The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Office life

I’m about to sign a lease for a small, Sam Spade-style office in a beautiful old building in San Francisco. This is a space intended initially and primarily for writing, but eventually it will be home to other projects as well — apps, digital stuff, etc. Maybe eventually I will solve some crimes.

I’ve never set up an office of my own, so I’m going to take this opportunity to shine the snarksignal into the sky. I want to hear about great workspace situations. Desks, chairs, plant companions, conceptual frameworks — what’s made spaces work for you, or people you know? Any standing desk devotees out there? What mistakes should I avoid? What Pinterest boards should I be browsing?

I get my key next week. One room, about 150 square feet, with a couple of large windows looking out over a bustling city street. Give me some advice and I promise I will put it to use.


This is the most comfortable office chair I’ve ever used. I love it.

They look great too.

Whoa—futuristic indeed!

Matt Penniman says…

1) I’m a big fan of the big-ass whiteboard.

2) And bookshelves. Lots of bookshelves.

3) Not a decor tip, but: whenever possible, take the stairs.

I have a standing desk at work which is great, but just as it is not good to sit all day long, it is not good to stand all day long either. I would recommend either an adjustable desk or a tall desk with a chair tall enough to sit at the standing height of the desk. Of course, it may be cheaper just to get 2 desks, one tall and one short, since an adjustable standing desk costs $TEXAS, at least if it’s electric.

I’d recommend a Steelcase Leap for your office chair. Whichever chair you choose though – if any – I’d look on craigslist for a used one. There’s bound to be a dozen startups that are closing up shop as we speak, and all are looking to unload their fancy ass chairs. Can get something in good shape for 1/3rd the cost.

Master Joe says…

I second the Leap for comfort. Also a big fan of the knoll multigeneration. But why not play the Sam spade caper out? Big chair, wooden desk, metal fan, keep a bottle and a heater in the drawer.

Patrick Ewing says…

You’ve gotten your name stenciled across the frosted glass door already, right?

Working on it!

Betty Ann says…

OMG, I just sent you the perfect item for your small office. Wish I could have sent it to “the office” address.

You probably want one of these, right?

Resist the urge to latch yourself to a computer that sits against a wall. Instead, situate a round table in the middle of the room and bring devices to it as necessary (laptop, tablet, pen & paper, etc). That way you’re not predisposing yourself to a particular tool as much, plus it invites the idea of collaboration.

Cover as many walls as you can with showerboard ( But resist the urge to erase too often to keep them clean…instead, let the ideas accumulate and bump into each other a bit.

If you have space, definitely bring in a small couch as well (nothing too precious). Anything that you can lay back and put your feet on.

Ahhh… Gary, this is fantastic advice. I love the vision of round table in the center instead of a wall-hugging desk.

As an unrelated aside: I just enabled ligatures in the post title typeface, and ohhh look at that ffi.

I like chalkboards. My favorite office ever was the little one in Wells Hall I shared with fellow math TAs Leonard Ford, Bob Su, Kathy Uptigrove, and a half-dozen people who never, ever showed up there because we commandeered all four desks. But I would write out everything on that chalkboard. I honestly think writing and thinking on a vertical surface is a different kind of cognitive activity, just as talking is different from typing, or manuscript from a computer. I would never have a standing desk to work on a laptop, but I would stand and write on a chalkboard all day.

Also, get your coffee rig set up proper. I recommend an electric tea kettle, a burr grinder, and an Aeropress.

Plus, good computer speakers — once you’re not tethered to headphones, you can move and immerse yourself in the room.

(Latter two notes don’t come from MSU’s Wells Hall, but for the four short months I had my own office — with a door! — in the Condé Nast building. It was glorious. Although anyone who walked by would usually hear Prince blasting in the middle of the workday.)

I too am a big fan of lots of whiteboards–especially magnetic ones that can double as bulletin boards. Or make sure you have lots of bulletin boards and similar places to tack things.

Also a big fan of lots of bookshelves. And couches.These are competing interests, I know.

One of my bosses recently installed one of these standing desks/standing “seats” in his new office. I can’t vouch for it at all. The Give Something Back office supply company, on the other hand, has been impressing me lately.

Instead of a proper standing desk I use a platform just big enough for laptop or keyboard or book; just three pieces of wood screwed together with felt on the bottom edges. When I want a standing spell I just put it on the regular desk. I’ve also plugged a larger screen into my laptop, which really makes the space seem officey.

A proper coat rack.

Often overlooked!

When I settle in somewhere new, I like searching Google Books and other places for the address of my building – to try to learn who has lived or worked there before, when that building was built, and maybe even what it used to look like. This sends a tiny root into the ground.

For a little while I worked on Market Street in recently-renovated corporate office space, very plain and standardized, but one day we discovered that the fire escape stairwell contained this elaborately beautiful cast iron staircase, probably original to the building from the 1900s – too heavy to renovate. And searching for the address showed that the building was an office for the Federal Writers’ Project during the Depression and a naval intelligence office during WWII. Nice!

Don’t try to answer your question all at once. Get a few inexpensive Craigslisty things to start, then see how you actually use the space over some weeks/months before making big standing desk/$1000-chair decisions.

Also: hire Sally Kimball as your co-detective.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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