Standing desk in a bookcase

Got a bookcase with adjustable shelves? Want to see what using a standing desk feels like? Here’s an inexpensive way to try it out. You’ll need a separate keyboard and pointing device (mouse, tablet, trackball, whatever).

The middle shelf of an Ikea Billy Bookcase is perfect height (About 42″ or 106cm) for a keyboard and mouse for me (I’m 5’6″), so I put those there. I emptied out the next shelf and placed it about 8 inches above that one. My 15″ laptop, 19″ external monitor, and a power bar fit up there. I could run wires behind the shelves (taking advantage of the bendy rear surface of the Billy) to connect the 2 areas.

It took about 10 minutes to set up, another 10 minutes to tear down, and proved that getting a standing desk at home was worthwhile to me.

Be wary of using this long-term because you might be too close to your monitor. My face was 13″ away from the screen instead of the usual 19″ I find comfortable.

More examples

Similar idea, using up 1 shelf instead of 2 for laptop

A fancier version of my Ikea hack with stow-away monitor

Similar idea with shorter bookcase

Cat image is from Neko

Counter balanced sit/stand desks

There are 3 ways of moving height adjustable desks up and down:

  1. Hand cranks
  2. Electric power
  3. Counter balances

Hand cranks aren’t for lazy people because they take repetitive physical effort to spin. Electric desks aren’t for impatient people because they are slow.

Counter balanced based desks are interesting to me. They use springs or pneumatic systems to offset the weight of the things on them, and move as fast as your arms and hands can push them up or down.

HumanScale Float Table

The Float Table is the best design I’ve seen yet. Why?

  • No crossbars to bang your legs against
  • Spring-based counter balance can be adjusted with an easy to reach hand crank
  • Includes a mechanism to prevent the desk from going flying up or down when the load on the desk changes and no longer matches the counter balance’s strength

The desk moved smoothly and quietly when I tried it at the HumanScale showroom.


It is possible to buy the Float’s base without the desk top.

Ergotron WorkFit-D

The Workfit D is half the price of the Float Table, but makes some compromises:

  • adjusting the counter balance requires getting on the floor behind the desk with a ratchet and turning a hidden bolt on each leg
  • has crossbars that may hit your legs when sitting


The base is available without the top. Look for the WorkFit-B HD

Varidesk Pro

Varidesk makes a full size adjustable height desk along with their risers that go on top of existing desks. I’d like to see the Varidesk Pro in person. I wonder if the handle-holes ever get in the way.

StepsCount SC45

The SC45‘s dual-surface design is unique. The rear surface is static, and the front surface moves up and down on a gas lift and can be tilted. It is designed and sold by one small Canadian company, and I can’t find much written about it anywhere online.

Globe Stamping EZ Lift II

The EZ Lift II is a pair of arms that can be combined with an existing wall and desk surface to create an adjustable height desk. I tried it out at the Brigholme Interiors Group showroom and found it worked very well. Quiet, smooth, and it could be bolted on to a base with wheels to make it portable. Here’s the brochure.

Haworth Planes Table with Torsion Paddle

Haworth Planes Table

Haworth offers a pneumatic-lift height adjustable version of the Planes Table.

Torsion pneumatic cylinder provides continuous adjustment range within 27″(686mm) to 45″(1143mm) height range.
Paddle is standard in black.
Base standard with Trivalent chrome telescoping base tubes.

Online details are slim, so check page 182 and 183 of this PDF.

Global Height Adjustable Table

Global Adjustable Table

Another table without a ton of details online. A bit under $1000 CAD with a single crank to adjust the counter-balance. Ugoburo sells it.

HumanScale M2 and Ergotron LX Monitor arms

I’ve been using a HumanScale M2 at home for 2 months now, and just purchased an Ergotron LX desk mount arm to hold up my laptops. Here’s my thoughts so far.

3 things I love about monitor arms

  1. Pulling the monitor closer to my face using my hands instead of pulling my face closer to the monitor using my neck and spine is a very good thing.

  2. Arms have smaller footprints than stock monitor stands, and are at the back of the desk leaving more room for tablets, paper, cats, and other stuff.

