How to Choose the Perfect Desk

As we slog on through this lockdown amid what is clearly some of the most unclear advice I have ever come across I shall try to keep this blog a haven of clarity and sensible information when it comes to your homes. Over the last couple of months I have written about how to work from home and why a  coffee table is the second most important piece of furniture you will buy (after the kitchen table). I have, so far, avoided the question of choosing the perfect desk.

homemade desk with tiptoe legs which can be any size you want it to be
homemade desk with tiptoe legs which can be any size you want it to be

This is partly because there was a rash of similar features at the start of lockdown, but also for a more practical reason; by now those of you who having been working from home for nearly two months, will have had time to learn what is wrong with your current set-up. And, as regular readers will, often the key element to getting something right is knowing what is wrong.

And while I am, The Mad Husband will tell you, one of the most impatient people on earth, I also like to think about decisions – especially when they involve spending money – so make sure you get it right. When TMH (yes him again) first started working from home there was a lot of hoo-ha about desks and storage and getting the working atmosphere just right. This involved several trips to Ikea, some painting, quite a lot of pondering and then a phone call, a contract and a new job back in an office. Meanwhile I carried on at the the kitchen table…

vintage pine trestle legs from etsy for £95
vintage pine trestle legs from etsy for £95

However, I saw a story floating around last week saying that the right to work from home may soon be enshrined in law. And I think it’s clear, whatever happens, that more people will work from home following this. Or may be allowed to work more flexible hours; I know some people who negotiated starting work at 7 so they could be home in time for the school pick up, or with differing start times which is another thing that companies are looking into to ease the crowding on public transport.

So it seemed to me that now was the time to look at finding the perfect desk for your needs. Everyone will have their own ideas as to what constitutes perfect and their own ideas as to what constitutes need, but I wanted to throw out some pointers for you to consider.

hiba steel and oak desk with storage from la redoute £450
hiba steel and oak desk with storage from la redoute £450

Firstly, this time at home may have helped you to decide where the best working spot is. Many of us gravitate to the (second) smallest room in the house, the undecorated spare room, the attic with its sloping ceilings or the triangle under the stairs. And then wonder why we don’t want to go and sit in those cramped dark spaces or why, because we have no choice in where to go, we are so unproductive when we get there.

This post is not about where you work but what you use when you get there. For me the number one requirement is drawers. This makes it quick and easy to tidy up at the end of the day and, indeed, my last kitchen table, which was my desk for about 10 years, was an old art school table we picked up at a junk shop which had two huge drawers at either end and a small one in the middle – into which we stuffed the receipts while the others held laptops and pens and papers. My current desk, a Georgian writing table from ebay, also has two smaller drawers in it. One is full of useful stuff like pens and contracts and important paperwork. The other is all the rubbish I can’t be bothered to find a home for but know I don’t want to be looking at it all day.

industrial style ladder desk from rockett st george £430

The other point to consider is where your desk will be – by which I mean can it be a permanent fixture in the space? Because if you have decided that you are at your most productive at that sun-filled spot in the corner of the living room but that space is needed for a chair and tv in the evening then you need to look at something that dismantles. Obviously this won’t have drawers so you will need to consider alternative storage in that case. But look for trestle legs – for me vintage would be the dream, or these metal ones from Tiptoe. This also allows you to choose your own desktop and create something that is the perfect size for the space.

If you work in the bedroom then the best solution is a table that can double up as a dressing table – keep one drawer for make up and mirrors and one for laptops and pens.

create a desk from shelves in an alcove seen here at the home of interior designer vintage art company wonderinteriors image by paul craig
create a desk from shelves in an alcove seen here at the home of interior designer vintage art company @wonderinteriors image by paul craig

If you work in a small space then look at console tables. A long thin table means you can put a laptop at one end and all the paperwork to one side. This has the added advantage of being able to move to the hall if you move house or even fit behind a sofa when it’s no longer needed as a desk so it’s a versatile purchase.

Finally, if desks with built-in storage aren’t an option then maybe reverse it and create a built-in desk. This can be in the form of a wide shelf in the kitchen with narrower ones above for storage. Or you can move into a cupboard. When we designed our current kitchen the idea was to build a wall of floor to ceiling cupboards with double doors with a desk in each one for all four of us but that idea fell out along the way. I still sort of thing one working cupboard would have been useful. If you live in a period property with alcoves either side of the fireplace then you can do this in a sitting room with a door on it that you can close at the end of the day.

radius oak dressing table could double as a desk from habitat £495
radius oak dressing table could double as a desk from habitat £495

This does come back to the problem of working in small dark spaces but at the very least you might be able to set up the printer and store all the work stuff there even if you to take the laptop to the kitchen table for the actual working part.

