For the last six or so months, I have been slowly chipping away at improving a home office space that desperately needed an overhaul—and I mean real bad. My back ached, my tush was sore, my concentration was constantly interrupted, and the toll of staring at a comparatively smaller computer screen than the one I’d been used to was beginning to take its toll. This was not only a lacking office space environment, it was a decidedly bad one.
Being able to convert a spare room to an office in a home I recently moved into was a tremendous bonus, to be sure. But my home office space before had been short-lived and hacked together with an old IKEA desk, a TV over a decade old that I’d been using as a monitor, a hand-me-down laptop stand, a metal folding chair, and some spare Apple accessories I was able to find in said desk. I shared a picture of this setup back in March, and while that apartment’s space got a ton of natural light, every one of my bones ached by the end of each workday. When I moved, I began the slow process of replacing and comparing various parts of my office to make it physically hurt me less and become a corner of my home where I actually enjoyed working each day.
So let’s go through the best ideas for making your own home office more livable.
Your back hurts from hunching over your computer from your couch or bed because no other chair in your home is comfortable for hours on end.
Our pick: X-Chair X2 Executive Task Chair (Starting at $525)
It turns out I’m not the only person who had to seriously rethink the seating options available to me within the four walls of my own home during quarantine, but good lord if I didn’t have to figure it out the hard way. By about six weeks into a fully work-from-home schedule, my entire body felt like my bones were made of dust. Everything creaked, everything ached—but especially my back and booty. Replacing a metal folding chair was the first place I started, and I think I’ve found a couple of pretty good options.
Now, to be totally honest, I’ll say that I never really understood the need to spend hundreds of dollars on an ergonomic office chair prior to this year. Many of the very best chairs you can buy can run upwards of a grand or more, which seemed absolutely unfathomable to me prior to practically living in one while working from home. When I got a pitch recently for a chair that promised great “proprietary ergonomic comfort technology” and heated massage—yes, massage—I had to try it. I’ve been using the X-HMT Heat and Massage Office Chair for about a month now, and while I was deeply disappointed by the underwhelming massage that felt more like a light buzzing from a heating pad, I absolutely adore the chair itself. One of my favorite things about this chair is that I can adjust how much it resists as I lean back, and it’s so sturdy that I can lean all the way back with my knees up and know there’s no way in hell I’m going to tip over. These chairs start around $525 for the most basic version, but the version I’ve been using sans massage is X-Chair’s bestselling X2, which retails for $800.
Listen, I did not begin this journey with the intent to shill for Big Seat, but it’s true that a good office chair really does do wonders for the back and body, and I haven’t had the same aches and pains for the last couple of months that I’ve been using more ergonomic alternatives. Ye olde folding chair? Reader, I do not know her!
Also consider: AvoChair ($220) or Fully Tic Toc Chair (Starting at $225)
Gizmodo’s senior consumer technology editor Alex Cranz loves the AvoChair from AutonomousAI, an egg-shaped ergonomic office chair which is definitely a more affordable option for folks who want a good chair but also a fairly inexpensive one (by office chair standards, anyway). Alex likes that the chair is comfortable and easy to assemble, and its mesh seat is supportive. It also breathes well, which is a plus if you spent long hours at your desk while home. Plus, it’s available in several color options that are a little more fun than a simple black, including a green that really makes it look like, you know, an avocado.
Alternatively, if you happen to be in the market for a leaner chair—one that you can use in tandem with a standing desk, for example—I really liked one from Fully called the Tic Toc Chair. I’d originally come across Fully because I was looking for a standing desk converter that didn’t read like a Megatron imposter, and I’ll get to that in a bit. But the Tic Toc Chair, which I truthfully wasn’t sure I’d even like, was a delightful addition to my home office after I got my standing desk in order. One immediate downer is that unless you’re ready to fully commit to this kind of a chair, its $275 price tag ain’t cheap (though that’s only slightly more expensive than similar chairs). And like other standing desk leaning stools, it’s not something that you’ll likely be able to sit on for hours at a time. But that’s also not really what it’s for.
Instead, the Tic Toc Chair is a great middle-ground solution for when my feet needed a little break but I don’t want to be seated all day. The beechwood used on this chair is also beautiful, and it tucks nicely under my desk when it isn’t being used. The one thing I’ll say is that after having tried the cushioned version of this stool, I do not think I can in good faith recommend a version of this chair without one. Just go with the cushion—your butt will thank you.
You’re on a budget and don’t want to drop a ton of money on a brand new chair. Or you really, really like the office chair you currently use and aren’t ready to part ways.
Our Pick: Purple Double Seat Cushion and Back Cushion ($140)
Gizmodo’s video producer Matthew Reyes likes this cushion bundle from Purple, which he says is breathable and cool every time he sits, gives him better posture throughout the day, and feels great on the tush thanks to Purple’s grid technology. Plus, he says that a month after purchasing it, it hasn’t sunk. (He also games at his desk, so that’s pretty impressive.) Here’s what he thinks: “If you are in the market to upgrade your office chair/gaming space, this is no joke. I like it a lot.”
