My idea of the perfect desk would be something straight out of the Apple store – bare tables with no visible wiring. Back here in reality, though, I’ve got monitor cabling, device chargers, microphone and speaker cabling, etc, etc. Every year or two, I take a shot at making a really clean, minimalist desk, and here’s how it turned out this weekend:
It’s hard to really appreciate it until you see it from behind:
Yes, that’s Ernie’s ears peeking out from her black chair. That used to be my chair, but as soon as I got my new one, she started sitting in the old one, so now it’s her official chair. She loves sleeping in that chair while I work. The sculpture on the left side of the desk is a monkey riding a horse. It’s a Feng Shui thing. Erika lays out the house according to Feng Shui principles, and I smile and nod because it seems to work – the house has great energy.
Only three cables go into the laptop: power, Thunderbolt for the display, and USB3. The USB3 goes into the Blue Lounge Cable Box Mini. It’s a simple white plastic box with a removable top, and you can stuff it with all kinds of devices. It comes with a perfectly sized 4-outlet surge protector, but I pulled that out and replaced it with a 7-port USB 3.0 hub. Here’s what it looks like with the top off:
I plug all my charging cables into there, and I’ve since thrown a small USB hard drive in there too. If that’s not enough space for you, there’s also a bigger cable box that’s suitable for full size surge protectors. My electrical stuff is mounted under the desk:
I drilled a couple of screws into my desk surface, and the surge protector clips right onto those. I’m using large 3M Command cable clips to hold the electric cables in place here. They remove easily and leave no goop behind. (I use the Command picture-hanging clips throughout the house too – fantastic for us renters.)
I mounted a Belkin Ultra-Slim USB hub to the back of the desk for keyboard, webcam, and Blue Yeti microphone hookups:
The big silver wingnut bracket is the bottom of the Ergotron MX monitor arm mounted to the desk. The USB cables go up to that arm and inside of it:
The monitor arm works great – I can raise and lower the monitor easily. When I’m not working too hard, I lower the monitor to flush with the desk so that I can see over it and look out at the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, Lake Shore Drive, and Lake Michigan:
All in all, I’m quite happy with this year’s office cleanup. This is the cleanest my office has ever looked, and the only cable going into the desk is for power. No, no audio cables going out to speakers. Audio in the room is supplied by a Griffin Twenty, the little white box with a volume knob on the right side of my standing desk:
The Griffin Twenty is a 20-watt audio amp that has a built-in mount for a last-generation Apple Airport Express. The Express is a WiFi/Ethernet device with a lot of tricks, including an audio jack. It acts as an AirPlay wireless speaker, so I can simply route my iTunes playback from my laptop out to the AirPort, which drives the Griffin Twenty.
Every now and then when I’ll be on a long WebEx – especially if I’m presenting – I unplug my laptop and put it on the standing desk instead. It feels much more natural to talk and present while standing up.
Other gear I’m using to organize the office:
- Twelve South Hi-Rise – airy, lightweight, height-adjustable laptop stand. Best stand I’ve ever used.
- Blue Lounge Sumo – a little paperweight that holds your cables in place.
- Rain Design mStand – the curved aluminum laptop stand at my standing desk.
- Twelve South PlugBug – piggybacks onto an Apple power supply to add a separate USB charging port that works whether your laptop is on or off and doesn’t slow down charging your laptop battery.
- Microsoft Natural Keyboard – it’s old, it’s loud, but man, it’s comfortable. I can type all day on this thing and not notice it, but when I switch to a non-ergonomic keyboard, I notice the effects within hours. I keep a silent Apple Bluetooth keyboard in the closet for webcasts.
A few other setup notes:
- The desk is a Room and Board Portica, 72″ x 30″ with maple butcher block top. I was tired of rickety desks that wiggled when I typed, and the Portica is rock freakin’ solid.
- The Blue Yeti microphone is off to the side, unplugged, because I only plug it in when I’m doing webcasts. I put it right in front of the monitor, and obviously I don’t like staring at a microphone the rest of the time.
- Keen eyes will note that the monitor has discoloring at the bottom right next to the trash can in the dock. I’ve had that monitor for years – a cheap $300 28″ model – and I spilled coffee into it last week. I’m holding out for a Retina-quality monitor, though. Once you see Retina pixel density, it’s hard to go back.