I live in a typically London flat with my family - in other words, not huge, and with some challenging limitations on how we can use our space. Fortunately, as ex-canal boat owners, we’re better than the average family at finding ways to - ehem - optimise how we use it.
Before lockdown, we’d designed our space to provide a break from work. We were motivated by digital detox, and making sure we could spend time together as a family, in a single-task kind of a way. There was no dedicated desk space, and nowhere quiet for solo work. Clearly, the pandemic has changed all that - I thought it’d be useful to write-up some of the workspace hacks we’ve made to set aside a space for proper work.
We also managed to keep the budget down - we don’t know how long 100% remote working will carry on for, so we want to make sure we don’t end up making a big investment for what could be only a few more weeks of remote work.
I'll put all of the links to the products we bought for the upgrade at the bottom of this post - hopefully you might find some of them useful!
Our living room has an alcove where the bathroom comes into the main space, and we’d previously filled it with a Lombok cabinet that we love, which we use to hide away the mess when we’ve got guests. It’s not quite big enough to use as a room in its own right, but we realised that it’s perfect as a workspace.
We also wanted to give ourselves the option to hide work away from the rest of our living room. Any sort of horizontal divider would have made it too small to be in whilst also using it, but a curved shower rail was perfect. Some full-height curtains finished things, and allow us to draw them across when we’re done with work for the evening.
We wanted to make sure that both of us could comfortably work side-by-side, and that meant using the full width of the office alcove. Fortuitously, we’d picked-up a solid oak worktop from IKEA’s scratch-and-dent section on impulse about 6 months ago, and we’d been using it as a workbench for hobbies and cooking with some custom-made legs in the meantime.
With a toddler running around, everything on a flat surface is fair game, and combined with wanting to carry on with sit/stand working after my last job at Octopus, finding an adjustable-height base was a no-brainer. We found a brilliantly priced desk base from Flexispot, and were really happy to find a model that adjusted to the perfect width. They do more expensive ones with higher weight capacity and fancier control panels, but having used adjustable desks before, I know I all actually want is up/down buttons.
10 minutes with a hand saw (+1 to Japanese precision woodworking tools!) gave us a desktop which fits into the alcove perfectly. The Flexispot adjustable base arrives in a small box, and we assembled and screwed it to the desktop in about 15 minutes. It can take the desk from about 60cm off the ground up to maybe 1.2m - plenty of height to keep laptops and trackballs out of reach of our kleptomaniac toddler!
Now we’d setup the space, we had to think about how we wanted to use it.
I'm very much a person who uses visual prompts to keep on top of my to-do list. In the past, that’s meant things like regular calendar reminders and daily inbox summaries of my task list, but under lockdown there’s a combination of household distractions and work, so I wanted some way to put a to-do list in my field of view regularly as a cognitive prompt.
I had a spare monitor stashed away, so we ordered a basic wall-mount VESA monitor arm (VESA is the standard for the screw hole spacing on the back of TVs and monitors). The monitor sits at the perfect height to be a second monitor for my laptop when the desk’s raised to standing height. When I’m not using it for something specific, I’m running a Mac app called Plash which sets a website as your desktop, and I’ve written a one-page web app which displays my to-do list and schedule. I’ll be writing another post about that, and sharing the source code. It means I’ve always got a screen showing my to-dos, and I know it’ll be in my eye-line at least once every few hours. As an added bonus, I can put a window in the corner showing the video stream from the baby monitor, which takes a load off our minds after bedtime.
We also both use headphones - noise cancelling and headsets - we need to keep headphones nearby. Searching Thingiverse, I found a 3D printable headphone bracket which screws into the underside of the desktop, and printed two of them (one for each side).
Finally, we’ve got assorted laptop stands, keyboards, USB hubs and so on, but they’re far less interesting.
You might also have spotted the microphone and overhead bracket installed on the back of the desk - that’s one for a separate post!
What're your space-saving workspace hacks? Ping me and let me know what you’ve done to help break the monotony of the sofa office! I’d love to re-post any particularly cool ones.
Curved shower rail:
IKEA RÅSUNDA oak worktop (we found one for £70 in Bargain Corner!):
Japanese hand saw (not exactly mine, but close):
Flexispot adjustable desk frame:
VESA wall mount for monitor:
Plash Mac app - make a website your desktop background:
3D printable headphone mount: