Working From Home: My Desk Setup
By @alexcornell // 06.16.15
Ever since I started working from home, I’ve spent a lot of time honing my desk setup. After many iterations, I feel like I’ve finally arrived at the perfect implementation. It’s the result of much research and testing; I thought it might benefit others to publish my findings here.
*Note, this is my professional setup for Moonbase. It’s a powerful rig built for full-time, processor-intensive work. A note on cost, along with a complete gear list, at bottom. More posts to come, follow here.
I use a Nextdesk Terra Pro to alternate between standing and sitting. There are countless standing desk options out there; the Nextdesk has the best combination of quality and features, without adding unnecessary cost/bulk with things like LCD screens and timers.
The desk itself extremely sturdy and supports the computer, peripherals, and my elbows with ease. Its control panel shows you how high the desk is and allows for three presets.
It’s not a very photogenic desk—the wood resembles a cheap laminate–which means no faded Instagram photos of the desk sitting latently in a corner. I’ve found the more Instagram-worthy the desk setup, the less functional and comfortable it is. You know the sort (cue succulents, imitation Eames, and Keep Calm posters).
I use a 2013 Mac Pro. I was a loyal Tower user for as long as they made it; I upgraded to the Trashcan as soon as it was released. It’s more than capable of wrangling all of my various projects.
Its specs are maxed out: 64GB, 12-Core, 2.7 GHz, 1TB Storage. Overkill? No, this computer is responsible for handling my entire life’s work–I’m not going to skimp. I need to seamlessly shift between 4K footage in Premier and After Effects, complex Photoshop documents, Cinema 4D, and Sketch (for example), with no issues. This computer crushes.
Connected to the computer directly is a Elevation Dock, Lexar USB 3.0 Reader, RME Fireface USB, and assorted external drives. The Lexar is highly recommended if you do a lot of CF and SD card importing. It’s extremely fast and allows for both card types simultaneously.
The Elevation Dock, once outfitted with the finicky Lighting adapter, works quite well. It’s the slickest looking dock, that also allows for one-handed docking.
Sound is one of the most important things in my life; as such, I have four different audio output options at my desk. Each is used for a very specific purpose.
I primarily use an old set of Bose speakers. For computer audio (Youtube playback, Skype, UI sounds) these are more than enough. They are substantially better than internal monitor speakers, but not so good that they alter my sense of what sounds good when editing my work. They were chosen to closely mimic the quality of the average listener’s system.
I also use the internal monitor speakers to see how things sound on crappy system. Alternating between the Bose, the internals and a set of Adam A7s, I have a great range of potential sound output. I don’t use the Adams unless I’m recording and need really accurate sound monitoring.
I listen to music on Paradigm Mini Monitors. These speakers are wired to my Sonos bridge (which is integrated throughout my place). I’ve got these speaker on either side of me, about 10 feet apart, which is sort of unusual but provides a really nice stereo spread. At the right volume, certain songs sound like they are being played live in the room with me.
I use two Apple Monitors from different eras. I haven’t waded around in the sea of 3rd party options; I just don’t think it’s worth spending the time. Apple makes great monitors with excellent color reproduction. I take the time to calibrate them and have never had any issues.
I really like the Innovation iLift for monitor support. Both of my monitors are supported by these articulating stands. This frees up a lot of surface space on the desk and provides viewing flexibility if you need to quickly turn a monitor a different direction.
5. Digital Storage
On my desk sits a 4TB Thunderbolt G Drive. The purpose of this drive is to house RAW footage from projects and travels (ex. RED footage from a shoot), be a scratch disk for Adobe applications, and hold misc. files that are weirdly large. The final selects and exports end up on the Mac Pro and are backed up on Dropbox, but the RAW files live on this “working drive”.
Everything is backed up onto a G Drive Studio 48TB drive in the same room. This is meant to be the “everything ever” drive, and has backups of every drive and computer I’ve ever owned. Ideally, this would also all live on the cloud, but currently it does not.
My backup solution right now is cobbled together and not something I would recommend replicating.
I sit at the desk approximately 20% of the time, usually at night. When I do I use a Herman Miller Embody. This is a great chair; it’s worth the cost when you consider how important it is. I do not advocate buying a chair based on looks (unless it’s this one), style or anything other than comfort and safety.
When I’m not sitting down, I stand on a Imprint CumulusPro pad. A standing pad helps with fatigue and in my experience, almost eliminates the need to sit down at all.
You can’t buy it anymore, but the Logitech S530 was the best Mac-based keyboard ever made. Sensible hardware buttons allow for quick access to favorite apps and functions, volume control on the mouse, and good action for typing. I keep an eye out for these on eBay and elsewhere and buy them whenever possible.
I love Room and Board; they have a great inventory, allow for customization, and deliver fast. The two cabinets that flank my main desk are Hudson Custom Cabinets. I built them to match the Terra. I have two filing drawers (one for personal, one for business), a drawer of office supplies (stamps, scissors) and a few empty drawers for eventual nonsense.
My desk also has a lot of specific peripherals for music and video. I won’t cover these in this article but definitely check out these videos if you’d like to get a sense of the gear I use for music, video and photo.
*A note on cost: This is an expensive setup. But keep in mind it’s meant to replicate a professional studio, in-home. This isn’t a personal desk for writing emails. As a business expense, amortized over Moonbase’s lifespan, I consider it exceptionally worth it–especially when you consider it as the primary enabler of our life’s work.
2013 Mac Pro 2.7 12-Core 64GB
Apple Thunderbolt 27″, LED 24″
G Drive 4TB, 48TB Thunderbolt
Bose Companion, Adam A7x, Paradigm Mini Monitor
Herman Miller Embody
Nextdesk Terra Pro
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
Logitech S530 Keyboard, Elevation Dock, Blue Dragonfly Mic, Rode Mic Stand, iLift Monitor Arms