Learn everything you need to know about computer desks - shapes, materials, sizes, styles and more (ultimate buying guide).
These days the home office, or at least a computer station is as integral to the home as a family room. That said, with tablets, you can easily turn your sofa into a comfy and useful computer space. Nevertheless, as convenient as tablets, mobile phones and even smartwatches are for computing, there’s still no great efficiency than working on a desktop computer or laptop at a desk.
Personally, whenever I need to do any serious computing, such as research a big purchase or making a purchase, I much prefer going to my home office (check out our gallery of 300+ home office designs) and doing it on my laptop with extended second monitor.
And then there’s the rise in working from home… and while perhaps this hasn’t grown in popularity as some expected it would, more and more people do work from home. When you work from home, a proper computer desk/home office is very important.
The chances that you need some place to plant your desktop and/or laptop is pretty high, even if it’s just a small computer desk. Perhaps you need 2 or more in the house, especially if you have kids. Accordingly, the computer desk is almost a necessity for most homes.
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There are several variables to consider when choosing a desk. They are:
- Shape: rectangle, L-shaped, corner or U-shaped.
- Features such as keyboard tray, ergonomic, drawers, floating, cabinets, lock options, wire management, adjustment options, shelving and wheels to name a few of the key features to consider;
- Adjustment options: Raise/lower, leaves, modular, tilted (i.e drawing board); and
- Style: Rustic, modern, contemporary, country, glam, traditional, industrial, etc.
- Price: As with most furniture, you can spend a little (under $250) or a lot ($10,000 plus for custom built home offices). Generally, a good healthy budget is $200 to $2,000.
This article does not explain the different types of antique desks… that’s a different type of desk altogether. This focuses on contemporary computer desks for the home.
Whatever you do, ensure that the desk is the right height for you and that your legs fit comfortably underneath. For example, I don’t like desks that have a drawer directly above my legs because the top of my legs jam into it. I like crossing my legs which I can’t do with restricted space like this. Keyboard trays present the same problem.
Below is our extensive list of the different types of computer desks you can consider for your home.
I won’t list out size or color as that’s pretty obvious with respect to different types of desks. For pretty much any type of desk, you can probably choose a small, medium or large version for the part and the variety of colors is fairly broad with any desk choice.
The shape of desk is a big decision. Sometimes it’s dictated to you by available space; in other instances it’s a preference. I tend to prefer plain old rectangle desks so I can put it anywhere I like, but there’s something cool about a large U-shaped or L-shaped desk system. Corner desks are my least favorite unless the corner has windows. It’s not my cup of tea to be staring straight into a wall.
Examples of different shapes:
I’m a simple rectangle desk guy. It can easily be repositioned or moved elsewhere. I also like the chair space beside and behind me. With U-shape desks, you’re hedged in.
L-shaped can be slammed into the corner or be free standing. It can be a convenient set up since you a surface area directly beside you, which can be convenient if you have documents/books open that you need to reference while working on the computer.
A U-shaped desk is a desk system; an office unto itself. I’m not a big fan because I feel hedged in, but I can see the appeal. You get a lot more surface area that easily accessible. They do, however, take up a lot of space which can be good if you have a large home office. They can certainly look impressive.
This is my least favorite desk design unless the corner has windows. The idea of having walls 2 to 3 feet directly in front of my face isn’t pleasant. However, these are good space-saving desks… with the ability to get more desk in a smaller area. In other words, it’s an efficient use of space.
While floating isn’t a shape, I include it in the shape categorization because, well it doesn’t really fit elsewhere. Most floating desks are rectangle.
A floating desk is one that extends from the wall. It can have legs or no legs. It’s built-in and usually fairly small. It’s a space-saving desk.
I like modular because it gives you options. I have a quasi modular desk in that the drawer system is on casters and slides under the surface. This is pretty cool because I can move the drawer system to either side of the desk. You can take modular further with multiple modular pieces that can be rearranged.
1. Surface Area
While there are many small computer desks available, and you may only have the space for small computer desk, I strongly suggest getting the biggest sized computer desk possible for the space.
Because in my experience, whether doing work, media management, household management… regardless the task, I find more desk surface space makes for a much more comfortable and efficient work space.
First of all, I STRONGLY urge you to have 2 screens. If you have a laptop, most laptops have the capability of attaching a monitor. Same thing with desktops, and even iPads AND iPhones. You need desk surface area for an additional display. I can’t tell you how convenient it is to work with 2 or even 3 display monitors. In fact, I’m so used to it, I don’t bother going to coffee shops to work with my laptop because I’m dependent on a second display.
Second, you want space for a proper keyboard. Tablet keypads are great, but if you’re doing any serious amount of writing, even if it’s just doing email, using a regular sized keyboard is so much faster unless you’re someone who can text 100 words per minute.
