Kya deLongchamps puts the executive details into your home office with her practical guide
An organised pause to balance the laptop for bill-paying or a dedicated home office useful to you or the entire family. Detail a sweet spot you’ll want to spend time at.
Fifteen years ago, we would talk about desk lighting starting with ambient light (natural and introduced) and task lighting. Now, your PC or laptop will be the brightest gear on the desk. Try to balance all the light to a gentle, natural northerly effect — shadow-less with little contrasts.
On your PC there is often a ‘night-mode’ to reduce short-wavelength visible blue light which can lead to digital strain and reduced productivity. You can also add a blue light-reducing app and/or physical screen. There’s an integrated blue light filter on Apple Macs. Keep in mind that most of these products warm up colour balance — important if you work with imagery.
Elsewhere, aim to scatter, bounce, and diffuse light, avoiding direct light as much as possible — desk lamps are often eye-watering offenders. Look for models with focus, dimmers and diffusing shade designs. Recessed LED spotlighting with gentle lumens operated by wall switch on a 5amp circuit, disguised under the edge of solid wall mounted shelving, can work well. If you’re lucky enough to have window light, set it to the front or the side of your work table and use solar window shades to tame it as needed.
Start with you — in a sitting or standing position. Seated, your feet should be flat on the floor, knees bent at a 45-degree angle, the thighs parallel to the desk surface, knees and hip level to each other. You should be able to rest your forearms comfortably on the desktop without lifting your shoulders or stooping into the desk. A good swivel chair rated for regular use will set you back in the area of €250 to well over €1,000.
The presence of arms and the width of the seat will impact (literally) your choice of desk — so beware of narrow knee-holes and, say, an Eames Aluminium Group executive chair intended for large suited backsides with a muscular steel frame that cannot be altered. If the desk is being shared a chair with a pneumatic lift and some sort of footrest will be crucial. Good cushioning in a breathable fabric or weave suits most people (leather can be extremely hot).
Personally, I like a tilting chair for stretching out the back during breaks and phone-calls. Casters also allow a little human play, relaxing slides, and an easy glide to storage elements. The human spine is not straight or fixed, so any chair that allows you to move will fight the new adage that ‘sitting is the new smoking’. A secondhand Aeron from Herman Miller, a robust RH Logic 400 or any chair by HumanScale are worth the investment. If you really fidget, take a look at the Hags Calimso Puls chair in a spare cruciform back, €417, kos.ie. Protect any wood flooring against caster grazes with matting.
With enough room for your legs (crossed) at your optimum chair height, the set up of the desk will be affected by what you are doing at it and what technology you favour. Still, useful, healthy distances and body positions don’t change. Don’t just go all in with an online buy of the standard desk height of 74cm. Standing height is in the area of 90cm for a surface, but ensure you get this right.
The surface of the desk should be just below your natural wrist height, straight out from the forearms. If you’re less than arm’s length from your monitor, it’s too small or your desk is to skinny.
Laptops can be fitted with a keyboard, separating the elements to allow the machine to functioning as a monitor. If you’re reaching up at the wrist to type — the desk is too high. The monitor should be only very slightly below eye level with you sitting up straight and the screen set at a 10 to 20-degree tilt.
Limit the use of the mouse, which can, over time lead to RSI. The ‘b’ key is at the centre of your querty keyboard — aim it at your belly button.
If you don’t use the table surface a lot the keyboard can be lower than the main surface — so long as your wrists are straight to type, it doesn’t really matter. There’s a useful tool for an ergonomic arrangement here.
Most storage problems are not solved with more storage furniture. Don’t buy in fat cabinets and micro-management pieces that add another 2m² to your storage challenges. Identify what counts and cut down the leaflets, antediluvian bills, cards and other ephemeral dross. Generally a couple of table trays and a good four-drawer cabinet from Bisley or Pierre Henry will do the job (€80-€150, with two-drawer colour pops by PH at Argos for just €80).
Even if you’re a bit of a dumper, when it comes to paperwork — using open trays (wire, cardboard, resin, or timber) and a primitive system of in-trays and out, everyone can manage a reasonably organised home office.
Deeper longer desks can accommodate free-standing storage pieces including the essential three-stack tray. If you don’t want to move out of position while working — fasten what you can over and under the work surface. System shelving can be used as a wall hutch — we love the robust quality of Elfa (now in chrome) and iconic Danish String shelving.
Presuming we have open shelving climbing the walls in an intelligent small footprint of vertical thrust — blind or partially hide what you have with further separation.
Good quality box files contain a large clip which holds the paperwork in place. Sitting up in book form, they are cheap in volumes of three or more; laid flat, and open, they act as trays. They look great with the fashion for wire or covered wire airy storage units in 2019. Eight Exacompta slender boxes are €42.42 in a rainbow of colours with matching card dividers, vikingdirect.ie Don’t forget cable-trunking to keep this look cool and crisp as a Silvermint — from €6.50 for 6.6m with 14-piece Fixa cable management sets from €4.50, IKEA.
Just as you would with a wardrobe or kitchen, divide your paperwork, accessorising into frequently used/occasionally used and hardly used at all (but necessary) and putting the least important items higher. Pegboards look pretty when well kept, and can soften the workspace in a family room. Block-branded boards, great for a fun family/office gallery — are priced from €22-€47 with fixings (shelving and standing blocks extra), salingerslittle.ie.
Where you are sharing territory or multi-tasking in one room, short filing or drawer cabinets on casters that can be rumbled out when you are setting up are ideal. Aim for any partition to be in the area of 115cm to hide you physically and psychologically while still allowing for parental glares across the room.