A WFH Desk Setup From Real Life: Functional, Aesthetic, and Affordable

Designing a modern WFH desk setup that is both practical and aesthetic is difficult. Here’s a detailed tour to inspire you.

A real-life WFH desk setup is difficult

As opposed to the sponsored influencer setups on Instagram, YouTube, and the like, you will encounter numerous constraints in real life when designing your WFH desk setup, e.g:

  • You actually need to be productive using the setup, not just filming it. ⌨️
  • You actually have to sit in the chair, raise your desk, clean the espresso and can’t remove the cables with Magic Eraser. 😭
  • You have a limited budget and are not sponsored. 💳
  • Your room may be small and with a different layout. 🏠
  • You don’t have time for a craftsman apprenticeship. 🪓
  • You’ve realized buying expensive items doesn’t guarantee great aesthetics. 💸

This article is a detailed tour with plenty of pictures of my setup to serve as inspiration for your own workspace and home office. I work from home in various roles and have spent years perfecting my setup in different circumstances with both practicality AND aesthetics in mind.

akko 5075b keyboard side profile

Support for a multitude of use cases

I am an analytics consultant who work from home a lot, which means I have high requirements for a workspace. On top of that, my setup needs to support hybrid productivity and gaming, as I also use it for leisure. Some of my use cases are:

  • Data Developer: Coding, debugging and monitoring, designing architectures, developing data pipelines, documenting, and automating workflows.
  • Analyst: Data analysis, Machine Learning, data visualization, presentation, and write-ups.
  • Consultant: Meetings and chat, online collaboration, file exchanges, and hooking up to client devices and environments.
  • Blogging: Writing, photo editing, video creation, and SEO research.
  • Guest use: Ability to plug in any laptop via docking and use the peripherals, e.g. if my wife works at home or I need to use a different device.
  • Gaming: Casual gaming with my kids in all kinds of genres.

This means my setup needs to support heavy-duty processing power, multitasking, graphical work, content creation, writing, remote collaboration, docking, client confidentiality and security, and gaming. There is a high chance your own use will fall into one of these categories.

Design concept and guidelines

If you want to achieve both practicality and great aesthetics, the design concept is where you should start. And no, this is not exclusive to professional designers or enthusiasts. This is simply your overall plan to ensure your elements harmonize and support your needs – before you make holes in your wall and wallet. Here’s a post detailing how to make a mood board.

My setup must be functional, aesthetic, and affordable. I’ve translated this into smaller guidelines for each of the 3 areas, which are usable for any setup.

Functional and practical

  • Ergonomics, ergonomics, ergonomics…
  • I need a lot of screen real estate for productivity.
  • My desk surface should be tidy. It is a workspace and not storage.
  • I pick my items for both function AND aesthetics, i.e. items should not only be decorative.
  • Items should be placed where I need them and grouped according to use.
  • My plants have been picked out, so they only need to be watered once a week.
  • Hanging flowers are artificial because there’s simply too much clean-up with real ones.

Aesthetics and visual style

  • The style is bright, modern, and minimalist with lots of natural light.
  • I use a lot of closed storage to declutter and hide items I don’t need frequently.
  • My pegboards are for items I use often and also serve as decoration.
  • With a lot of natural light even during the evenings, I can minimize the cables for lighting.
  • I use green-only plants and white oak to give the room warmth and a sense of calm.
  • White is the base color with bold accent colors mainly in orange, yellow, and teal.

Main colors
color palette desk setup
Main color palette of my setup

Affordability and budget

  • I use quality second-hand items and furniture, where possible.
  • Items that are easy to make, are DIY.
  • I only buy electronics when it’s on sale, demos, or manufacturer-refurbished.
  • My posters are A4, which is the cheapest and easiest size to switch out.
  • Furniture and items should be widely accessible, including spare parts, e.g. on Amazon and IKEA.

You can see how to build a cheap DIY desk shelf in 5 minutes here.

Tour of my home office

In the following, I will give you a tour of my home office with a lot of pictures as well as highlight some of the features.

Welcome inside my workspace

Peak inside my home office with a hint of evening sun.

My office is a small, south-facing corner room with windows on two sides, which translates into a very bright room with plenty of sunlight. You may even glean the evening sun in the picture above. It is located on the upper floor for calm and quiet. I have hangers on my door for my bags and hoodie.

A small room with an optimized layout

The room is a small 8 sqm, which adds to the coziness and keeps everything within reach. I feel like I am at the center of the world.

Below is my homegrown sketch. I apologize for my creative skills in advance and the fact that I was too cheap to pay for IKEA-style graphics in Canva.

home office floor plan sketch with dimensions
Room sketch with dimensions.

My desk is facing the window, which is great during the winter. I need the light to boost my productivity. During the summer months, I have two sets of curtains. The first set lets in some light while the other is complete blackout curtains.

The things I need to access frequently are located on my right-hand side on the shelves or the pegboards. Other things are hidden away in closed storage on the left side of the room.

Behind my desk is intentionally just the door and the wall to keep my background neutral for online meetings. I close the door because sometimes my kids take a peek in only their underwear or diaper – for some reason they don’t like pants :).

Multi-monitor productivity excellence

The Lenovo 45″ super ultra-wide monitor combined with 2 smaller 14″ Arzopa portable monitors is the optimal combination for me. Some might argue that I lack vertical space, but in my experience, you get neck cramps with the vertical orientation.

multi monitor developer setup
Developer setup.

