In order to keep the feet and the calves exposed to the heat from the fire, the fire screen desk usually had the form of a miniature writing table or a tiny bureau a gradin, with just a few drawers beneath the desktop. As its name indicates, it had a retractable fire screen in the back to protect the user's relatively exposed face from too much heat from the fireplace. The screen was usually made of a pleated or straight piece of heavy fabric, supported by crossed and sliding metallic supports. Many fire screen desks have survived the centuries, but the rather flimsy original screens have long ago wasted away. The metal supports or rods which extended the screens have fared better. As a result, when the rods are in their extended position, without the original screen which they supported, they make the fire screen desk look like some archaic form of radio, with an X shaped antenna.
A few fire screen desks had no screen per se but were simply lighter, narrower, and extremely thinner versions of the high secretary desk put on some form of permanent trestle mount. Their high form shielded the user's face from the heat of the flames while the open trestle mount at the bottom exposed the feet. They were basically a smaller version of a French form called Secretaire en portefeuille.
Often, the fire screen desk was gendered. One did not buy or ask for a fire screen desk to be made: One asked for a gentleman's fire screen desk or a lady's fire screen desk. The masculine desk was slightly heavier and plainer. The feminine desk was much smaller (light enough to be transported easily by a lady's maid) and the ornamentation could be quite complex.
The fire screen desk was also called a screen writing table, or a gentleman's screen writing table or a lady's screen writing table.
See also the list of desk forms and types.