Third, while physical documents are giving way to digital documents, in the event you’re working with physical books/documents, it’s nice to have the surface area to place them without encroaching your keyboard space.
Fourth, if you’re like me, you use your desk as a charging station for phones, tablets, smartwatches, etc. This too takes up space.
Finally, it’s nice to have sufficient space for office supplies such as paper, pens, paper clips and perhaps even a small printer/scanner.
Trust me when I say you cannot have too much desk surface area. My home office computer work station is an amalgamation of 2 desks and an old table.
Computer desk depth is seldom mentioned as an important dimension; however, if you’re somewhat tall, it’s very important especially if you plan on placing the desk against the wall. If it’s not very deep, your legs will be crammed and it will be uncomfortable.
I like at least 18 inches of depth, preferably 2 feet. However, if there’s no back and it’s not against the wall, this is a moot point because your feet can extend beyond the rear of the desk. Nevertheless, you may move your desk against the wall down the road so you might as well get one sufficiently deep.
Desk height is also very important. For me, I need to make sure my legs will fit while bent below the desk surface. Because I’m tall, this rules out keyboard trays, which often drop down so much that my knees jam into it especially when crossing my legs.
This does result, however, in a desk surface that’s probably a bit too high for me since when typing my arms slightly less than 90 degrees unless I raise my chair (which I don’t care to do too much).
The key is balancing comfortable chair height with desk surface height with clearance below the desk surface for your legs. These dimensions will vary person-to-person. The best thing you can do is test your chair with intended desk or at least test, take measurements, and then buy your desk.
Check this interactive work station website out to figure out your ideal dimensions for an ergonomic workstation.
My favorite aspect of choosing a desk it considering the features I want. I’m a bit of a feature geek. I like bells and whistles and these days you can have all kinds of extra goodies as part of your desk set up.
If you’re a minimalist, you may simply want 4 legs and flat surface. I’m not a minimalist and so I like features.
When shopping for a computer desk, keep the following features in mind.
1. Wire management
Unless your computer arrangement is entirely wireless, wire management is important. Nobody likes bundles of wire sticking out from all over the place. They’re unsightly and get in the way. Admittedly my home office and main office wire management is horrendous so I know what I’m talking about. If at all possible, get a desk where wires can be concealed in some fashion and you certainly don’t want them taking over half of your surface area.
Desks with wire management usually include holes in the surface that wires can be tucked into.
2. Keyboard Tray
I urge you to test any desk before buying it and you certainly want to test the keyboard tray. I don’t like keyboard trays because I’m tall, but they are very useful for some people. I’ve gone so far as to remove keyboard trays. You also want to test how smoothly they slide out and how sturdy they are. A lot of keyboard trays are flimsy and may very well break off especially if you lean heavily on your computer.
I think ergonomics is an over-used term. Everything is ergonomic. I actually find a lot of ergonomic products not very comfortable. Take the angled keyboard as an example, I find it’s very uncomfortable and clumsy to use. However, on the flip side I don’t think ergonomics should be ignored. It’s a balance between comfortable, efficient and good for you.
I also caution you to take any desk that claims to be ergonomic with a grain of salt. A desk write-up can claim to be ergonomic, but is it? It’s a term that’s been watered down and so you really never know. My view is if it’s comfortable for me, then it’s a good desk.
4. Storage: Drawers, Cabinets
I like storage. I love desks with drawers, especially if it includes a filing cabinet drawer. It helps keep the surface clear. However, in many ways, the modern, minimalist design looks great too… I’m talking the desk with 4 legs and desktop. There’s no right or wrong here; just a personal preference.
One thing I’ve noticed is that no matter how much storage you have, it will get filled up.
Planning your storage needs is difficult. Should you get plenty of small drawers or a few larger drawers? Typically, if you need to store files, ensure the desk has a file storage mechanism. I find these very useful because I like files.
Another consideration is shelving above the desk (called a hutch). I personally don’t like this because it’s akin to looking at a wall, but if you have extensive shelving needs, it’s an efficient way to store a lot of books. The desk takes up the floor space anyway, so adding shelving that sites on your desk doesn’t take up more floor space.
A hutch is storage shelving that sits on top of or adjacent to the desk. As I said above, I’m not wild about this (although to the side it isn’t bad), but if you’re need of storage for books, a hutch can be a terrific feature.
6. Locking Capability
Do you need to secure items from kids? A locking option may be good… but don’t underestimate kids’ ingenuity at finding keys or breaking in. Also, no regular desk will keep thieves out. But if you have some sensitive documents you want behind lock and key, get a desk with locking options.
I’m not too keen about furniture of any type on casters/wheels (except for my desk chair), but in some instances it’s handy. Typically, desks that purport to have castors refer to the CPU storage unit which is on castors.
