The Office Evolution

I love my house.

There are plenty of reasons but, at least when I first moved in, one of my favorite features was my office – a ‘study’ style room located right off the front entrance. Here’s a shot of the desk, sometime around 2010 or so.


The carpet got pretty worn out over time, but I was very happy with the ‘library’ feel of the walls, the nice window, and most of all the door. One of the most-viewed posts I’ve ever written was about how you don’t need Neil Gaiman’s gazebo to write, and I absolutely stand by that, but I do believe it really, really helps if you have a reliable way to shut out the rest of the world, and for me the best way to accomplish that is a solid door.

That isn’t to say I’m a complete hermit. My office always had a second desk in it, for example, so Kate or Kaylee could hang out, but I did manage to keep it free of toys and the random cruft that seemed to accumulate in other rooms of the house.

Thanks to Kate, I even got rid of the old carpet.

The thing was, while our house has a lot of square footage, it’s always been distributed in odd ways. When I first moved in, there were two bedrooms, the office, a five-hundred square foot unfinished “utility room”, a room we weren’t allowed to call a bedroom for zoning reasons… and four living rooms. More than a bit silly.

This wasn’t a huge problem at the beginning, but it’s meant quite a bit of remodeling as our family grew. Kate’s agency took over the weird, large “not legally a bedroom”, then Kaylee needed a new bedroom to make room for Sean (and ended up with the largest single bedroom in the house when we built her room out of a big part of unfinished portion of the basement)…

And then there was Zoe.

Man, we didn’t know what to do about Zoe’s room. Put her in with Sean? Bassinet in the master bedroom while we try to figure out something better?

Eventually, I realized I had to give up my office.

zoes room

The office gets a new door, a paintjob, and voila. Very nice.

Still, it’s a good thing she’s cute, because damn I loved that office.

This move required some more shuffling elsewhere in the house. I moved the core elements of my office into the office downstairs, we gave up any illusion of having a semi-dedicated Guest space, and did quite a lot of work assembling bookcases for KT Literary 2.0.


The end with our desks. See if you can tell with side is the guy who just moved in, and which is the business desk of a company that’s been running full-tilt for over five years.


The end with Kate’s client books, and a hideaway desk that – at the time – we’d put in for use by Kaylee (on the weekends) and Kate’s then-assistant, Renee (now an associate agent) when she wasn’t working remotely.

This has worked pretty well, even when I shifted to more contract work out of our home office. We used to joke that having me out at a company office for most of the week helped keep us from killing each other, but in practice it really hasn’t been that bad… due in part to the standing desk I built for myself (out in the main public space in the basement), where I tend to do most of my work during the day.


Basically, everything was working pretty well. It wasn’t ideal, really, because while I had a place for my desk, I’d lost my door. Most of the time, I didn’t feel it, though.

And then KT Literary expanded. Yikes.

Don’t get me wrong: this is exciting and absolutely good news, but one of the reasons Kate and Renee and Sara were excited about the agreement was the fact they’d be able to work together a couple days every week.

Scroll back up a few pictures.

Do you see four desks in that office?

Me neither.

For the first couple weeks, we solved this problem by setting Sara up at my desk. I keep my workspace obsessively sparse mostly clear of clutter, so it was quite simple to push the monitors, keyboard and mouse to the back of the desk and create more than enough space for a laptop.

But Sara wasn’t comfortable, because she didn’t really have a space.

And I wasn’t comfortable either, because (once again) I’d lost mine. Yes, I still had my standing desk during the day, but what had once been ‘my’ desk had turned into a co-working space, and that… bugged me.

Didn’t help that my oldest kid was asking questions like “what do you need a space of your own for, anyway?” or “why not just put your computer in the laundry room on the sewing table?” Thanks for the sympathy, kid.

Kate and I talked about options, and had even contacted our tried-and-true contractor to get an estimate on putting up a new wall in the large main basement room to create an office out of the part of the space where I’d set up my standing desk. On the one hand, I’d once again have a space with a door on it. On the other (as I put it to my contractor), it felt like “we’ve run out of places in the house to kick me out of, so we need a new one.” Neither of us were entirely happy with that solution, and I’d spent several days looking at “tiny office” and “garden shed office” designs to see if I could come up with something… less bad. I mean, I like living well in the space provided, instead of just “going bigger”, and I felt as though there had to be some way we could just use the space we had, more efficiently.

