Desks for short people

I am 5’3″ (160cm) and I was beginning to think that finding a desk the right height for me was impossible.

I’m just half an inch shy of the median height of women in North America. You’d think this would be easy.

But the industry standard for desk height – 29 inches – is bonkers. Median height for women is a little over 5’3″ and for men, a little over 5’9″. The “standard” desk height is too tall for nearly all women and ~85% of men.

Bizarrely, it’s easy to find desks an inch or two taller and nearly impossible to find one shorter. This is fine if you’re 6+ foot tall, less so when you’re 9 inches shorter.

A lot of ergonomic desk stuff is designed to help adapt people who aren’t 6 feet tall to desks designed for people are are. But it’s a kludge and works best for folks who are a little taller or shorter than 6′ (like most men) and works very badly for people who are quite far from 6 foot – like the majority of women (especially Hispanic and Asian women).

Many people use adjustable height desks or workbenches, many intended for standing, to get the right height for them. But almost no adjustable desks go down low enough – many bottom out at 29″ high. After a full day of searching adjustable height desks and workbenches, I’d found just two options –

  •  Uplift’s V2 with the commercial frame, which will set you back at least $1800 CAD (with shipping and duties and taxes – but is “only” around $700-900 in the US) and
  • the ‘Nomic station, which is beautiful and highly customizable and better priced – but still close to $1000 CAD with shipping, duties, and taxes (again, much cheaper in the US!)

I liked the ‘Nomic station a lot – it’s unique and clever and I think quite lovely. I also like their bare bones website and and found emailing with the company to be a very pleasant experience. If I get a fancy job, I’ll probably get one. But right now I’m a grad student and I’m trying to be thrifty.

So I started looking at children’s desks. Most of these are tiny plastic pieces of junk and, horrifyingly, many were still too high. But the options were actually better.

One option that I think would work for a lot of people are the adjustable height tables sold as “activity tables.” They’re most often found in classrooms and are very sturdy. They usually sell for around $200-$400 – and because they’re for children, they often come in some exciting colours.

But what I ended up going with was the Ikea Påhl desk. The Påhl has 3 heights ~23″, 26″,  & ~28″. The lowest height works best for me, but you can adjust it in further fine grained increments with furniture risers (or by drilling more holes through the metal legs?).

Ikea Pahl

Ikea Pahl

The desk comes in 2 lengths: 37inches and 50inches. The legs come in all white, but also a cheerful green or pink. And best of all it’s dirt cheap – just $80 CAD.

It felt so bizarre and wonderful to sit at a desk that is the correct height in a chair that fits too. I hadn’t realized how much having to use a footstool or stack of books affected me – it’s so much more stable to have my feet on the ground and I can shift and move around so much more!

It also feels amazing to actually just put my keyboard on the desktop instead of using a keyboard tray. I do like a slightly higher surface for writing by hand, so I stick a big textbook down as a writing surface when I need it.

It’s not quite as nice as the fancy adjustable height desks – I can’t change the height at the push of a button or by turning a handle. It would be nice to be able to do that for specific tasks and to get the height right to the exact millimeter. Or even to be able to shift to working while standing sometimes.

I also wish it was a little big longer – 60 inches instead of 50. But if I really want the desk to be that long I can get a desktop that long and just screw the legs into it. And I may end up doing that eventually because I can’t see the surface of this desk lasting that long. One of the corners was dented and one was cracked when we bought it (New! But we were too lazy to take it back.) The coating isn’t sprayed on evenly either and it’s rather light feeling. But it’s the right height and it holds my stuff up and it didn’t cost a fortune and I am so happy to have a desk that fits.

But I’m furious that I had to buy a children’s desk as an adult with a completely normal height. I’m furious that going to work instead of working from home causes me incredible pain because everything is designed for a tall man. I’m furious that when I asked for a keyboard tray at work, I was told that grad students didn’t get funding for ergonomics. I’m furious that almost all women and many men with desk jobs have to use shitty equipment that doesn’t fit their bodies and injures them.