Whether you’re fussy about style or not depends on you. do you care that your desk style integrates into your home’s style? I think whenever possible, it’s nice to buy furniture that looks good. For instance, if you have a log home, buying a futuristic modern looking desk isn’t the best idea.
That said, a traditional or contemporary desk style will fit in most home offices.
Here are examples the main styles.
Your main material options are wood, manufactured wood, particle board (avoid), glass and metal.
Unless you have a big budget, count on getting a desk made out of manufactured wood. This is a wood composite… basically wood pieces compressed and glued together. That said, some manufactured wood desks have solid wood surface that is glued to the composite portion. Also, there are varying degrees of manufactured wood quality and should not necessarily be equated to particle board (although some desks are made of particle board).
IMPORTANT: If you want your desk to last a while, avoid particle board desks. Manufactured wood desks can be high quality and of course pure wood (no composite) is strongest, but most expensive and heaviest.
What about glass? You can get glass surface desks for sure and in some interior designs, it can look amazing. I’m not a big glass furniture guy, but I can the appeal especially in a modern home office.
Finally, what about metal? Metal desks are less popular as wood (or manufactured wood), but like glass, in the right interior design, such as industrial or even modern, a metal desk can fit in very nicely.
F. Leg Style
There a lot of leg styles you can get for a desk. It’s actually overwhelming. Here is a brief gallery of the main leg styles for computer desks.
Legs and Feet
G. Other Computer Desk Ideas:
1. An Old Table
In my first home away from home while in college, my first desk was an old table given to me by my uncle. It was reasonably small so it fit in my bedroom. It was a great desk; I still have it and while it’s not my computer desk in my home office, it serves as a surface for our home printer.
There’s no reason you can’t use an old kitchen table as a computer desk. I prefer square or rectangle since round is not very comfortable for working at.
2. The Treadmill Desk
This is not as crazy at it sounds. There’s plenty of research suggesting that sitting for long periods of time can be quite bad for one’s health. I have a smartwatch that reminds me every hour to get up and move a bit. If you work at home and sit for hours on end and like being healthy, a treadmill desk may be something to consider. While we have a treadmill, I’ve not set it up to a treadmill desk, but the idea somewhat appeals to me. I’m also tempted to put one in my main office… but I fear I’ll end up spending a lot of money and time only to not want it. You have to be very certain that this is something you want. I’ve set up a treadmill in my house and it’s a beast of a job (tip: when you choose delivery, pay for them to deliver it to the room of your choice. The worst part of setting up a treadmill is moving it around… they are insanely heavy).
A really good desk to try if you want to give a treadmill desk a shot is one that has adjustable height. This way if you don’t like the treadmill option, simply lower it and use it as a regular desk.
3. The TV Dinner Tray
I’m not kidding here. A TV dinner tray works great with a laptop. This way you have a mobile home office in your home.
H. Built-in vs. Freestanding
I’m averse to built-in desks because I don’t like my home office arrangement permanent. If I want to rearrange things, I want to rearrange things. Maybe I want a new design and new desk. If you get a built-in, which an look awesome and be highly functional and totally customized, it’s permanent. Or, perhaps you end up getting an office outside of the home and want the room for another purpose, it’s harder to make that change if you have a massive built-in filling up the space. Upon removal, it’s probably totally useless. At least with a freestanding desk, you can move it to another room or off-site.
The main benefits of a built in:
- Customization: You can have it designed to fit you and your needs precisely.
- Looks awesome: You have to admit that a top notch custom built-in desk system looks awesome.
Disadvantages of built-ins:
- Can’t change the office layout it around.
- Can’t move it to another room or off-site.
I. My Favorite Computer Desk
I hope to be ordering this desk soon. It’s an ergonomic desk by Herman Miller. Check it out:
The front portion of the desk upon which you place your keyboard and mouse slides toward you so that you can remain reclined in your chair. You can also get the option for a motorized lift to adjust the table top up and down.
As you can see, there are several different great desk options to choose from, with a variety of colors, styles, sizes, and finishes. When choosing a desk, remember the main features to look for:
If you keep all of these aspects in mind, it shouldn’t be hard to find the right desk for you. If you are looking to maximize the usable space in your home, then the smaller desks, corner desks, and floating desks would be good options. If you have a larger office space, and you want your desk to be the focal point, then a larger desk with an attractive and stylish hutch is definitely the way to go to turn your office into the perfect retreat.
Amazon and Wayfair all have a great selection of desks available. It is also a good idea to read the reviews on the desks you are thinking about purchasing. Online buying is different than purchasing from a retail store. Taking advantage of customer reviews, ratings, and other answered questions and FAQs will provide you with all of the information you need to make an informed decision and make an investment that will last for years to come.