Fitting an even-sized body in an odd sized office desk
January 21, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a frugal friend. How does one size and proportion a desk somewhat inexpensively for a very tall person for home and / or work office?

In the beginning, there was a desk in a home. It cost many man hours to make and finish, and then wasn't very useful to the odd sized person for [reasons]. It was moved into a new home and given to an even-sized person who was a foot taller than the odd sized person, and things were okay. Not good, but okay. It was a desk, it mostly worked.

Five years ago, five years into life with the new desk at home, the even sized person moved to a new job. This person (over six feet tall) has a decent chair at their new place of business, but has a very small desk, proportioned for someone probably more about 5'5''.

Starting about two years ago, tall person is in pain: occasionally the back (thrown out for a weekend or two, not sure if related) but more often the feet (planar fascitis for which tall person has received various remedies and suggestions from people with a qualified Dr. in the front of their name).

Tall person has bought special expensive shoes. Wears slippers around the house now (with planar fascitis inserts from the drug store). But after a few days or weeks at "the office" is crippled up with pain.

My suggestion has been: Pick a new desk. Try it at home, see if it helps, find some other home for the sentimental desk. Pick a new desk. Make the office buy it. Stop the cycle of pain. Tall person doesn't know what kind of desk they would like and has waffled for several years on pulling the trigger at home or at work "in case it doesn't help".

There are other suggestions being made by me, mostly, go to a different doctor, take the prescriptive physical therapy offered, but that's beyond the scope of this question.

Are there guidelines for sizing office desks to a tall person who is using what looks like a 3/4 sized desk? Beyond guidelines, is there one that can be purchased at a national retailer that can hold a phone, drawers, computer tower, printer, a couple of LCD screens, and have room to do paperwork? What has, as a tallish person, worked for you?

Tall person, like most desk people, doesn't get enough exercise, and walking HURTS. Tall person has not gained any significant weight in that time, changed cars, beds, houses, or any other routines.
posted by tilde to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am really confused, so in case I'm not the only one, I was wondering if we could have a point of clarity? What does it mean that this person is "even-sized" and the other person was "odd-sized?" I am completely at a loss there.

Also, what is the tall person's approximate height? And approximate weight?
posted by cairdeas at 11:43 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why is the problem the desk and not the chair? Granted I am not over 6 feet tall (and usually have the opposite problem, being short), but most desks are a standard height off the ground.

If the problem is that your desk is not standard desk height, then... get a standard-height desk that wasn't custom designed for a person who is not you.

If the issue is that you have long legs and there's a back to the desk that leaves too little room to stretch your legs as much as you'd like, you should get a desk without a backing.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2014

I am also really confused. Have the back problems and plantar fasciitis been linked to the desk or are they unrelated?

OSHA has guidelines for an ergonomic workstation setup. There are inexpensive, temporary fixes to put things in the right position to see if that helps before investing in a new desk. For example, the person could use a cardboard box to raise the monitor, two-by-fours to raise the desk height, etc.
posted by payoto at 11:48 AM on January 21, 2014

Has he checked craigslist? There always seems to be a lot of desks on there, at least in my area. Alternatively, Ikea sells desk riser systems that are quite inexpensive and let the user customize the desk height.

My boyfriend is 6'6 and is sensitive to desk height, and he uses a monitor riser as well, so that his screen is at eye level and he doesn't have to hunch over as he programs. Perhaps this person could try one of those as well?
posted by amileighs at 11:51 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Height would help, and a description of the actual problem. I have exes who are 6'6 and 6'2 who haven't had any trouble using standard sized desks and chairs, even with extended time sitting at them.

Assuming the desk isn't unusually small, I'd suspect the chair and/or monitor height as the source of any problems, but they still wouldn't have anything to do with a thrown-out back or foot problems.
posted by randomnity at 11:51 AM on January 21, 2014

My predecessor at work was about 5 foot nothing, and I am 5'8". She purchased the desk, which was sized for her in mind. When I first sat at it, I realized I would have to make changes or get used to feeling like I was sitting on the ground.

The first thing I did was remove the 'pencil drawer' (the long, flat one that most desks have right under the writing surface). It gave my knees extra space and allowed me to hoist the chair up a bit. That helped a lot - so much so that I haven't done anything further in the last few years. I do keep considering whether or not it would make sense to prop the desk up further: probably with wood blocks. We don't have a lot of $$$ for furnishings, but I'm happy to work with what I have anyway.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2014

Original desk owner of the home desk is 63 inches. Tall person with foot problems is just over 74 inches.