  3. With arms mounted at the back/sides of the desk, the rest of the desk has fewer wires getting tangled on top of it and is easier to keep clean.

HumanScale M2

Humanscale M2

I picked up an almost-new HumanScale M2 off of Kijiji for about $100. When purchased new it has a 15 year warranty, so I have faith it will last a while. Mine came with a bolt-through mount which was easy to install. My mostly-hollow Ikea Linnmon table-top has no problem supporting it so far.

The arm looks great, and is currently holding up a ~12 lb Dell 2208WFP monitor with no issues. It takes 2 hands and some force to adjust the position and angle. This could mean I haven’t set the tension settings properly, or a result of the monitor being on the light side of the suggested weight range. Being able to rotate the monitor 360 (limited only by the power and display cables) is great, but sometimes I can’t tell if the monitor is level or not which leads to fidgeting with it.

October 2014 update: The M2 is now holding up a ~14 lb 27″ BenQ BL2710PT with no problem. The range of motion allows me to lower the monitor almost to the surface of my desk, or raise the bottom of the frame 8.5″ up in the air. I move it a bit every day, depending on how I’m sitting.

Ergotron LX Desk Mount Arm

Ergotron LX arm

The Ergotron LX Desk Mount Arm should be a great value if it doesn’t break. It’s half the price of a new M2 with two mount types included (but only a 5 year warranty), has similar reach and supported weight range specs, and has greater angle adjustment range than the M2. I plan to use this arm to hold up a laptop. It is chunkier looking than the M2, but allows me to lock the rotation of the monitor at a level angle, and can also tilt back much farther.

October 2014 update: The LX and its notebook tray accessory have been holding up numerous 13″ – 15″ laptops reliably for a few months now. One of my favourite things to do is raise it up to about 14″, and then run another notebook or multiple touchscreen devices on my desk under the tray. It’s like having a shelf. I can test web apps on a lot of devices simultaneously right in front of me this way.

Things these arms have common

  • Spring based vertical tension (no gas cylinders)
  • Mostly made of aluminium
  • Similar reach distance
  • Similar minimum and maximum weights
  • Lots of good reviews on Amazon

Things that are different

  • M2 has a 3x longer warranty
  • M2 is usually 2x the price
  • M2 has a quick release VESA plate that makes it easier to swap monitors
  • LX has a wider ranger of monitor angle adjustments
  • LX can lock monitor rotation (using 1 screw) to keep the monitor level

Related links

Chairs for programmers

I need a new chair. My current no-name mesh back chair has these problems:

  • worn out seat no longer provides cushioning
  • reclining lifts my feet off the ground
  • arm rests are too tall to fit under desk
  • mesh back doesn’t provide enough support, and enforces bad posture
  • seat is too deep for my legs

(this list keep growing as I learn more about ergonomics)

Over the past few months I’ve tried out a bunch of chairs at home, in stores, and showrooms. Here’s my picks in order from Awesome to Not for me:

  1. Zody
  2. Aeron
  3. Very
  4. SAYL
  5. Liberty
  6. Embody
  7. World
  8. Mirra 2
  9. ReGeneration
  10. Celle
  11. Setu

Here are my impressions of each chair, roughly in the order that I tried them out (tried first = top of the list)

Herman Miller Aeron

I rented a Herman Miller Aeron for 2 weeks from Executive Furniture Rentals in Toronto just to try it out. I used one when I worked at marketing agency around 2007. It’s as good as I remember! I find I compare all the other chairs to this one.



  • best feeling mesh seat and back
  • I can feel it improving my back and should posture. My shoulders aren’t pushed forwards, and my upper back is straightening. I can feel it stretching.
  • reclining tension and feel is great
  • even the non-adjustable arm rests fit under desk


  • seat depth is not adjustable. You pick a chair size (A, B or C), and you are stuck with it
  • adjustable arm rests don’t quite come to the right spot for my body – a bit too low at the highest setting

Other links:

Herman Miller SAYL

I spent a couple of hours in a Herman Miller SAYL at a consulting job a few months ago, and in a few stores.



