In Praise of the Standing Desk

In 2005, my learned colleagues were split on whether or not to take a laptop on frontier travel, and I ultimately chose to take my lightweight laptop on a trip through Vietnam and China. It was the right choice. My NEC LaVie LN500/9 (as seen here) is two-thirds the size of a standard laptop, has a longer battery life because of the smaller screen, wireless capability, and weighs only 3lbs. I also brought along field recording equipment. On the road, access to lightweight hi-tech equipment was critical.

Since that “Journey Across the Far East,” I’ve been permanently based in Japan. And despite trips to Australia, Thailand, the United States, and Great Britain, I have become more sedentary (and regular readers know why). And as I spend more time in the Viceroy Study and less time on the road, my interest has shifted away from mobile and lightweight devices to heavy-duty office infrastructure. And this Viceroy swears by the standing desk.

rumsfeld-standing-deskThe standing desk became popular with the statesman of the Victorian era, although it faded out of fashion in the late 19th century. The standing desk recently made a media comeback when journalists raved about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his regular use of a standing desk, despite being in his late 60s/early 70s. Rumsfeld used an old-school desk in the drawing table style, which gives an angle or slant to the writing surface, as was common on the typical drawing board. You can see some of the various types of styles of standing desks here.

I set about to create my own standing desk about a year ago, but I adopted a more modern style, and constructed the desk myself with the design focused on the use of my new desktop computer (which, after using a laptop for years, feels light-years faster than a laptop. My room is ultimately too small to get the entire thing in one picture, so below is a composite photo of where I spend my working hours at home.


To explain in brief, that’s a 24 inch widescreen Dell monitor and is an absolute dream to use. The small cabinet of a harddrive is my new, 2 terabyte external hard drive, highly recommended for purveyors of bittorrent such as myself. On the left is an ad hoc work area. The material that comprised the desk, which I assembled and constructed myself, cost about US$200 in total. If I had to do it all over again, here’s what I’d do different:

# I’d probably slope the left top part of the desk, where I write/read, which makes it easier to write over long periods of time. That was the traditional model of the old school standing desk such that Rumself is using in the photo above.
# I’d forget about the bookshelf on top of the desk, it just gets in the way and blocks the light. The shelves underneath the desk are more than sufficient.

Anyone with questions is welcome to fire away in the comments.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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11 Responses to In Praise of the Standing Desk

  1. Eddie says:

    I became partial to this set-up when we had to give back our desk in a work center on my last ship because they had stolen it from a (at the time) uninhabited squadron workshop.
    Its sad that with all the furniture stores here in NC (furniture capital of the world!), I can’t find one below $900.
    I’d try it myself like you did but am dubious about the quality that would result. Did you follow any guidance on the web or just sketch it out yourself?

  2. Did you assemble this piecemeal or is it a sort of kit?

    How about a Walkstation? Exercise and work at the same time.

  3. Also provides more room in the space-restricted environment of Japan :-) (Assuming you are not in an expat-styled, spacious home).

  4. ElamBend says:

    I’ve gone back and forth with standing desks. I particularly like them when I have to use the internet, do hard core excel work, or make a lot of phone calls. When I need to do serious writing or steady close reading/review; sometimes I just need to sit down. I think they are superior when it comes to space management, particularly in small places. Right now I have a sit down desk. I’m considering creating a hybrid type that allows me the choice. I know there are desks that can be raised or lowered, but I’m too much the skinflint to pay for that luxury.

  5. Durf says:

    I’ve heard of translators who use the treadmill approach like that linked my M. Ferguson. I do enough of my paper-correcting while standing on a train that I know I could get work done standing up at home, but I haven’t given it a shot yet.

  6. Joe Jones says:

    I guess you could just store a barstool off to the side if you want the option to sit.

  7. Curzon says:

    Munro-Ferguson: I assembled this myself piecemeal. The two frames are supposed to be used as bookshelves, and are not ordinarily stable enough to support so much equipment on top. I stabilized them with extra reinforcement (you can see a hint of metal “x-bars” on the back if you look closely), and then put a slab of wood on top, on which the upper bookshelf is bolted. I added that upper bookshelf about 9 months after using it (I’ve had it for more than a year), but ultimately regret it and may unbolt it.

  8. rude_brit says:

    As a righty- I’d have switched the book shelf to the right side with the computer on the left. Or, as you suggested getting rid of the bookshelf, take it off and move the computer left. Gives you more space to use the mouse or write while working with the computer!

  9. Jacques says:

    That’s a pretty cool setup! I like the “built-in shelves” aspect. : )

    I got “sold” on working standing quite a few years back, but found I didn’t like standing ALL day — just part of the day. Researching that idea, it turned out there were quite a few companies that make “adjustable height desks,” but they are either A) REALLY expensive, B) Too small, or C) Too much “hassle” to adjust quickly/easily.

    This became an ongoing research project for me. Fortunately, last year I found a nice adjustable-height frame for less than $650, from a company called GeekDesk (they’re here, if anyone is interested: They didn’t sell tops, but given that the frame was the hard-to-find part, we just bough a cheap top from IKEA to make a complete desk. It’s worked out super-great, energy-wise and back-pain-wise. So, yeah… standing pretty much rocks. : )

    We just bought another one from them for our new location, and have been very happy with the one we bought. It looks like they also sell tops now too, plus a smaller “mini” model.

  10. Hunter says:

    Apparently James Murdoch is a fan of the standing desk as well

  11. Joe Jones says:

    So I got fiber in my apartment this weekend. They had to install it in my kitchen, which was suboptimal as I generally run my laptop in the living room (mainly to connect it to the TV and watch movies/TV). I decided to set up a standing desk around the modem, consisting of my old PowerBook, which serves double duty as a wireless router for the Windows laptop in the living room, and a printer/scanner/fax machine. I must say, it is excellent so far–I actually prefer using this over hanging out and pounding keys on the tatami.