From all-day comfort to standing, walking and perching - an evolving workspace

The Ikea Markus chair: sumptuous webbed backing and cradling lumbar support, leather trim headrest and arm covers, easy levers to recline and drop, hyrdraulic suspension. It was the perfect chair for the most recent part of my self-employed career. It held me close all day, every day, for years without creating discomfort. I was comfy. A little too comfy. 

Some days I would drift into a kind of reverie, even busy days with plenty on my plate would pass by in a sort of cocooned haze. The chair let me rest, and rest I did.

I started to feel a little uneasy about all of this inactive time, worrying that my body would not be in too great a condition after another 5 years of self-induced immobility. So I did what any sane person would do. Converted a camera tripod into a standing desk, with the help of an art-store easel adaptor for tripods. I screwed the adaptor to my home-made laptop platform, complete with airflow vents, and raised the second monitor by way of a large metal filing box. I pushed the chair out of the way, plopped the tripod on the desk, laptop on the tripod and got to work. It felt great. I was much more alert and could move from work mode to ‘social interaction’ mode without the jolt and jar of having to hoist my body back into life. Of course I felt tiredness in my legs, but my back was fine and I made sure to keep fidgeting and shimmying around to avoid ‘barber legs’, those expanded leg veins from years of being stood up. 

I alternated in this way for a few hours up, a few hours down, enjoying the mix. Soon though I felt that I was missing an opportunity to not only stave off complete, glacial immobility, but to actually encourage mobility and to hopefully enjoy the health benefits that constant calorie burning and gentle cardio exercise might offer. I modified a cheap treadmill by removing the support bar, breaking the speaker connections on the circuit board (for silent ops), slipped it under the desk and got to work with the slightly wobbly tripod arrangement. 

Things were good again for a while. Stamina increased, I felt energised, able to walk through long translation sessions with a much clearer mind and a good feeling that I was leaving the days of vegetation behind. But usage soon tailed off and I went back to mostly sitting at the desk. The chair always being in the corner of the study, calling me to it. Sit a while, take a load off. And so I did. The desk itself was also starting to accumulate too much paper and paraphenalia for the thousandth time. There had to be a better way. Some way of keeping me on my feet, encouraging the odd walk on the ‘mill, and reducing the clutter. 

Cue an internet search montage over several months, where I keep an eye on the workspaces of the productive and renowned. Linus Torvalds, the extremely prolific Linux kernel guy, had a walking setup alongside his junk desk. Most others had chairs seemingly made of clouds and pillows, encouraging the lie back and think about it attitude I was fighting. The new Ikea desk with the electric raise/lower mechanism was sorely tempting, but I knew deep down that the desk would spend 90% of its time, well, deep down. Although the most cost effective sit/stand desk on the market, I knew it wasn’t for me. 

Then I saw a few folks had permanent standing desks, but used barstools to relieve their legs when the standing was too much. Neat solution. Simple, elegant. Similar to how the draughtsmen of yesteryear worked. Raised stool, drawing desk.

I took a look at the Ikea website one last time and found my current solution: the bar table and bar stool combo. Could I fit a laptop, second monitor, two studio speakers and a lamp on one of these half-size desks? I measured up and it seemed doable. Speakers behind/beside the external monitor in the rear half of the desk, laptop and coffee cup in the front half. I went to look in store. For the £100 it cost to get both the bar table and sturdy folding stool, it seemed like a very cost-effective way to keep me on my toes, yet give me the rest periods I was looking for. It also fit the treadmill between its legs at the base, so that was a bonus.

It just meant one thing. Giving up the chair. It took me a good while to get the Markus into the attic. Once again it sat staring at me from the corner of the room for weeks. Beckoning me back. Once I got used to the standing/perching arrangement the comfy throne was dismantled and whisked above to never be seen again.

So where does that leave us? Well, the tired haze has gone completely. I literally have no room to stack paper and bits on the desk, so that doesn’t happen any more. My comfort levels are way down, but my health and general wellbeing is most likely up. I noticed some weight benefits from burning more calories, nothing major, but a trend in the right direction. It’s not perfect yet; I could do with raising the laptop up a few more centimeters for my height, I still sit/perch a fair amount, although it’s more of an active sit than before, if that makes sense. I’ll iron out the wrinkles as time goes on.

In my months-long internet search montage I also noticed lots of people using cable-tidying devices and was inspired to stow away my kingrat-nest in an Ikea cable tidy grill which just fits diagonally under the bar table. A few cable ties running ethernet and a power extension cable up the back legs and there is very little visible cablage to stress that remote part of the brain that picks up on these things, or to get fidgeting feet stuck in from time to time. Finally, floorspace in the study has increased as I’ve halved my desk surface area. The room looks smarter for it, albeit a little unconventional.

Future plans are to move out of the house, particularly as George starts to learn that I’m actually in the house and working upstairs and have not just disappeared, making me fair game for play requests. We have room in the garden for an office, so I intend to build one in a similar fashion to how I’ve seen two friends build theirs. Simple timber frame, insulation, OSB boards for walls, cladding, felt roof. If I can manage it, a little porch would be nice, all facing back down towards the house. A stove, perhaps a fridge, a (piano) keyboard to relax and learn on, a projector for film nights... yes that is the next step in the evolution of a home workspace. But for now I’ll sign off. I’ve been on the edge of my seat. I hope you have too.

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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