  • less expensive than many other chairs here (30% – 50% less). That money could go towards a better standing desk
  • narrow back is great putting my shoulders in the right place (I can feel my collar bones sink back in to where they should be), and makes it easy to stretch by reaching behind your back


  • spongey seat isn’t as nice as Aeron’s mesh
  • fixed armrests are too tall to fit under desk. Need adjustable armrests which negates most of the price advantage

I wish I could find a place to rent one in Canada. CORT in the USA rents the SAYL

Other links:

Herman Miller Mirra

This is supposed to be one of the successors to the Aeron. I spent a few minutes in Herman Miller Mirra at a store. The mesh seat as good as the Aeron, but lacks in other areas.



  • has an adjustable length mesh seat
  • arm rests are almost perfect


  • back rest is less comfortable than other chairs – it feels like hard plastic
  • less lower back support than an Aeron
  • almost the same price as an Aeron

Other links:

Mirra vs Mirra 2

The Herman Miller Mirra 2 has a softer feeling back than the Mirra. I didn’t notice other major differences. The seat is comfortable and the seat length adjustment is really cool, but I fit better in the Aeron.

Mirra 2

Knoll Regeneration

The padded seat and mesh back of the Knoll Regeneration reminded me of the SAYL, but without the freedom to move my arms around due to the wide back.

Knoll Regeneration


Herman Miller Setu


The Herman Miller Setu is not a heavy duty office chair, but it was nearby and meshy looking, so I gave it a try.


  • lightweight and simple compared to something heavy and complex like the Aeron
  • feels great when you first sit in it and it bends around your body


  • not as comfortable as some other chairs after sitting in it for a while
  • expensive for a chair without adjustments
  • tall arm rests stop it from rolling under desks

HumanScale World

Humanscale Diffrient World Chair

The Humanscale Diffrient World chair was a surprise find. I spent about 20 minutes in it in a few sitting sessions. It has a mesh seat and back like my favorite (the Aeron), and is much lighter and simpler to adjust.


  • HumanScale’s 15 year warranty is the longest in this comparison
  • really lightweight and simple design compared to most other chairs
  • mesh seat and back for great breathability


  • backrest doesn’t feel as good as the Aeron. It probably works well for people wider than me
  • recline feature doesn’t feel as luxurious as the Aeron

HumanScale Liberty

HumanScale Liberty

I tried out the Liberty at the HumanScale showroom in Toronto back-to-back with the World chair. The Liberty feels a bit more solid than the World. Sitting in it was silent, and recline mechanism felt smoother. The back support fits my body very well.


  • simple and light
  • mesh back as a great shape
  • 15 year warranty is a loooong warranty


  • arm rests aren’t as adjustable as other chairs
  • seat might be too firm

Haworth Zody Task Chair


I tried out the Haworth Zody at the Haworth showroom in Toronto back-to-back with the Very. This chair feels solid and comfortable, and packs a lot of features.


  • great feeling mesh back and foam seat
  • armrests adjust to a perfect spot for my body
  • pretty good at letting my shoulders settle into the right spot


  • just missing a mesh seat

BTW, it’s pronounced hay-worth, not haw-orth.

Haworth Very Task Chair

Haworth Very Task

The area around the shoulders doesn’t feel as nice as Zody, probably because the frame isn’t flexible. Otherwise, it feels very similar and is a bit less expensive.

Herman Miller Celle

The Herman Miller Celle offers a lot of features at a good price, but isn’t right for me. The cellular suspension design and recline tension are too stiff for my weight, and the shape of the back didn’t feel right to me.

Herman Miller Embody

The Herman Miller Embody felt good to sit and recline in once adjusted properly, but the only things that really stood out about it were the arm rests and high price.


  • luxurious reclining feel
  • arm rests come to the perfect spot for my body


  • back rest doesn’t feel as good as some other chairs
  • it’s bloody expensive!


Related Posts

If these chairs seem pricey, check out my thoughts on buying a new vs used ergonomic chair.

Other ways you can improve your work space