who swear by the Pilot Dr. Grip pens. I’m not a fan of the thick grip, though. To be honest, there’s not a wide scope of performance among most ballpoints. There are some crappy ones out there, (coughcoughPapermatecoughcough) but most perform about the same. To be honest, I usually use a Pilot “Better” retractable pen. It’s about $15 per dozen, which isn’t extremely cheap. But it’s rugged, reliable, and is plainly (but smartly) styled.

I know you asked for one, and I gave you three. Out of these three, though, I think the Stabilo felt tip works best with the Rhodia paper. And as I said, it’s just so darn good looking. I recommend buying it online, like here, unless you are close to a Blick art supply store.

The perfect pencil

Hoo boy. This is the big question, and the whole purpose for this blog, isn’t it? I went through my mental list quite a bit to arrive at this answer. First: of course, I am going to pick a wood pencil. That’s my thing. If you are a mechanical guy, I say we meet in the middle and select a Zebra #2. It’s a mechanical pencil that looks like a woodcased pencil, and, at a handy 5 inches long, is shorter than a regular pencil, for portability. I actually have on in my pocket right now.

But, of course I have a wooden pencil recommendation. I think the best compromise of quality, looks, price, and availability is…

California Republic’s Golden Bear is priced right, at about $3 per dozen, performs admirably (Really, I like the performance of the Palomino the best, but for your purposes, is rather expensive, at $10 per dozen). One version has a  triangular barrel which makes it comfortable to hold, and the color choices in the thickly lacquered paint and vinyl eraser make it a good looking pencil. The California incensed cedar is strong but sharpens easily. And though the graphite doesn’t lay down as dark as, say, a Palomino, it keeps its point better and is teensy bit stronger.

If this isn’t your thing, Golden Bears come in a variety of shapes and configurations: hexagonal barrel, triangular barrel, eraser-tipped, sans eraser, etc. Check out the Golden Bear category page on

By the way, a close second in my recommendation to you for this is the black Dixon Ticonderoga. It’s good looking, reliable, cheap, and can be found at Office Depot or other office supply chains. It doesn’t perform as well as the Golden Bear, but it’s still a great pencil.


I hope that helps, Alex, and good luck with the move and your desk! When you get it situated the way you want it, would you send in a picture?

And to the rest of you, drop me a line and ask a question. I’ll try to not be as verbose as I was with Alex’s answer!

3 thoughts on “Ask Woodclinched: The perfect, minimized desk

  1. This is one of those interesting questions that can be approached from many angles. There are enough personal variables involved that otherwise good advice may easily be rendered irrelevant. The closest suggestion to a universally agreeable one is the Rhodia pad, particularly since they have black versions as well now. Their design is very benign and the paper is a good compromise for many different writing tools. There are plenty of other good choices out there as well for good writing pads, but the Rhodia is a very safe suggestion.

    Writing utensil itself though is harder to give suggestions on. Preferences get so personal that it’s almost a random call. It’s easy for me to blurt out my preferences for the Uniball Signo DX and Jetstream 101, or a general suggestion for a general-use workhorse fountain pen like the Lamy Safari, but those are far from safe suggestions. Same goes for pencils, whether woodcased or mechanical.

    In any event, it’s an amusing thought exercise, and hopefully your advice will be useful to Alex in his search.

    • Robert,

      Indeed! I should probably disclose that I know Alex personally, and I have a pretty good idea of what his needs are, what his personal style is, and can guess what sort of thing he may need. That, mixed in with my tastes and preferences, should account for my choices above.

      And good call on your selection! I should have put a call out there for commenters’ suggestions. I actually thought about including the Lamy, but I don’t have one, so I haven’t used to. I really need to get one.

      Thanks, Robert!

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