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.

 

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Standard desk height works ok for me even though I am 5’8″, but where I notice design ignoring its market most is men’s clothes. They all seem to be designed for and have sizes centered around men who are around 6’2″ and 250+ pounds, with most others as an afterthought. That’s only about 5% of the market, so it’s puzzling indeed….

  2. Karen Kefauver says:

    Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your writing this! After at least 20 hours’ research over many weeks, I got so desperate to find a small enough desk that I finally googled “desks for short people” and found your article! Thank you. I’m 5’2″.

    I’ve been wanting to replace my current desk, which at 29 inches tall, with a sliding keyboard drawer, worked pretty well. But needed replacement.

    But it was nearly impossible to find a desk less than 30 inches tall much less one tjat ALSO had a sliding keyboard tray. And I wanted a desk that was not “miniature” (less than 40″ long) ). It was daunting. And frustrating!

    I am grateful you provided these options that I had never heard of – even after hours of research! Leaning towards this one, for life! 🙂 Uplift’s V2.

  3. Sarcozona says:

    I’m so glad this post helped you find a good desk, Karen! It’s amazing how hard it is to find a desk as a very average sized woman. I don’t know what manufacturers are thinking. I think the Uplift’s V2 commercial frame was only developed to meet ADA requirements for wheelchair users.

  4. EW says:

    Thanks for this useful post. I never considered getting children’s furniture. We find the standard table height to be too tall.

  5. Jane says:

    Virtually all desks on Planet Earth are 29 inches tall – too high for 95 percent of the population. This must change. Our clever manufacturers should be offering different leg heights that can be attached to a desktop. Not that hard!

  6. EW says:

    I went to Ikea yesterday after reading this post. You can take a Linnmon table top (available in these lengths: 47 1/4”, 39 3/8”, 59”, and 78 3/4”) and pair it with four Olov adjustable legs (https://www.ikea.com/us/en/p/olov-leg-adjustable-white-10264302/). The legs are adjustable between 23 5/8” and 35 3/8” height. You can also get the Idasen desks which have legs that adjust between 24” and 30”. The 47” Thyge table comes with legs that also adjust between 23 5/8” and 35 3/8”. The Gerton is a more robust table top since is is solid wood. It is partially finished meaning that you still need to sand it and apply something like polyeurethane or wood oil. You would pair that with a set of four adjustable Gerton legs.

    • Mari says:

      This is so helpful!!! Looking for a WFH setup because of coronavirus quarantine and this is EXACTLY the advice I needed. Thank you so much!

    • sarcozona says:

      I am glad you put the info on the Olav option here – I considered it, but once you add the desktop and my keyboard, it was too tall for me. But I think it’s a better option for many!

    • Pam M says:

      I personally do not like the OLOV legs. I find that they can slide if not screwed tight enough. And it’s not easy to get all 4 legs to the same height.

    • Pam M says:

      That IDASEN is hella expensive though. Too rich for my taste.

  7. Lisa Haralampus says:

    I’ve been ranting about this too, for years. I was using a card playing table, which wasn’t sturdy enough to hold much, but was at 27″. I’m 5/8 and I’m still not tall enough for a 30″ desk height.

  8. Amy says:

    You’re a hero, truly. Just bought the Pahl desk, it’s perfect. I’m 4’11” and having terrible back pain working from home – my fancy desk at work goes down to 24″ and my home desk is 30″ which is just so high. THANK YOU!

    • Sarcozona says:

      I’m so happy for you!

    • Jan Nadav says:

      OMG! Amy — I am 5’0 and a therapist now at home. Did the Pahl work for you??

      • sarcozona says:

        I don’t know about Amy, but the Pahl worked for me – I’m just under 5’3″. With my keyboard on top of the desk, I like it at it’s lowest setting, but when I’m writing, I prefer it at the middle setting. It’s not easily adjustable, so I split the difference and do my writing on top of a big textbook!

        Not sure how it would do for someone 3 inches shorter – but at the very least, ergonomic adjustment furniture would likely work better for someone 5’0″ on this desk than a normal desk.

  9. Esther says:

    Thanks for posting this! There isn’t enough info about lower desks for shorter people.

  10. Tinka says:

    I’m 4’11”. Life at a desk is hell. My desk happens to be just below standard because it’s not a real desk, but it’s still too high. Thanks to shoulder surgery, I ended up with a keyboard tray because, until I healed, I couldn’t reach forward very far, but I’ve kept the tray because it helps with height. They keep trying to get everyone new desks and standing desks at work, and I have been vocal about keeping mine. Even with it a little lower and my tray, it’s still hard. I still need a foot stool even though my chair is as low as it will go, and my monitors are almost as low as they can go. I would love something that fit my body because it literally never happens. I’ve been doing some searching online, and found charts for sitting and standing heights. It appears I should have a desk/elbow height (sitting) of about 22 inches. It sounds downright comical, but if that works, I’d love it!

  11. Ali says:

    Hi! Could you share what chair you got to fit with the table as well? I’m the exact same height as you so this is SO helpful. I’ve been experiencing the same pain.

    • sarcozona says:

      I haven’t found the perfect chair yet. Right now I switch multiple times a day between an office chair that goes down low enough I can put my feet flat on the ground, but tilts my hips and back too far back to be comfortable and this stool which is too hard for long periods of sitting and obviously doesn’t support my back.