Other people in the office (where the office desk is) range from 55 inches to 63 inches, and the supposition is that the desks were accumulated over the years to accommodate them. 74 inherited one of those desks.

The home chair is a size large Aeron chair, in use for about 12 years with an old desk (now gone) and the new one inherited from the 63 inch person.

The office chair is ??? but sized comfortably (reportedly) to the tall person.

I've seen the office desk once or twice, and it just looks ridiculously small, proportion wise, even with part of it knocked away so they have more legroom. They used some phone books to move the screen heights a bit, too.

I don't know the tall person's weight, but probably a bit over 200 with room to lose about 20 pounds - not significantly changed in the last decade or so.

I don't know if the back problems and foot problems are related - but from my understanding of the situation they started showing up separately but within the same time frame.

I like the OSHA link. I wonder if there are any sub $900 standing/sitting convertible desk things that would make everyone happy (solve comfort/pain issue with Tall person, relieve the stress of costing the employer a lot of money for a desk no one else can use comfortably in the future).
posted by tilde at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2014

I'm 63 inches tall and use the same size desk as my tall male coworkers, who are right around the height of the person in question.

Are you completely and totally 100% sure that this is an unusually sized desk? Because my height is not significant enough to affect the size of desk I use, and it seems kind of unthinkable to me that my company would offer to buy me a specially sized desk, as 63 inches is a very average height.

If you've measured, and it's absolutely true that the desk in question is unusually small, could desks be switched out so that one of the significantly shorter people in the office (for instance the 55 inch person) has the shorty desk?

Once you've done that, adjusting the chair height and monitor height should be enough to make it workable.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would suggest they check out the IKEA Galant system. Very customizable, adjustable height legs, various risers and whatnot for monitors (though for moving monitors around, my suggestion would be Ergotron mounts).
posted by HermitDog at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like you just need a chair of adjustable height. Then anyone could sit at the desk. The chair would be the problem, not the desk, unless they needed the chair so high they can't plant their feet firmly on the ground.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:30 PM on January 21, 2014

In lieu of a desk, I got an IKEA kitchen table that sits higher and provides more space as a benefit. Obviously YMMV.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:33 PM on January 21, 2014

Other people in the office (where the office desk is) range from 55 inches to 63 inches, and the supposition is that the desks were accumulated over the years to accommodate them. 74 inherited one of those desks.

This is not really likely because, as Sara C. points out, desks (and dining tables for that matter) are pretty much sold at a standard height (about 30"). That's not to say that this is the universally correct height, but unless all those desks at Tall Person's office were custom-built it's not likely that they were able to find mass-produced desks to match each individual's particular height. It would be more likely that they would have adult desks and maybe a few child/student desks. If Tall Person was given a student-sized desk this would be immediately obvious. I would send Tall Person into the office with a tape measure to measure the height of the desktop from the floor. If it's much less than 30", then yeah this is not a standard adult desk.

You mentioned frugality. If Tall Person is in an area where Craigslist is active there are always tons and tons and tons of tables and desks for very cheap. If indeed the desk is smaller than standard height, Tall Person could buy a standard-height desk or table from Craigslist and see if that helps. If it doesn't help or it's ugly or whatever, it can go right back up on Craigslist and Tall Person isn't out much if any money.
posted by payoto at 12:43 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The cheapo way to make a standing desk is to prop your monitor and keyboard on a stack of books or a footstool or something. It's a good way to try out whether a standing position will work for your friend. Converting from standing back to sitting is kind of a pain in the neck, obviously, but I went back and forth like that for a while and it was fine.

What do you think is making your friend uncomfortable about the desk? Is it his/her knees banging on the desk? If so, it's definitely too low. But if it's the angle at which he/she sees the monitor or the angle of his/her arms at the keyboard, monitor and keyboard stands should solve the problem (very inexpensively!).

I'm 65 inches (average adult American woman) and find standard-height desks a little high so I try to always use a separate keyboard tray and/or a footrest so I can crank up my seat height and still have my feet on the "floor."
posted by mskyle at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2014

A cheap desktop and adjustable length legs from ikea are your best bet - that's what I use at home. But as a 6'6" guy, I actually find most desks to be too high- I'd really guess the problem is that the chair is too short - and that's a much bigger pain to fix.
posted by wotsac at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2014

Plantar fasciitis is a separate issue from the desk issue, but seems to indicate tall person should not switch to a standing desk. (This and back issues may be helped by a bit of weight loss though.) Tall person should consider doing the physical therapy if insurance will pay.

