Whether you’re at your desk four hours a week or forty, your workspace is like a window into how you work, your personal style, your productivity level and your occupation. It can be a simple setup in a small office, confined to a cubicle, or the design centerpiece of a home office. While the specifications and functionality of your desk frame are important, we often overlook the most prominent and aesthetically important element of our workspaces - the desktop. Options for top surfaces range from inexpensive particle board to custom refurbished wood designs and everything in between. Finding a desktop that suits your needs and style can be tricky, so here are some tips on choosing the right surface for your individual needs.
Size and Shape
Your desktop’s size can really help or hinder your comfort and productivity. Take the daily tools and equipment you use while at your desk into consideration when choosing a desktop. A graphic designer working with dual monitors and a Wacom tablet is better suited for a larger surface space, so your work area doesn’t feel restricted. Alternatively, someone using a single thirteen inch laptop may feel that smaller is better, as having too much room can actually encourage clutter and distractions. It’s best to get a rough measurement of how much space your desk items will occupy and give yourself at least a few extra inches on each side.
Of course, even if you work with multiple monitors and other devices, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the physical space for an expansive desktop. If you’re confined to a small space or cubicle, organizational tools like cable management, a filing cabinet, monitor arms and keyboard trays can help maximize your space. Also, keep in mind that you’re not limited to a rectangular desktop. An L-shaped desktop can double your workspace, or an “ergo” desktop curves inward for a stylish look that’s doesn’t compromise valuable workspace.
Color and Material
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the plethora of color options out there and it may seem like the material doesn’t really matter - after all, an inexpensive laminate desktop will technically work just as well as a beautiful, thick wood surface, right? Not necessarily.
For some, natural wood desktops may offer the calming, organic aesthetic that your office lacks. For those who don’t want to be limited to different shades of brown, laminate desktops (usually pressed board with a laminate covering) can be an inexpensive alternative. Most desk companies offer various wooden and laminate desktops, but don’t forget that most desk frames can accommodate custom desktops as well. Materials like reclaimed wood, acrylic, or even glass can be options for you if you’re willing to bust out some power tools.
An important thing to keep in mind when choosing the material is the tools and accessories you plan to attach to your desk. If you are attaching monitor arms, for instance, there will likely be a minimum and maximum thickness for the desktop in order for it to be compatible. And while it might be very easy to attach a sliding tray to a laminate top, the difficulty level goes up with thicker wood - and increases the risk of splitting or cracking the top.
Style and Functionality
Desktops of old were simply flat surfaces that you worked on. While simple tops are still functionally sound, it’s 2017 - if your desktop doesn’t have a few extra flourishes, you’re missing out.
For us, cable management and connectivity are must haves for a desktop surface. Nobody wants cords hanging off of the edges for the top, and something as simple as grommet holes in the top corners of your desktop can easily solve this issue. You can feed cords from your devices through the holes and out of sight. Even better, grommet plugs are available that offer AC and USB outlets, as well as cable management. No more bending down to find space on your power strip.
If you really want your desk to work for you, a unique desktop finish isn’t too hard to find or DIY. Some wooden desktops are finished with a whiteboard friendly varnish, creating a note-taking surface that’s easy to clean. Chalkboard paint is also widely available and can be easily applied to most types of surfaces.
Safety and Sustainability
As a general rule, products that are mass manufactured are usually pretty terrible for the environment, and many can even have negative impacts on our health. Furnishings and office equipment in particular are likely to contain some volatile organic compounds. Wooden desktops and pressed board commonly contain formaldehyde, a naturally occurring compound but known carcinogen. Many desktop sellers will list their desktops as formaldehyde free, but if they don’t, it’s worth it to reach out to them and inquire if their products contain harmful chemicals.
In addition to chemical-free products, there are also eco-friendly options on the market. For instance, ethically sourced bamboo desktops are highly sustainable and have a very small environmental footprint. Bamboo grows at an incredible rate and is currently the most sustainable option for desk tops. Sustainably sourced oak and teak are also viable options. If you go with a laminate or any kind of plastic surface, be sure that it’s recycled or disposed of properly when you move on to something else.
Before your next desk purchase, consider the amount of time you spend at your desk. Ask yourself what will best serve your work and your body. With these things in mind, you’ll be able to choose the perfect desktop that will last years to come.