Then I had an idea.

I looked at this part of our existing office…

office (2)

And asked Kate, “What if we put a desk in that corner?”

“I am intrigued,” she said. “How would we do that?”

We discussed a few options, including another fold-out desk, but after a bit of research, I set out to Ikea the next morning to pick up one of these…


And a bundle of these…


Then, all I had to do was take the same measurements five or six dozen times to make sure I didn’t make a mistake, warm up our circular saw, and cut everything down to this:


… a five-sided, three-legged corner desk.

There was a little bleeding involved, and one permanently lost set of car keys (unrelated, as near as I can tell, but frustrating), but it came out pretty darn well.


Throw in a couple low-profile wall shelves for showing off a book or three, and we have ourselves an office, with a desk in every corner. KT Literary 3.0.


I’m not sure how long things will stay as they are – I still don’t have that door – but there are other ways to close the world out, and for now, for those two or three “everyone together” days a week, we’re pretty happy.

Stand and Deliver

I spend a lot of time working on a computer.

I don’t mean ‘eight hours’: eight hours would be a remarkably light amount of screen time for me on any weekday. Given that I get up around 6 am (or earlier; thank you, Zoe), don’t head to bed until around 11:30 pm, and spend all but about 2 or 3 hours of that time looking at some kind of LCD… yeah. It adds up.

It has, as the kids say, always been thus, and after some near misses with serious repetitive stress injuries in college, I devoted more than a little thought to ensuring my (potentially) sixteen daily hours of computer work didn’t cripple me. Different keyboard and mice styles at home than at work — that sort of thing. Lately, my smartphone has taken up about fifty percent of the casual, look-it-up browsing that I do at home (more out of the necessity born of need-an-answer-while-holding-infant than it being an especially good replacement), and my Macbook Air is handling at least 70% of my serious at-home computer use (because it is an especially good replacement), but none of that addresses the real killer hiding behind that much time sitting at a desk.

The actual sitting.

I’d pondered the idea of a standing desk for a long time, but it simply wasn’t something I could start doing at home – there are too many times when I’m already at the computer and suddenly need to do that and (say) hold a kid in my lap.

So I turned to my day job work environment, and the question of how I could incorporate a standing desk. I tried several solutions that didn’t stand (heh) the test of time, but the current iteration is both one I’m very happy with and something I believe is cheap and easy enough to recommend to nearly everyone (assuming you’re within driving distance of an Ikea). I’ve been using this set up for a little over two years, and I find it helps me focus, increases my energy levels, and (very important) keeps me from dozing off after a long night of toddler wrangling.

Sitting is killing you, after all, so maybe this will help.

Start with your basic cubicle. You’re going to be working with the “long” side of the cubicle (on the right, in this picture), which should measure roughly 48 inches long and about 23 or 24 inches deep, give or take.

Grab two Linnmon table tops from Ikea. You can use the version that is 39″ long (which cost about $6 each) or (my preference) the 47″ versions. Both lengths are the same 23.5″ depth, which fit most cubicle dimensions perfectly.

(If you don’t have an Ikea around, just check out the website, see what I’m talking about, and go look for something similar – they are very common dimensions for table and desk tops.)

Buy two four-packs of Capita legs from Ikea. They come in 4″, 6″, and 8″ lengths. Remembering that the desk tops themselves are 1″ deep, you can add leg height to desk thickness to figure out what combination will bring the top of the desk even with your elbows, once the whole thing is sitting on your cubicle desk. Someone who’s shorter may only need one desk top and a single set of legs.

(Example: I am six feet tall. My cubicle desk is 28.5″ high. I purchase one set of 8″ legs, and one set of 4″ legs which, combined with the two desk tops, and stacked one atop the other, makes a standing desk ‘addition’ that’s roughly 14.5″ high or, when added to the cubicle, 43″ from the ground.)

If you want to get fancy, get one more set of capita 4″ legs and mount them to a spare bookshelf shelf – use that as a riser for your monitors.


With this, I lose no desktop space (rather, I gain considerably more easy-access storage for whatever I’m working on at the moment) move the laptop dock out of my way, and create a spot where I can comfortably stand for six to eight hours a day (what I do), which is apparently the equivalent yearly calorie burn of running 20 marathons (which I will never do).

Works a treat, costs 40 to 60 bucks total, you don’t have to justify it to your company’s budget people, and you can take it with you when you leave.