11 Attractive Standing Desks You Can Actually Afford

by Lars Peterson on 28 October 2013 12 comments
Photo: juhansonin

Ernest Hemingway wrote at a standing desk (sometimes a very frugal DIY one). Charles Dickens wrote at one, too, and generations of architects, engineers, and draftsmen did their work at standing desks and tables. The writers claimed standing helped them find inspiration and maybe that is also true for the artists and designers. Most folks agreed that sitting was for slackers. Standing at their work was also much better for their health. (See also: The Top 5 Standing Desks)

Unfortunately, these days many of us spend our working hours planted firmly in our chairs, and we're suffering because of it. In the past few years, health researchers have determined that sitting all day is killing us. It's bad for our backs. It's bad for our postures. It's bad for our muscles and our hearts and our metabolism. It's bad for weight loss. Worse? Sitting's ill effects cannot be undone by a few hours a week at the gym. (See also: 25 Reasons to Get Out of Your Chair)

Those alarming studies were followed soon by an Internet mini-boom in standing desk chatter and design ideas and sales pitches. You can spend a lot of money for a custom, automatic desk that switches from sitting to standing at the touch of a button. Or you can spend nothing at all for the kludgiest, DIY standing desk imaginable — a folding chair on a desk.

What follows is a collection of 11 standing desk designs that fall somewhere in between touch-of-a-button and chair-on-a-desk. Stuff that won't embarrass you if your spouse or neighbor or co-worker catches you working at it. Some are high design and some are DIY hacks. All are probably better for you than the desk you're using now.

1. Steel Pipe

The only thing blowing up bigger than standing desks in the lifehack DIY corners of the Internet is stuff you can make with black or steel pipe. Of course you can make standing desks with pipe, too. This one is a little cleaner and simpler.

I really like this high design (and unfortunately high dollar) riff on on the steel pipe standing desk. The Adler Table adjusts from sitting to standing with an old timey hand crank.

2. Steel Pipe Kits

If you don't want to bother with cutting the pipe yourself, you can order a pre-cut kit with some clever pipe-unions from Simplified Building. The height is adjustable although you probably ought to move everything off your desk before you start fussing with it. In addition to the $200 for parts, you'll need to source a desktop.

3. Wall Desk

Wall desks have been around for a while and they're great if you work from a laptop and want make the switch to a standing desk part-time. Just mount at standing desk height rather than sitting, and you're ready for few hours on your feet.

4. Sawhorses

I haven't priced this out in detail, but a hundred bucks should get this done. And probably with enough cash to spare for snacks and beverages after. You'll need some steel sawhorse brackets, several lengths of 2x4 lumber (check the bracket package for a chart that explains how long to cut your lumber for a given table height, otherwise the math is here), a hollow core door for the desktop, and a quart of paint if you want to get crafty. (See also: How to Repaint Old Furniture)

Too rough and tumble? Try this elegant, adjustable tall sawhorse design.

5. Box on a Desk

Dangerously close to folding chair on a desk, the box on a desk offers a little more stability than the chair and almost as much frugality. I've got a soft spot for boxes (and milk crates), and this is a good cheap solution for folks who want to experiment with standing.

6. Modular Shelving

You can find all sorts of modular shelving systems — Elfa from the Container Store, for example — that include parts for desks. When you're setting up your home office work space, just configure the desk at standing height.

Modified Hungarian Shelves would work well, too.

7. IKEA Hack

Ikea products are inexpensive, and durable enough for most of us, and really well-suited to hacking, including into standing desks in a variety of designs.

Or you can get a kit that turns some inexpensive IKEA parts into an adjustable height standing desk.

8. High Shelf

Few DIY jobs are simpler than mounting a shelf on a wall.

For a long time I sweated over the details of a DIY version of this pricey wall-mounted, floating desk that I wanted to build and install in my home office. Alas, I need more tools (and money) to make it happen.

9. Laptop Stand

Back toward the chair on the desk end of the spectrum is the simple and elegant desktop laptop stand.

