Standing Desks

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I’ve been thinking about standing desks and my ideal workspace for, well, a few years now. My interest has been spurred in part by people I know who, like me, write for a living, having positive experiences with standing desks. And of course there are the articles, like this one from early this month in The Wall Street Journal, touting the popularity of standing desks in Silicon Valley. Then there was this report from the American Cancer Society that stated:

women who sit for more than six hours a day were about 40% more likely to die during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Men were about 20% more likely to die.

Then I started hearing from friends who worked in large Silicon Valley complexes that their employers had gone beyond offering standing desks to standing-desks-with-treadmills. Marko Kloos, writer and VP alum was a standing desk convert, first with a trial setup, and then via a local Borders Bookstore closing, a more permanent pair of standing desks.

I’ve had a lot of different tables and desks for writing on a computer. When I worked in media production at a software content company, my desk was a solid door; it had plenty of rooms for a task light, a keyboard, a mousepad and two 20” Apple monitors. In a lot of ways, that was my ideal set up. I have a good task chair and a lovely adjustable computer desk made by the now defunct ScanCo company in storage, and no room at all in the apartment for a large desk. Mostly these days, I sit in a comfortable easy chair and use a piece of fiber board as a lapdesk under my Mac Book.

I know a lot of canonized writers—most notably Hemingway—favored standing while writing. Thomas Mann used to write while standing and using the top of his refrigerator as his desk. At over six feet, he has certain advantages that at 5′ 3”.5 I lack. I’m not writing anything like the books they wrote, or keeping their hours, but on a long day, especially one that’s deadline-driven, even with frequent breaks and moving around and actually leaving the apartment to take a walk, I notice my back and shoulders hurt, and there’s sometimes noticeable eye strain. I’ve been reading about standing desks for a long time, looking at other people’s standing desks and investigating the various possibilities. As an experiment about six months ago on a whim, I moved my laptop to the top of a half-height bookcase. It wasn’t quite the right height for me, so I put the hard cover unabridged American Heritage Dictionary under the laptop. That’s actually worked pretty well for me. I can easily move back to the easy chair when I get tired, and there’s enough space that I can even shift easily on my feet if my legs or back get tired. Plus, the cat has claimed the bottom shelf of the bookcase as Hers, which means when she gets bored she attacks my feet.

The experiment has worked better than I expected. All the same, I keep looking at adjustable standing desks, like this one from IKEA, the Fredrik:

I know several people who use the IKEA Fredrik as a standing desk and are quite happy with it, and with it’s $149.00 cost.

Or there’s this one available from Amazon, the Safco 1929CY Adjustable Height Stand-Up Workstation, 29w x 19-3/4d x 49h, Cherry PVC Top for $290.07. It comes in cherry or oak finish for the PVC top. I’ve two friends whose employers at different companies offered them this Safco standing workstation. The top shelf and the keyboard tray are both adjustable, and the keyboard tray slides in or out.

Still, both are really designed for desktops, not laptops, and neither really offers the kind of space I’d like for a work area, so I think I’ll stick to my experimental bookcase for the time being. I note that oddly my feet hurt; less so than they did the first few months, but I’m contemplating clogs and possibly one of these “Anti-Fatigue” mats.

Sublime Imprint Anti-Fatigue Nantucket Series 20-Inch by 36-Inch Comfort Mat, Espresso

Crown Comfort King Antifatigue Mat, Zedlan, 24 x 36, Royal Blue (CK0023BL)

Anyone tried either of them? What are your suggestions for new adopters of standing desks? Did you purchase a desk or build one?


  • meg

    At a job (assoc. director of a humanities lab space), I had the best desk of my life — central workspace plus two cantilevered wings, all wired up to go up and down with the press of a button.

    If I could buy that desk today, I’d do it. Well, if it didn’t cost toooooooo much.

  • Michael

    I use an ottoman for a standing secretary: his name is Selim and he holds my keyboard at the perfect height. :-p

    Seriously, though, the Frederik is OK, but the top self does not allow for a large screen monitor to fit under it if you have the main work surface high enough for a standing desk. You can still use it with a large screen monitor in this way, but it means the keyboard ends up jammed against the base of such a monitor.

  • Tucker

    I’m using a Frederik myself. Like Michael says above, the top shelf doesn’t allow for a monitor at the proper height. I’ve put it so that the “top shelf” is more of a monitor stand, one notch above the large shelf. That way I can hide my laptop under it, and run cords under it without them looking all messy.

    The one real complaint I have with it is that the height is so granular. I’ve had to get two solid rubber 1/2″ mats for standing on to get my arms at the right height.

    The actual antifatigue mat I use (yes, on top of the two solid ones) is more like the Sublime you linked above. I highly recommend something like that, especially for the first few days while you’re getting used to it.

  • Brin McLaughlin

    I have a standing workstation for my music; I sat at a piano a lot as a kid so naturally when I got a synth, I bought a bench, but for some reason sitting there was crampinated and unpleasant. I switched to a taller stand and got rid of the bench and I have never reconsidered. As much as I enjoyed sitting on a piano bench when I was younger, for some reason, a standing arrangement suits me better now.