Choosing the Right Desk

Some web workers are essentially workspace parasites, hopping from coffeeshop to client site without ever settling down in a space to call their own. Most of us, though, spend at least some of our time in the home office, or at least the home-corner-of-the-family-room. Assuming that you’re past the stage in your life where sprawling in a beanbag chair with your laptop in your lap sounds like fun, this means buying a desk. But what desk to get?

At the one extreme, you can spend $4500 on the ostentatious customization of the Mini Desk. At the other, I once spent an entire summer (rather closer to the start of my web worker career than I am now) balancing a monitor and keyboard atop a couple of boards and a stack of cinder blocks. Somewhere in between lies the ideal (or at least the satisfactory) desk for most web workers. Here are some of the things you ought to think about when shopping around:

  • If at all possible you should sit at the desk before buying it, preferably with a keyboard. Check that there is enough room for your legs underneath, and that you can type with a natural posture without reaching up or down. You can make up for some keyboard height issues with an adjustable height chair, but this only works if you need to go up, not down.
  • Make sure there’s enough room on your desk for your monitor. You should be just able to touch your monitor with outstretched fingers, and the top of the monitor should be level with your eyes. This shouldn’t be a problem with flat screens, but if you’re using a big ol’ CRT, you should bring the measurements along when you shop. These days, I wouldn’t buy a desk that didn’t have space for two sizable flat screens.
  • If your desk is going to be in a shared area of the house, consider one that has doors and sliding trays to hide all of the computer equipment. This will not only help hide the clutter and keep it away from kids when you’re not working, but helps enforce some distance between your work life and your family life.
  • How much space do you personally use for paper? If you’re the type who spreads out multiple pages of printouts and reference books, you’ll want a large desk (assuming your space accommodates this). If you’re a neat person, or one who does everything on screen, this is less of an issue. Storage space is important too; at least one drawer to keep staplers and pens and pencils and whatnot in is good, two is better.
  • Many desks that are sold as computer desks have a vertical shelf underneath with a door on it that is set aside as space for a tower computer. My own experience with this arrangement has been mixed; I find that if I’m using a reasonably powerful computer, I have to keep the door open at all times to get enough airflow. Personally, I’d just as soon park the computer next to the desk and have the shelf room for other things.
  • Are you going to assemble this unit yourself? If so, will it fit back through the door when you’re done? Most computer desks involve glue as well as screws and other fasteners, so you may be investing in something that stays in the house or apartment if you ever move.

You don’t have to spend an excessive amount to get a perfectly serviceable computer desk. Wal-Mart, Staples, Office Max, and similar stores can sell you reasonable assemble-it-yourself kits for about $200. You can spend less than that at Ikea though I personally am not thrilled with their selection of computer furniture. If you prefer a more office/industrial look, retailers like Global Computer are worth checking out too.

Did you find the perfect computer desk for your own home office? What are you using?


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