This article in the New York Times about a teacher in Minneapolis, Abby Brown, who designed desks that permit her students to stand or sit as the spirit moves them put me in mind of my own recent quest for the perfect work station.
Not long ago, I complained to a friend of mine who happens to know a few things about spinal alignment that since I’d started doing so much writing, my back hurt. She asked to take a look at my work set up. I showed her. She laughed. Apparently, a down-at-the-heels recliner that lists to one side, a coffee table for propping one’s feet upon, and laptop balanced on, well one’s lap (isn’t that why they’re called laptops?) is an ergonimic nightmare. She gave me some guidelines: Get a chair that is the right height for you so that your feet are solidly braced on the floor. Pair that with a table that is the correct height so that when you are typing, your forearms are parallel to the floor. Those were the two main rules, she said. Back support is good, but not strictly necessary.
I put off looking for a solution. I stand at 4’10” and most of my shortness is in my legs so chairs never, ever fit me. And, if I should happen to find a chair that low to the ground, what hope did I have of finding a table that didn’t come up to my chin? I put up with the bad posture and the back pain all through the final push to finish the novel I had due at the end of last year. Then, just after the holidays, I decided to try Ikea. This isn’t a paid advertisement for them, by the way, but I have to say, in all honesty, Ikea came through for me better than I had imagined possible.
I started by checking out their laptop desk. It was light, portable, stable and best of all, had a wide range of heights it could be adjusted to. And it cost $25. Okay, desk accomplished. I moved on to the chairs with a strong sense of trepidation. Chairs and I do not, as a rule, get along. I prefer couches, the kind one can put ones feet up on, or beds, or floors. Anything that gives me options for something to do with my legs other than dangle them helplessly.
But, I was here, and I had some time to experiment. I told myself that my spinal health was important, and if I needed the expensive ergonomic chair, I should have it. So I started at the top, which at Ikea, was a mesh swivel chair which adjusted six different ways and cost upwards of $300. Six different adjustments all added up to the same thing. The seat never got close enough to the floor for me to plant my heels on it. The best I could do was tap the floor with my tippy toes. The same was true with all of the high-end chairs. Lots of adjustments, none of them right. Apparently, only big people have back problems or spend hours working in a seated position. Feh.
As it turned out, the cheaper the chair, the better the fit (I guess there are some advantages to being short.) I wound up with a wonderful little swivel chair with an adjustable back and a height adjustment that lets me brace my feet squarely on the floor. It was the cheapest one they had. Cost: $20. Woo hoo!
So, for forty-five bucks, I probably saved myself a fortune in chiropractor bills and certainly a whole lot of pain. I’m sitting in my little ergonomic work station right now, happily typing away. An added bonus is that the pieces are small and portable and if need be, I can move them from my office to anywhere in the house or (think spring!) the deck in my back yard.
Turns out a proper work space that supports my body and my creativity was not out of reach after all. Many thanks to Esther, for putting me on the right track.