Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Affordable Sit / Stand Desks

-By Dan dos Santos

People who sit down at work all day suffer a lot of health risks, including back problems, wrist problems, and increased risk of heart problems. But standing all day isn't the best either. That comes with a slew of it own problems, including back, knee and ankle problems.

If it's one thing I've learned from having locked myself in a studio for the past 15 years, it's that ANYTHING in excess is bad for you.

Art by Patterson Clark

When I paint at an easel, I'm pretty good about doing some of it while sitting, and some of it while standing. I usually let the painting itself dictate which. As a result, I tend to feel OK after a long day of painting, but after a long day at the computer... I'm an utter mess.

I have seen a lot of artists convert their computer desks to standing set-ups. I've heard wonderful things about the change, but I suspect, like all things in excess, that will pose it's own set of problems for them soon enough.

It seems to me that the wisest solution is a combination sit/stand desk. Unfortunately, most sit/stand solutions have been prohibitively expensive for the average artist. Recently though, Ikea released a very affordable desk. This led me to do some research, and I discovered a few other options as well.

A few things to keep an eye out for when purchasing a sit/stand desk...

Be aware of the full height adjustment range when purchasing a sit/stand desk. An "adjustable standing desk" is NOT the same as an "adjustable sit/stand desk". The former simply being a standing only desk with just a few inches range of adjustment. You want a desk that goes all the way up, and all the way down.

Also, take a close look at the maximum weight load capacity. Many of these desks are designed for short term laptop use, and can sometimes only hold 35 pounds or so. This is obviously not adequate for a full-time studio use.

First, the Ikea Bekant Desk:

The desk is electronically adjustable from a completely sitting position, to a completely standing position, with a range of 22" - 48"  and can hold a few hundred pounds.

The complete desk, with base and top, will set you back $500, but that's really not that bad when you consider the cost of a single doctor's visit, or a professional masseuse.

The table top is available is a variety of colors and shapes, giving it a nice clean look. All reviews I've read about the desk thus far are universally positive.

You may have to hunt this one down depending on how close your nearest Ikea is, or you can purchase it online:

For those who are a bit more budget minded (or simply prefer mechanical solutions over electronic ones, like myself), there are crank operated sit/stand desks.

The crank doesn't require a ton of effort, even with a loaded work surface, and also provides a higher fidelity in my opinion (It would be a shame to let an expensive desk go to waste only because one cheap electronic button stopped working).

Just like the Ikea version, this desk can hold about 150 pounds. Though, it does have a slightly smaller height adjustment range, from 28" - 42". However, this discrepancy is compensated for with a double tiered desktop, giving you better control of the height your wrists are at.

This desk is considerable less expensive, and can be found at various sites on the web, including Amazon, for as low as $320:

In addition to a versatile desk, I would also recommend you get yourself a heavy duty work mat. If you're the kind of person that moves around a lot while you paint, it may not be necessary. But for most people, you'll see an immediate decrease in fatigue after standing for 8 hours.

The health problems that come from such a sedentary lifestyle can be serious, and I've seen a lot of creative solutions from artists over the years, including treadmill desks, computer stands made from podiums, and so on. If you have a unique, or cost effective solution, please share it in the comments section.


  1. And check with your doctor! My husband, for example, has 10 metal pins in his left ankle, and shouldn't and can't stand for more than one hour.

