When we all got sent home eight (Eighty? Thirtwenty?) weeks ago, not everyone was fully equipped for the work-at-home challenge. Sure, it seemed like fun to work from our beds, sofas, and studio apartments, but now that we’ve fully settled in to our own routines, it’s becoming painfully obvious that some set-ups just aren’t sustainable for this long haul we’re already in. Let’s get it all out on the table … even if you don’t have one.

Q: Since the big New York pause, I’ve basically been working from my bed, with my laptop on my knees. It’s playing havoc with my lower back and I need to find an alternative. Any ideas? (I don’t have a dining table.)

As much as we all want to be unconventional in our self-defined new normal, some universal truths of ergonomics take us right back to basics: some work is meant to be done at a table and chair, if not desk (and ideally, a standing one, at that). But, like you, not everyone has what now seems like both luxury and necessity: a body-friendly work surface.

When I migrated to working from home, the answer to “where to work?” was right in front of me. Or rather, behind me: two console tables running the length of my sectional have since become my home office base camp.

The good news is, if you need a work surface and a purchase is in the budget, plenty of places with an online presence are still delivering. And while most companies have realized there’s a big market for smaller spaces, even their small desks aren’t “New York small.”

Instead of a desk, search instead for a slimmer console table or sofa table. Pick one that doesn’t have a bottom shelf or connecting stringer so your knees and feet have a place to go. A few companies also do a coffee table with adjustable heights and storage space, like West Elm’s industrial or mid-century pop-up tables.

“If all else fails, we KNOW you’re not using your ironing board. Don’t laugh: it’s wide enough for a laptop, totally height adjustable, and with some securing (remember those IKEA safety straps that you’d get to eventually?) it’s stable enough.”

If those solutions aren’t in the credit cards for you, dig deep and get creative. Have a folding table in the back of the closet for that dinner for eight you had once? Got a neighbor with a massage table?

Or rethink pieces you have. That might mean taking the bottom two shelves out of your Billy bookcase, or using a shelf pulled from it to bridge two TV tables or stacks of books. And wall-mounted shelves are great space-saving ideas that can double as both a workspace and sofa end table. Favorites come from Room & Board, BluDot, IKEA, and Rustica. Or how about this little piece of genius?

If all else fails, we KNOW you’re not using your ironing board. Don’t laugh: it’s wide enough for a laptop, totally height adjustable, and with some securing (remember those IKEA safety straps that you’d get to eventually?) it’s stable enough. This might be the only time I’d suggest running it along a wall for added stability – normally, a workspace facing a wall feels like punishment – and take the padded cover off to give yourself a harder work surface.

If you do already have an office space, but you’re sitting on a dining room chair, really consider an upgrade. The best investment I made inside my rental, outside having one of my closets done by a professional company, was my Eames office chair. It’s paid for itself over and over.

Finally, not only is your back suffering, but I’d bet your sleep is, too. Working from your bed all day is sending your mind and body mixed signals about what your bed is for. So stay in your pajamas, but get out of bed to go to work, even if your “office,” like your friends, is now just six feet away.


Patrick J Hamilton is an interior designer, writer, stylist, art consultant, and activist, living and working on the northern edge of Hell’s Kitchen, in the studio Apartment Therapy named its inaugural “Smallest, Coolest Home.”

His work has been seen on HGTV,,, Apartment Therapy, on the pages of Traditional Home and Holiday House: Ten Years of Designing for a Cure, which he co-wrote. He’s contributed to The Bilerico Project and HuffPost Gay Voices. He spearheaded and appeared in “It Gets Better: NYC Designing Men,” a video supporting The Trevor Project, and is a founding member of Safer Spaces: Design for Gun Safety Awareness. He blogs infrequently, but thoroughly, at Ask Patrick. Insta: @patrickJhamiltondesigns

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