May 3, 2018

Building a Desk That's Helping Me in the Saddle

So I recently finished building a built-in short person desk for my office, and my fellow shortie Nicole was like "You HAVE TO write a blog post about this!"

At first I was like, "No, this is not horse related," but then I remembered L. Williams recent post in which she quoted Mary Wanless: "...we should work on our postural problems the 15 waking hours we are not in the saddle rather than the 1 hour we might actually be in the saddle. It goes a long way farther to fixing our problems in the saddle too. " and I realized it totally is related to riding!

I loved my old antique leather topped desk (it has a built in type writer!) and it never bothered me, until I took ergonomics training for my new job and realized it was way too tall for me.

Also, because the opening was too narrow for my chair, I was constantly slumped forward to reach my keyboard - putting my shoulders in a position very similar to the way I usually ride - slumpy.   Hmmm...suddenly this became a major priority for me to fix, since working from home is looking like a life sentence at this point.

Fold out typewriter!

Armed with the desk height number I needed from the ergonomics survey, I shopped for a new desk online, but quickly realized it's pretty difficult to find off-the-rack short person desks.  I also wanted to greatly increase my work surface.  All signs were pointing to DIY.

For inspiration, I finally settled on Lindsay's desk built out of IKEA Besta cabinets and boards:

I chose Besta cabinets for a couple of reasons:

- Height - they're 25 1/4" tall, which is just about perfect
- Options - Drawers, shelves, baskets, the options were endless
- Doing IKEA was faster than DIY'ing all the cabinet carcasses (yes, they are really called carcasses!)
- The IKEA Besta Planner - I was able to input my exact room dimensions and play around with it until I had exactly what I wanted, and a shopping list to go with it:

I didn't intend on blogging this so I don't have a ton of photos from the build process, but this is how it ended up:

The steps involved were:
1. Remove baseboards
2. Build IKEA cabinets
3. Buy and cut tabletop - 3/4" red oak cabinet grade plywood, one 4x8 sheet, purchased at Lowes
4. Iron on red oak pre-glued veneer edge banding to all visible edges (plywood edges are ugly because you can see the layers of wood.  Edge banding puts a pretty edge grain on the visible edges

Edge banding, which looks exactly the same as the table top because I used the same wood species

5. Stain (2 coats, plus pre-coat) and poly (3 coats).  Stain and poly gets applied to both the tabletop and the veneer edges.  Sand lightly in between.
6.  Wait forever for the tabletop to dry and cure, because you have a bird, and birds are super sensitive to things like poly.  I waited 16, long, excruciating days.
7. Install tabletops by drilling pilot holes and securing them from underneath the Besta cabinet tops with whatever random wood screws you find around the house that aren't long enough to poke through the tabletop
8. Use a 1 1/2" spade bit to drill two holes for computer cables (hole saw would also work, and would be the right option for anything bigger than 1 1/2")

9.  Insert 1 1/2" desk grommets into the holes

10. Install drawer handles (I bought these at Lowes.  Also, don't do this without a drawer pull template!  Makes life so much easier!)

It's still not totally done.  I need to add baseboards and trim to make it look really built-in, and I'm debating whether I want to add an IKEA Besta TV stand (without legs) to the left of the drawer unit, with a cushion on top so I can use it for shoe/boot/gym bag storage and putting barn boots on.  I also want to make the back of it look more built-in somehow - maybe cabinet backs underneath the desk surface on the back wall?  Not sure.

That said, I am soooo happy with it.  My feet rest on the floor, my arms are at the perfect height, and I can get my chair so far under my desk, I no longer slump.  I do tend to sit cross legged in my chair a lot and shouldn't, but that's on me, not the desk!  This desk plus some changes to the way I do CrossFit have really helped me develop the muscles I need to sit up in the saddle - more on that in another post, but it's really amazing how much things outside the saddle can help riding.


  1. Great set up! I really want to get a stability ball for my home office I think it would definitely help out a bunch too

    1. That's not a bad idea, as much as I don't want to do it, it would definitely fix my cross legged problem. Bad habit!

  2. I love this! It looks great!

    1. Thanks, me too! Gets me excited to get to work every morning, at least for now, haha.

    2. That's very important, especially working from home! I also WFH and I do love my work space, but I'm looking forward to buying a house where I (hopefully) won't have to keep my personal computer in the same room as my work space, so when I want to make a grocery list or edit pictures, I don't have to feel like I'm going to work to do it!

    3. Yeah that's SUPER important to feel like you're not working from home all the time! I try to stay out of my office during non-work hours, except on Saturday mornings when the bird and I pay bills and listen to NPR :)

  3. Love this workspace, it looks great!

    I have one of those balls you sit on at work and it definitely helps me open my hip flexors, keeps my lower back from arching, and helps me not slump so much. I do get kinda tired using it (and a bit stuck when standing up because ow hip flexors) so I switch back to my regular chair sometimes, but it's definitely better than a chair all day. Have you considered getting one of those standing desk converter thingies?

    1. I have...I don't know. I know all the science and the benefits and yet I'm still just kind of 'meh' on them. I know sitting is still deadly, but the one thing I've really got going for me is this chair is practically custom fit to my body (just a lucky find at the Herman Miller outlet). The ball I really should do though.

  4. That looks great!! And I am super jealous you get to work out of your home. *sigh* ;-)

    1. Thanks! WFH is really nice and I don't take it for granted, but it's also definitely got its downsides!

    2. Oh, definitely everything has its good and bad parts. ;-)

  5. I love this. Husband wasnt as happy when I said look DYI project lol. If you dont want to add backing, you could just wallpaper behind it.

  6. Think about how much shorter and wider you can make yourself all the time now!!!!

    This is also excellent for me to know so that when I move I can make myself a custom desk. I'm very excited.

    Question though: how do I find out my ideal desk height? Google probably has the answer but if you have a preferred method, let me know.

    1. I used an ergonomic calculator, I think this one:

      With the tabletop and everything it ended up being 26", which is slightly higher than the calculator said it should be, but still within acceptable range.

  7. I als sit with my legs crossed! I think I really need to do more hip flexor stretches to help make it more comfortable to not site that way but it’s such a habit that it’s really excruciating not to.

  8. I love that whole work space, especially with all the windows!