You’re looking for a good standing alternative to a fully seated desk—possibly even something in between.
Our pick: Fully Cooper Standing Desk Converter ($300)
Okay, so back to the Fully desk. I’d known that sitting for hours on end was really doing a number on my back, and I’d wanted a standing desk for a while. The primary issue I was having while looking for one was that they were all mostly ugly as sin or too narrow for what I needed. Contrary to the tidy office space I’ve shown here, my desk is actually typically towered over on either side by Box Mountain. So I didn’t need an entire tabletop to move so much as I needed my monitor, mouse, keyboard, and possibly also my coffee to move. Fully makes a gorgeous Cooper Standing Desk Converter that has a bamboo surface and lightens up my space. At $300, I really cannot stress how much of a difference this desk converter has made in my workflow. It also uses a surprisingly smooth hydraulic lift system, meaning I did not have to defer to the dreaded crank system.
Also Consider: Jumbo DeskStand ($250)
If you’re in a smaller apartment, it may be a good idea to invest in a standing desk that can easily break down and be stored in a closet or under the couch when not in use. The Jumbo DeskStand is a pretty good option here. It’s made up of four Baltic birch plywood components and can hold two screens on its topmost shelf. It does lean back pretty far, which might not be ideal in more narrow spaces. But if you have the room for it—and you should with most tabletops—it’s a great solution for smaller spaces. The company also makes smaller and wall-installed versions, which you can read more about right here.
A fellow old whose eyes strain while staring at a tinier screen, or someone who generally works with multiple windows open at a time, where dual screens would be helpful with workflow.
Our pick: Dell UltraSharp 25” QHD USB-C Monitor ($355)
Speaking of office overhauls that were easy on the eyes, remember that decade-plus-old TV that I mentioned earlier? I’d found it under the stairs in my apartment when lockdown started in New York City and I realized I did not feel comfortable traveling to Times Square to snag mine from the office. But good god was that ever a mistake. After reaching a point where I realized I was probably doing irreparable harm to my own eyes by straining them to read on this TV-turned-monitor situation, I started looking into options that would not prematurely blind me by my mid-thirties.
These days, you can get a pretty decent monitor for a couple hundred bucks, and I knew I probably wasn’t going to use mine for gaming (most of that happens on projector and TV setups in my home). In terms of a pretty solid TV option for most people, both the Dell UltraSharp 25” QHD USB-C Monitor ($355 at the time of this writing) and the Acer 27” CB272 ($170) are great options. Personally, I preferred the Dell for the fact that the screen could swivel and could be plugged directly into my MacBook Air—no dongle or additional cables needed.
Someone who appreciates a touch of home and relaxation in your workspace. Scents and sights are an important part of how you work.
Our pick: Hue Filament Edison bulbs ($28)
If I’m being honest, some of these ambiance hacks are holdovers from my in-office days. One of the first things that I brought with me to our new office when Gizmodo moved last year were plants that could hold up in an office light environment. If there is typically only a snowball’s shot in hell that you’ll be able to keep your plants alive, well, skip the plants. But if it’s watering or light you have problems with, an app I recently discovered called Planta has helped me keep most of the plants in my home happy and healthy (meaning I no longer love them to death). My recommendation for beginners is a pothos or snake plant, both of which can bounce back from a good degree of neglect.
More importantly for me, however, were my lights. After years of dragging my feet on smart bulbs, I finally took the leap on smart lights. The light fixture in my office is a very old exposed-bulb number, a real piece of work that frankly I would love nothing more than to just rip out of the ceiling and replace with something more modern. In the more immediate future, though, I settled on a couple of dimmable Filament Edison bulbs from Hue that let me adjust the light in the room throughout the day, and they made it so that I didn’t have to choose between blinding light at 7 a.m. when I start my workday or total troll hole darkness. If you do not start your coffee before the sun’s up, obviously dimmable light bulbs probably don’t sit too high on your list of office needs. But for me? This change was not insignificant to my personal happiness and early morning sanity, and now that I’ve committed, there’s no turning back.
Also consider: Pura Diffuser Starter Kit ($68)
The other thing I take advantage of now that I’m at home is scents—something so small that can make a huge difference in my mood, particularly when I’m feeling underslept and stressed out (and who isn’t these days). I’ve managed to find a few fairly cheap candles at my local supermarket that are quite nice, and I typically light those in the morning. But if I’m in and out of my office and don’t want to leave an open flame unattended, I’ll either move a reed diffuser into the room or plug in my Pura, which is an app-linked, dual-scent diffuser and nightlight that can be controlled on a schedule. I really like the Pura scents over the Air Wick plug-ins I have elsewhere in my home, and Pura partners with companies like Nest on fragrances that don’t smell like dish detergent as other plug-ins often do. No offense to soap or anything, but since we’re stuck at home all day, a candle or decently scented oil can make a world of difference.
1/28/21: Removed recommendations for the Room Essentials Office Chair and added the AvoChair to this category. Added a section for chair upgrades, with the Purple seat and back cushion bundle winning our pick for best of Gizmodo in this category. The Ikea Bekant adjustable standing desk left this list, and the Jumbo DeskStand was added.