  2. I've been using a standing desk for a few years now and I love it. I have minor scoliosis, and my shoulder also gets worn out more when I work sitting: both of these are improved by standing. Neck pain from art is gone with keeping my monitors higher, and having my Cintiq on an ergotron arm so I don't have to look down at it. But sometimes I am just extra tired, or need a break from standing if I've been running a lot.
    For the desk itself, I just modified an old wooden desk I have had since high school by (with the help of my more construction-savvy sister,) buying some wood at about the same size/shape as the regular legs and securing them to the pre-existing legs to raise the height. And yeah, the mat helps a lot too, to keep heels from getting sore... especially when I lived somewhere with a wood floor.
    For a sitting option, I just dug around on the internet until I found an adjustable chair tall enough to let me work at the desk sitting. I'm 5'5"', so if you're tall maybe there isn't one tall enough to be correct for your height, but at around $120 this was cheaper than buying a whole new adjustable desk.
    In the past year I've tried a treadmill too; I use this some most days for a few hours, I can just pull it into or out of place as needed. You sorta forget you are doing it after a while if its not set very fast, and I can digitally paint fine if it's under 1.5mph or so, though I originally got it more for long writing sessions. It keeps me from locking my knees or putting all my weight into one hip. Sometimes I almost feel silly about it, but meh: Getting the extra walking in is nice! It sorta encourages that same bustle of energy you get when you're cleaning the house or something.

  3. Good article! FWIW you can often find discounted sit/stand desks through local university surplus or surplus office furniture places. The university I worked at demolished a building and surplussed all the furniture, including dozens of crank-style and electric sit-stands.

    Living in the Silicon Valley we also have the unfortunate/fortunate side-effect of lots of surplus furniture left over from failed businesses...

    And if all else fails Craigslist is a good place to check. I found a solid, old-school, adjustable drafting table for $75 so I can sit or stand when I paint.

    Similar to this but a little smaller:$_57.JPG

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Max. I have an electric drafting table that I use for painting too, but I don't trust it with my computer. It has an adjustable tilt to it that can easily tip with excessive weight.

  4. Just want to say thanks for such a useful post.

    I'm making my own desk at the moment from old scaffolding boards and newel-posts.
    Eventually it will be two-tiered and sport an Ergotron Cintiq arm.
    I'll post details on my own blog once it's done, next month.

    A correctly proportioned custom desk is far better than standard,one size fits no-one, office furniture- but it's not as cheap (or as quick) as you might think to produce.

    Thanks Dan!

  5. Thank you! This is something I've done a lot of working with last year as well, after a knee injury somewhat related to how I sit and months of physical therapy to correct it I had to make some changes. I love my exercise ball seat and love standing and painting on my anti-fatigue mat. Plus, now that I am so used to using my muscles in more ways regularly, I find that I have less patience to sit in one pace for too long and need to move and stretch at regular intervals. There are a ton of great stretches that can be found on the internet to keep things flexible as well. The hip flexors can lead to a lot of really nasty injuries if not cared for.

  6. Thanks for the great post!

    I'd been struggling with finding a cheap solution to the sit/stand desk for a while. I finally broke down and made my own for under $60. It's just an 3 way adjustable monitor mount from monoprice ( and then a folding breakfast tray ( I made my own tray from scratch to fit my smaller space, but the tray would work the same way. The only other tricky bit is finding a raise platform to mount the monitor mount on so that the standing height will fit your needs depending on your height. I built a simple small one out of some 2x4s.
    The sitting position is tray folded with the keyboard, mouse or drawing tablet on it and the monitor lowered. Then I can switch to standing in a second by just popping out the legs (no need to take anything off of it) and raising the monitor. Great if you want to switch throughout the day from sitting to standing.

  7. Congratulations on having one of the most sophisticated blog, I have come throughout in some time. Its just incredible how much you can take away from something simply because of how visually beautiful it,s! You have put with each other a great blog space--- great graphics, videos, layout. This is absolutely a must we blog.

  8. I think this is the best solution I found. I really want one especially for those long painting days.

  9. I'm not using a desk, but I find it beneficial to switch between standing and sitting while working at my easel. I can't stand on the non-padded floor longer than half an hour though because my heels start to hurt. Found a great solution here It isn't cheap but oh so cushy.

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  11. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It's always useful to read through articles from other authors and practice something from other sites. No doubt, standing desks are real need of nowadays and if someone is looking to buy a new standing desk then nothing can be more better than this list of standing desks.


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