The 45″ ultra-wide monitor is the perfect size for 3 windows side by side. I have also tried a 49″, which I found too big for my desk, and a 34″, which was a tad small for 3 side-by-side windows. In the picture above I have JupyterLab, Power BI, Terminal, Gmail, and Notion open.

Sometimes one of the 14″ monitors shows Spotify or streaming. I also use the 14″ monitor to take notes during meetings, which is ideal because no one can see my personal notes even if I am screen-sharing and I am still facing the camera.

While a sleek single-monitor setup looks better on Instagram, a multi-monitor setup is essential to productivity. I don’t understand “productivity” setups that have a billion irrelevant gadgets cluttering the desk, leaving space for only a single monitor. I would, e.g., choose the 14″ monitors any day over a desk shelf. You can never get too many monitors – it is after all where the action is happening!

I chose Skådis over a tramp stamp

Skådis with Hue backlighting.

Yes, Skådis is ubiquitous, but for a reason. It is both functional, cheap and aesthetically appealing. Not to mention that you can wall-mount a lot of different stuff without destroying your walls. My setup only takes 6 holes. I love the idea of decorating with your own items, which adds a nice personal touch. I have organized mine in 3 groups, one for office supplies, one for gadgets and one for gaming. When I get tired of the look, I just organize it differently.

If it’s mounted or expensive, make it white

I use white as the foundation on some of my more “permanent” items, i.e. items that are costly and difficult to switch out. Using white as a foundation keeps my setup bright and the color just goes with anything. If I get tired of the looks, I redecorate with items that are easy to swap and convey the style I want, e.g. books, mousepads, posters, desktop wallpaper, mugs… you get the gist. The following pictures shows some of my different “redecorations”.

Style 1: Minimalist with wooden finish.
Style 2: Maximalist.
Style 3: Colorful orange.
Style 4: Bright and green.

Lighting gives new dimensions

One of the things I find most difficult to get right is the lighting. It’s costly, it has to be somewhat evenly distributed around the room, it shouldn’t create glare where you’re looking and you shouldn’t have to turn it on in a thousand different places. That said, during the darker periods of the year, proper lighting gives the room a completely new dimension. The easy solution is just a big ceiling lamp, which will give you light, but the room will feel “flat”. Adding some lighting behind things will feel like adding layers to your room.

Cozy Christmas.

My lighting setup is based on Philips Hue, which, sadly, is very expensive but looks elegant and has great color accuracy. You can read a lot more about this in my other post on smart lighting.

I can sync the entire room with my monitor. I control the lighting either via voice on the Google Nest Hub, a Stream Deck or the Philips Hue remote. The white hue also adjusts automatically depending on the time. Earlier in the day, the white is colder and brighter and will adjust gradually to a warmer and less intense hue in the evening.

If I want to go game-mode, I close the curtains and change to RGB.

Game on.

Coffee time!

I have a small coffee and tea station, where I can just turn my chair and take a break. The Nespresso Vertuo does not make the best or cheapest coffee, but I found it the best for office use because:

  • It’s quick.
  • It makes a full mug and not just an espresso shot.
  • It doesn’t take up much space.
  • It doesn’t make a mess like e.g. a real espresso machine.

The poster is both decorative but also shows the coffee menu of the different Vertuo capsules. Below the wall-shelf I mount the capsules with a 3D printed solution I found on Etsy.

The TV is with Philips Ambilight, which complements the Philips Hue. I have a Chromecast, where I can mirror my screen from the PC.

Tinkering bench

My tinkering bench is really just the top of my drawer, but I use it for a multitude of things, e.g.

  • Switching PC parts (I have an anti-static mat that fits).
  • Taking pictures with ring light.
  • Charging my devices in the small charging station.
  • Changing keyboard switches and keycaps.

It’s nice to have a small space, where the tools are near at hand and don’t clutter the desk.

Organization and storage

My room is generally organized so things are stored where I need them, i.e. according to their use case. I use a lot of closed storage to declutter the room. My organizational “themes” are mainly divided into:

  • Large cables.
  • Small cables.
  • “Consumables”.
  • Small tools.
  • Large tools.
  • Peripherals.
  • Devices.
  • Prints and paper.

Items around the room

Here are some of my items around the room. There’s a full item list by the end.

Coffee moods or coffee mugs, you pick

Mugs are an inexpensive and easy way to change the aesthetics of your setup and despite what your wife says, you can never have too many.

Item list

Please note that I may get a small commission from links at absolutely no extra cost to you.


Around the room

Lighting

Gadgets

Decoration and accessories

Some books around the room worth a read

A few tips on reaching flow

clean desk setup with skådis
Colors inspire my creativity.

It doesn’t take much to ruin your concentration and if your productivity was already taking a hit, you have to climb the mountain of self-discipline to get started again. Here are a few practical tips to remove distractions and reach your flow:

  • Use an isolated room as far away from other activities as possible.
  • Make sure there is no coil whine in your electronics (that small annoying buzz from electricity).
  • Design your room so everything is naturally within reach, so you don’t have to lose focus and move around.
  • Choose and ergonomic chair that is comfortable for you – and remember comfortable depends on your body size and shape, so it’s not one-size fits all.
  • Get a monitor setup that suits your needs, so you don’t have to move windows around all the time.
  • Make sure the temperature suits your preference, possibly slightly cooler than you normally would.
  • Embrace natural light. It keeps you fresh and is a mood booster during winter.
  • And possibly most important of all, design your room so you feel at home!

That’s it. Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to ask questions in the thread.

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