      I wrote about office chair struggles as well here.

      • Ali says:

        Thank you so much for replying! This is really so helpful, you have no idea

      • Ali says:

        Could you share which desk chair you ended up going with?

        • Ali says:

          Hi there!! Would love to know what chair you have!

          • sarcozona says:

            I switch between an Embody and a pony stool throughout the day. The way the embody tilts my hips back and puts my butt below my knees is bad for my hip flexors and lower back. I couldn’t get a Steelcase when I was chair shopping, but I think it may be a better option – depending on how low it goes and how far in the armrests can come.

  12. Pam M says:

    I wish I could shout from the rooftops in joy! I knew a short person desk existed – and you found it!! JOY!!! Thank you!

  13. Slevin says:

    Thanks for this post. I just bought one and it works perfectly!

  14. So nice to see as a male that is no where near 6″ tall, finding a desk that is at the right height being only around 5″ makes most desk, almost impossible to sit at comfortably. Being a writing is not fun when the desk is tall and the keyboard is at the wrong height.

    Companies really need to look at making all desks adjustable for those that are smaller in stature not everyone is very tall, and seating that cuts into the backs of your legs. When shopping for these, are really expensive especially if they are custom made.

  15. Vanessa says:

    I can’t wait to get one of these “short” desks…but then I’m going to be sad when I have to go back into the office to a monster desk.

  16. Jill says:

    THANK YOU! I’m so excited to head to Ikea to get the PAHL now that I’ll be WFH till 2021. At 5’5 I still my 29.5″ desk to be way too high. The desk at the office was built for average height men as well and chairs were ill fitted. I’ve spent the last two years searching for a standing desk but being in Canada everything is just too expensive. I decided to splurge on a fully spec-ed out Herman Miller Embody instead – $1075 plus tax from the group buy over at Red Flag Deals forum which is 46.5% off the MSRP! https://forums.redflagdeals.com/herman-miller-group-buy-gta-live-group-buy-round-3-july-31st-end-date-2372499/ I know it’s very expensive but it comes with a 12 year warranty no questions asked and built for lifetime use. I’ve heard good things about Steelcase chairs as well, worth taking a look if you haven’t already.

  17. SapphireHope says:

    This has been my frustartion for months. At work I was lucky that my desk went down to 26inch (standing) but with the pandemic I have been looking into getting one and it’s so frustrating that in order to be comfortable at my own house to work at a desk I need to shell out around a 1000USD or close. this should not be the situation since almost 50 to 70% of the population has this exactly problem and we all have painful bodies because of it.

  18. apbarraza says:

    Thank you for this review. I’m a grad student, petite woman, pissed about having to buy a child’s desk… and in a way happy to have found one suitable option in my price range

  19. Carolyn says:

    Thank you! This was incredibly helpful. I’m only 4’11” so I’m off to buy the same one you got. 🙂

  20. Maggie says:

    Hello, did you also purchase a children’s chair from Ikea to fit the desk?

    • sarcozona says:

      I did not – I’ve been using the ridiculously overpriced and not quite perfect embody chair. But trying a children’s chair from ikea might have worked better – and would definitely be cheaper. Worth trying?

  21. Anjuli says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this information!!! I’ve been working from home since March, using a laptop desk that sits comfortably at 24″ high for my 5’3″ stature, but it’s far too narrow and has caused me shoulder pains. I also googled “desks for short people” and luckily I stumbled upon this. I just ordered the uplift commercial desk, so I’m excited for that to arrive. It’s kind of silly that their standard sit/stand desk isn’t able to get as low as the commercial, but whatever. I’m hoping my company will cover some of the cost, as it is almost $700, so fingers crossed there! THANK YOU AGAIN!!

  22. Naomi says:

    I am little short of 4’11. I am thinking about purchasing this ikea desk. I have a too high desk. I already gave up to use. Just sit there. Too uncomfortable and too painful shoulder and back and head every time I use. I could not find the right size one out there. THANK YOU. God bless you.

  23. V says:

    Super thank you! 5ft tall here. I found the lkea desk already but didn’t realise it was small enough. Ridiculous that there’s not more choice for a reasonable price.

  24. Natalie says:

    I’m also grateful to find this post! I just had to breakdown and ask my company for help after SO much shoulder pain that just isn’t going away after working from my home desk for months. I’ve been looking high and low for the right desk that is short enough but also looks “adult.” Here’s one I found on both Flexispot.com (https://www.flexispot.com/catalog/product/view/id/1319/s/height-adjustable-ergonomic-study-desk-sd1/category/204/) and also Wayfair (https://www.wayfair.com/baby-kids/pdp/isabelle-max-van-buren-kid-study-394-writing-desk-with-height-adjustable-w004819637.html?piid=1352094724). The Wayfair pricepoint is higher but looks like it’s just the branded version of same desk.

  25. Thank you so much for this! I am 4’10” and spent countless hours in search for the perfect gaming/office chair for me (Fellow short folk can visit my blog for that journey). So far, I’ve been making do with footrests to work at my desk, but know I’d be far more comfortable if my desk has height adjustable legs.

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