How to convert a bookcase into a standing desk


Working from home certainly has its perks: good coffee, pajamas all day, freedom to adjust the thermostat as you see fit. However, as you sit hunched over a small desk typing to your co-workers from your laptop, you may not notice the minutes passing by, but your back and neck certainly will. Whether you’re new to working from home because of recent company changes caused by the novel coronavirus or you’re accustomed to it already, it can be easy to forget to get up from that chair during the day.

I’ve been a full-time remote employee for a while now, but before I made the switch to comfort-themed work attire, I had a desk in my company’s main office that could transition to standing height. I scoffed at the idea of needing a similar desk once I converted to working from home, but I was a fool to think I would have the wherewithal to get up and move every hour. I have been on the hunt for the perfect standing desk ever since; however, nothing has matched both my pickiness and my budget.

That is, until the day that I was scrambling to pull my dog from my bookcase yet again (her favorite pastime is trying to scale it like it’s Mount Everest), and I realized that I’d had the perfect standing desk all along. With a little finessing, my hunt was finally over.

What follows are the steps for making a standing desk from a bookcase, based on my own experience.

Step 1: Choose the right bookcase

The point of a standing desk is to get you out of your chair and to relieve strain on your neck and back. Choosing a bookcase that will put your keyboard and screen close to shoulder level is important. I already owned the 60-inch Loring 4 Shelf Trestle Bookcase from Target, so that’s the one I used.

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Keep in mind that there are a variety of factors that you’ll need to consider. For example, the bookcase should have a shelf near shoulder level, with enough space to comfortably accommodate an open laptop. And it’s probably best to use a bookcase with an open back so you can snake the cords behind your tech.

Step 2: Clear the shelves

Removing everything from the shelf makes it easier to move, and it also will help you reorganize everything to make room for your new desk setup.

Step 3: Move the bookcase to a well-lit area near an outlet

Ultimately, you’ll want to move the bookcase to a place with plenty of light and close to an outlet for your tech. I’m a bit of an unintentional minimalist, so this only meant I had to move the bookcase from one wall to another in my office without having to worry about shifting furniture. But don’t overestimate your own strength — ask for help from someone if you need to. Having a standing desk won’t be of much help if you strain your back.

Step 4: Plug cords in before re-shelving anything

Take it from me, plugging in your chargers and miscellaneous cords and snaking them up behind the bookcase is much easier when the bookcase is empty — as opposed to trying to work behind all the books and things stacked on top of each other.

If your bookcase does not have an open back, you could drill a hole where the cords will need to come through. For a less permanent solution, your best option may be to place your electronics near the end of the shelf closest to the outlet and attach a cord clip to hold the wire in place. Even if you have an open-back case, a cord clip may help keep things in place after you inevitably switch back to sitting down.

Step 5: While re-shelving your books, reconsider what you need

I took this time to reevaluate the objects I kept on my bookcase. Did I genuinely need the storage container that was really just a junk drawer in teal disguise? The seven-year-old laptop I refuse to part with for sentimental reasons could also be moved elsewhere. The books were returned to their home one shelf lower than before, still held up generously by my loose coin jar. I also set my camera lenses out so I could easily grab them when inspiration (read: dog photos) strikes.

Step 6: Create desk area

My work laptop, the accompanying mouse, a coaster, a microfiber cloth to clean smudges, and a cheery plant all received the coveted spot on the top shelf. If your bookcase is wider than mine, I suggest adding a second monitor or a USB-C hub should you need one. The desk doesn’t need to be the top shelf, just use whichever shelf is at the right height for you.

Step 7 (optional): create a throne for your pet

In order to satisfy my dog’s weird obsession with my bookcase, I converted the bottom shelf into her own private oasis. She is content with her bed and toys being right at my feet and I no longer have to worry about her trying to climb up. If you don’t have a pet small enough for this — or a pet at all — you might want to convert one shelf into a small bar for easy after-work video happy hours, use it to store fitness equipment for a quick yoga session, or simply use it for more books.

Photography by Kaitlin Hatton / The Verge

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