5 factors to consider when picking out a new at-home desk or workstation

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They can be hosts to benign — or unpleasant — tasks. But a desk can be one of the most important purchases in a home.

Design experts say that, far from being an afterthought once main rooms are furnished, a desk and its surrounding atmosphere warrant careful planning.

“If you don’t feel compelled to be in that space, you’re not going to use it,” says Annie Brahler, owner of Illinois interior-design company Euro Trash. “It’s going to make you better at everything else if your workspace feels comfortable to you.”

A desk should reflect what you hope to achieve and, ideally, it should inspire you in some way. Here are some things to consider.

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First, think through what you want to do. Is the desk just for sorting mail? Enduring long hours on a project? Maybe you’ll need heavy filing cabinets for papers, or a sleek top for three computer screens.

“Form should always follow function,” Brahler says. “The first thing someone should do is write down what kinds of things they perform at their desk.”

The Human Solution Uplift Standing Desk with Solid Wood Top, starting at $1,199 at  thehumansolution.com
The Human Solution Uplift Standing Desk with Solid Wood Top, starting at $1,199 at thehumansolution.com


Pamela Sherman, founder of Chicago Organized Home, says to think about what you’ll want to put in the desk — will you need a small pen drawer or deep cabinets?

“You want to try and strike a balance, because you don’t want to have a desk full of junk drawers,” she says.

One of her clients prefers hard copies in files. So her company added deep storage to a customized desk.

“He wanted to be able to open that drawer and see his files,” she says.


Size depends on your space, of course. A studio apartment might invite a secretary desk with a lid, or a leaning shelf tower with a desktop that pulls out.

“That way you’re optimizing every inch of space, and you might not need a full desk surface for writing,” Sherman says.

Some people want an L-shaped desk, says Shannon Calderon of ergonomic furniture store The Human Solution, because of the space it allows.


The top of a desk is a focal point. Johanna Mele, lead home stylist at West Elm, suggests considering whether the surface needs to fit a laptop or piles of spread-out paperwork.

For those who mostly rely on computers, she recommends a smaller desk. But those who need to stretch out should look at a larger size or even a small dining table, Mele says.

Be creative when choosing materials, and think of the space as your own, Brahler says.

“You have to really be personal and pay attention to yourself,” she says. “And give yourself a little bit of indulgence, as well.”


How high your desk is might have an effect on your posture and, possibly, productivity. The standard height is about 29 inches, experts say. These days, however, many people request counter- or bar-height, in the range of 36 to 42 inches, so that they can stand, Mele says.

The Human Solution sells height-adjustable desks, and Calderon advises buyers to ensure the mechanism is easy to use. “You’re less likely to use the sit-stand capabilities when the desk is cumbersome to operate,” she says.