Tall person needs an ergonomic chair, with height adjustment, and a desk that does not make tall person scrunch to sit at it. Desk does not actually have to be a desk, but could be one of the Ikea tables/customizations suggested. Tall person should actually go to an Ikea store, if possible, and test some of this stuff out to find a comfortable setup.

Mr. gudrun is 6'3". His office has systems furniture, so they actually had to (and did without complaining), raise the height of his desk surface so he could sit properly. He has an adjustable chair, and a monitor riser (and a couple of extra books to raise the monitor more), to work comfortably. Mr. gudrun interjects, while reading this over my shoulder, that tall person should not be so long suffering, and tall person being "frugal" may wind up costing him money in the long run if he creates or exacerbates physical problems that then require medical intervention.
posted by gudrun at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

an even-sized person who was a foot taller than the odd sized person

I don't get what this means either. It seems like you are saying the tall person is not an odd size, but also that they are tall enough that odd sizes of furniture are needed.

If you want to try a different desk height cheaply, go to a hardware store or garden store and buy "pavers" Stack under each leg of the desk until it's at the height wanted.

Pavers can also be used at the office, but might not present as professional appearance as desired. Depending on the office, this can be a good way to get them to buy a different desk.

Raising the monitor might also be helpful as well.
posted by yohko at 2:15 PM on January 21, 2014

Having been in similar situation, I agree with gudrun and Elly Vortex. For a person over 70", you'll probably need to adjust both desk and chair.

Just like in that OSHA link, Theoretically, the person at the desk should be able to sit and work with:
- thighs roughly parallel to the ground,
- feet able to rest nearly flat on the ground,
- forearms roughly parallel to the ground.

Of course a person needs to adjust to their own position of comfort, and they shouldn't hold that parallel-thighs pose if it's not comfortable. But if the desk/chair doesn't allow that nearly-neutral position, the person will probably suffer in the long run.

As suggested, try removing pencil drawer from area just above knees to prevent sitter from having to perch on chair with knees splayed outward and feet tucked inwards. Just be careful about any metal fittings still hanging in the area; they can wear through clothing (and thigh skin) fairly quickly.

If possible, raise the whole desk. Bricks, cinder blocks, or 2x4s can be used, but you may want to put something under them to protect carpet/flooring. If you have access to elder-care/medical supply you may find something called "elephant feet" that can be placed under the feet of a chair/bed (or desk) to raise them up.

As for the chair, once the desk is higher, the user ought to be able to get the chair into a better position for them without pressing their thighs into the desk.

If it's a home office and the tall person needs to move more, they could try sitting on a large sized exercise ball. I've used one in the past. They're inexpensive, and if it's inflated enough to be firm, it should be big enough to get those longer legs up high enough, and it'll force the sitter to shift positions and balance during the day. Of course, your mileage may vary.
posted by Tara-dactyl at 2:34 AM on January 22, 2014

Between write and rewrite things got confusing, sorry.

Planar fascitis seems to flare up when Tall person "has been sitting wrong" in their own words or "going back to cheap shoes" (dressy work shoes and weekend tenny runners). I'm thinking that some of the cramming themselves into the small desk area is part of the problem.

Phys Therapy had been Rx'd and weight loss has been suggested, but not pursued.

No pencil drawer in the desk. Modesty panel kicked out.

Will advise:

- remeasuring desk / person to OSHA standards. I think the work desk was unfit enough that Tall person couldn't comfortably cross legs/ move around under there without a lot of bumpinng. Home desk doesn't have that issue, but moving it further from the corner it's in might give more room.

- verifying work chair; home chair seems to be appropriately sized

- will gently suggest again to go back to the doctor or a new one and do the physical therapy this time. The involved parties are generally considered adults so there's only so much I can do to persuade them to get out of this loop.

- will strongly suggest that if they insist their shoes are the problem, toss out the cheap crap ones and stick to the "good" expensive ones suggested by doc #2 (or was it #3? I am hard pressed to keep up with all of it).

- Tara-dactyl - yeah, Tall person had a bad experience with one of those and won't be persuaded into reconsidering.

Thanks, all.
posted by tilde at 6:12 AM on January 22, 2014

« Older What to wear at SoulCycle?   |   Home improvements that pay for themselves Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.