10. Home Built

If you don't mind your workspace looking like a tall workbench or potting table, you can put one together yourself with a few basic power tools (just a drill and a circular saw, which I do have). (See also: Build Your Own Furniture: 9 Tips for Non-Carpenters)

11. Recycled Drafting Table

And here we are right back where we started — the drafting table. An adjustable drafting table is the solution I have decided to try in my own home office — soon. Durable, sturdy, spacious, adjustable, and affordable (under $250 new, less if I can find a used one in good condition). It's not the most attractive of the bunch, but it's got the right mix of features and price, and it's a form I trust and recognize from high school drafting class.

What about you? Have you switched, or are you planning to switch, to a standing desk? What's your affordable solution?

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Guest's picture
Jon

Great post! I started with a homemade standing desk using some adjustable shelf brackets and premade shelving. I found that standing while working just didn't work for me. I used the same shelving and a $75 treadmill from CL to build a basic treadmill desk. It has changed the way I work! I walk and work at least 20 miles a week and feel so much better at the end of the day. It cost a total of $125 to to make me feel like a million bucks at the end of the work day.

Guest's picture
KTB

I have a "nonprofit" standing desk at work that is constructed entirely of the financial file boxes that we're required to keep around for 7 or so years. I have two stacked underneath my monitor and two next to each other under my keyboard and mouse. I also purchased an inexpensive anti-fatigue mat, which has really helped keep my feet, legs, and lower back happy.

Guest's picture
Jamie

Love the industrial shelving option!

Guest's picture
Valletta

I work at a well known silicon valley company and have had a standing desk for almost 15 years. Lower back pain, no shoulder "computer hunch" pain and lower weight, more energy, just from standing about 4-5 hours per work day. I highly recommend it!

If you work for a company ask Facilities for an ergonomic review and they will probably pay for the adjustment.

Guest's picture
Sam

I put my desk (actually a small table) up on cinder blocks. It's not the sturdiest thing ever, but no more rickety than some of these other ideas :-)

Guest's picture

A standing work desk would do me a world of good, especially if I was walking on a treadmill during my work. However, my work does require a lot of focus – I wonder if anyone has struggled with getting less work done with a standing desk.

Anyway, great idea! Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

I can't sit or stand for long periods of time since hip surgery, so I sometimes work on my ironing board with a piece of cardboard on top - it's the perfect height, adjustable, and free, plus it folds away when I move back to my desk.

Guest's picture

Hmmm, the choices are using a standing desk or siting on a yoga ball. :)

Lars Peterson's picture

As it happens, I do sit on a yoga ball at my desk. Actually, it's a "Balance Ball Chair," which is a smallish yoga ball in plastic stand. It's got wheels like a desk chair, and a back rest. But otherwise, it promotes good posture, and one can stretch and do limited core exercises, if were were so inclined (so to speak), same as a regular yoga ball.

Can you point to any science or studies about the health effects of a yoga ball? I'd be really curious to learn how effective this thing is.

Guest's picture

Hi Lars,

I think the yoga ball and balance ball chair are the same thing. I have no empirical evidence that either provides any sort of physical benefit. Has it helped you?

Guest's picture

I used to sit all day in an office and it really gave me a bad back. Even getting out the gym at lunch is not enough, you need to stand up and move around more in order to improve your general health. Great idea to talk to HR and try to get a standing desk at work... but those Human Resources people mostly only deal with hiring and firing these days! Better to try to create strategies to keep you active... sent stuff to a printer on the next floor, go and talk to your colleagues when you have a question rather than just email or phone. Best of all try to "wriggle about" as much as you can... just avoid sitting still!

Guest's picture
Tom

Nice post. I built my desk with the kit in #7 of your list from diystandingdeskkit.com . It was really easy to assemble and looks good in my apartment. I started with t he ol' box on top of desk then the books under the desk legs to elevate the desk, but that just wasn't very "zen" and looked really bad. I looked for commercial standing desks, but they were just way too expensive. I got the IKEA desk, the DIY kit and an adjustable dual monitor stand for around $200 and couldn't be happier with it...it saved my back and I feel much better than when I used to sit all day.