I hope this has provided some useful pointers. Do add your own suggestions below and I have illustrated with pictures of desks that you might like or be inspired by. Captions include links.

My Georgian writing desk from ebay
My Georgian writing desk from ebay


How to choose the perfect desk with Kate Watson-Smyth. Kate's home office features a wooden Georgian writing desk. #homeoffice #writingdesk

Tags : choosing the right deskhome officethe perfect deskwork from home
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. OFFICE CHAIRS? here’s some good advice

    We have done the office in a cupboard in the sitting-room but it’s not ideal for working for any length of time. We currently have (he has) two painted chests of draws, with a gap in between, and a thick wooden top, affixed all along a small bedroom, wall. Shelves on the end wall. Favourite pictures in front, window to one side. Not expensive to do.
    Our 11 year old granddaughter is using our antique desk but longs for a white one from IKEA!!!

  2. Hey Kate – do you have any advice for WFH with a lot of equipment please? I have four enormous monitors (provided by my office) plus a large phone, which have all taken over my entire dining table. I am so jealous of all of these elegant desk options! I have resorted to throwing a large blanket over my entire setup at the end of the day…

  3. I think Ikea did ( does?) a desk / table that folds up against wall when not in use. Also about 6 yrs ago I bought a dining table from John Lewis that can fold over into a rectangle desk shape . It has a white wipeable surface with brushed chrome pneumatic frame so it also goes down to coffee table height.At full height it unfolds into a decent sized square dining table. Not everyones cuppa but definitely the most versatile piece for a studio or small flat.

  4. Hi Kate, surprised you didn’t mention the trusty bureau, very easy to source and wonderful for concealing all the detritus that desks tend to accumulate. Bought mine for a measly £35 , stripped and re-stained it new knobs on the drawers and a very cheap Ikea fold up chair that sits at the side when not in use. Fits my needs and bedroom perfectly.

  5. There’s a wonderful kitchen company in Bristol, which makes plywood fronts for Ikea and other kitchens, that has started making flat pack plywood desks. They’re called ‘Made by Husk’ and they started making desks to keep business going and also due to the numbers of people working from home( in fact, we are going to buy one, as our architect son-in-law has ‘borrowed’ ours and I doubt we’ll see it again!)they’re reasonably priced( largest is £175) and very simple, stylish in design and can be left natural or painted- apparently, a child is capable of putting one together- so I’m sure my husband can!

  6. Does anyone know where to get the painting of the lady in orange trainers from in picture one. I absolutely love it!

  7. Kate as always great article. The item I want most is the painting in picture one of the lady in the orange trainers. Where is it from?

  8. This is great thanks, but any chance you could say something about chairs to go with the desk? I think they are even more important to make sure your back does not suffer. I am finding difficult to find a proper one for children, now that they spend most of the day sitting at their desk for school. Thanks ! Alessandra

    1. I agree – and typical office desks are not nice to look at. It would be good to know about some more aesthetic options that don’t sacrifice your back. Mine got really buggered in the first month of working from home.

  9. I’m currently in the kitchen on the table. It has wheels on so I can change the view slightly. The wheels came in handy if I needed extra workspace as a mobile ‘island’.

    We have that spare room/ office which my daughter is currently working in as, as she still has 3rd year finals for uni. She’s an Ikea desk on trestle legs. Husband is in our bedroom on the massage table, seating on a large wicker basket and depth cushion from the now removed kitchen banquette (is ripped it out a week before lockdown as it wasn’t right, my timing was pants). Once daughter finishes next week we can both be in there but wondering how best to possibly extend table or go into the alcove. It’s the chairs also that stump me. Good supportive chairs that you can use for long periods are especially pretty to look at. I’ve a lovely neutral leather one from Ikea, but two of those in one room kills the room.
    So again stuck.

  10. Kate – you are a genius to find Tiptoe. I have already emailed them as a dining table like that in our room with beams and old style dining room chairs could look really fab. thanks. I am now trying to find out who did the picture of the lady in orange trainers for our bedroom.

    1. Have you managed to find out where the picture is from? I would love this for my staircase

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