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The Best Small (Yet Stylish) Desks, According to Cool People

Photo: Retailer

A great desk can improve your productivity and your posture — but it can take up more space than you can spare. Fortunately, you don’t need a big apartment or a proper home office to eke out a dedicated workspace. There are plenty of small solutions, from lap desks to retro TV trays, whether you’re working from home permanently or need a designated space to keep personal projects from sprawling across the rest of your apartment.

With that in mind, we asked 14 work-from-home professionals, interior designers, and small-space experts to share their favorite small desks and tiny work surfaces at every price point.

Best under-$50 small desks

Jennifer Keishen Armstrong, author and podcaster, has worked from home for nine years and has come to rely on a pair of “fantastic” Ikea C-side tables, which she and her partner each use on their preferred end of the sofa. She likes that they “allow you to sit up properly and have a hard surface for your computer.” If she’s feeling lazy, she’ll pull her computer into her lap and use the table “for other stuff, like a drink or pens and paper or books I’m using for research.” This even smaller IKEA option slides onto the couch itself.

Sarah Brown, Vogue contributing editor (and the magazine’s former beauty director), likes lap desks that can move from the couch to the bed to the floor. She got her first one years ago for around $20 at Staples, concerned about “radiating the lower half of your body for hours when putting a laptop directly on your lap — it’s a dangerous, bad idea.” She’s gone through a couple over the years, and this memory foam cushioned lap desk is the latest. Beyond looking “pretty decent,” she likes that it has a slot for holding one’s phone or iPad. “Even if you’ve got a plush office setup at home, I recommend getting a lap desk, because there are going to be those times you feel like working in bed or on the couch,” Brown says.

Architectural designer and blogger Sade Akinsanya says she purchased a version of this tray table from a Laura Ashley store a few years ago, and it “has been well used ever since.” She reaches for it often: “When I want to work from bed, when I want to eat and watch Netflix, when I want to photograph something.”

Meredith Talusan, author of memoir Fairest, has used wooden laptop desks for over a decade (“since at least the mid-2000s”) and currently has this model, which she loves so much she traveled with it to Guatemala and the Philippines. “I like that it tilts and has that piece of wood that stops your laptop from falling down, and even has a little drawer to keep your stuff,” Talusan says.

You don’t have to be a pro to build your own dream desk — and you don’t have to spend a fortune, either. Medina Grillo, author of Home Sweet Rented Home, suggests a surface like this Ikea tabletop paired with whatever sort of base you like, whether that’s standard table legs, a filing cabinet, or sawhorses. Grillo cut hers at an angle to fit into a small nook underneath her living room staircase, which now serves as her family’s “homework station.” It’s balanced on a stack of drawers “to make it look like a built-in desk.”

Andi Bartz, author of The Herd, uses the same Ikea tabletop, which she has propped atop two metal trestles. “Because I live in such a small apartment — a 380-square-foot studio — it’s important that all my furniture doesn’t take up a lot of visual space,” she explains. “My desk keeps the studio feeling more open than a big, blocky desk against the wall would.” And even though the workstation is small, the wood slab feels spacious. “I can spread out without it taking up my whole apartment.”

Best under-$100 small desks

Reporter and podcast host Sylvia Obell likes this petite Novogratz computer desk. She appreciates that because the drawers are open-facing, they “force me to keep them tidy” and reports that the desk was easy to assemble solo.

Susan Dominus, staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, likes this cheap, compact Ikea piece so much, she owns not one but two (and raved about it on Twitter last month). “It seemed like a good desk for a 10-year-old boy, which is the original person for whom I purchased this desk,” she says. “At some point, I decided I really wanted to work in my nice sunny bedroom, and there’s this little corner where only a small desk would fit, so I stole my son’s desk” before buying a second Micke. She says the white finish “feels clean, bright, efficient, and friendly.” It’s surprisingly spacious; despite feeling quite cozy, “the desk seems strangely big, wide, and deep for its size, and the drawer is surprisingly capacious, just big enough for everything you’d need,” Dominus says. (It would make a great grooming nook, she notes: “If I were a different kind of person, I’d be using it as a vanity, with a big mirror and perfume bottles on it.”)

If your daily grind involves work that’s less digital (staring at a laptop) and more analog (handwriting), consider a portable writing desk. “Over time, I’ve steadily switched to only working with pen and paper or occasionally an iPad when I’m not working at a desk,” Talusan says, and this wooden option — about as wide as a legal pad is long — works well for a writing medium that’s more compact than a laptop. Plus it has a drawer and cubbies to store your supplies.

Best under-$200 small desks

If you’re short on square footage, Laura Fenton, author of The Little Book of Living Small, recommends a wall-mounted desk. (She used one as part of a storage system beneath a loft bed in her first apartment.) Ikea’s combination of wall-mounted shelves and a desk is a classic. Other, spendier wall-mounted storage systems that Fenton recommends as a workspace are this cute office nook set from The Container Store’s Elfa system or Vitsoe Universal Shelving System’s desk shelf (for something a bit bigger, an integrated table works too).

This is the desk Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize–winning White House reporter for the Washington Post, described as her “gold standard” while seeking a better WFH setup in early 2020. It was sold out at the time, but now it’s back in stock in several colors — including off-white and a cool walnut brown — and has two drawers and mid-century-esque tapered wooden legs.

Fenton assembled and shot this Murphy-style desk for Parents magazine years ago and says that it “was nicer quality than I would have thought for the price” and has the space-saving benefit of folding up and stowing away neatly against the wall. One caveat: You’ll likely need a pro to properly mount it, “especially if you have old plaster walls, as many pre-war buildings do,” Fenton notes.

If you can’t spare the wall space for a traditional desk but have a free corner to fill, Fenton suggests a triangular desk, which makes “an often underutilized part of any room instantly super-functional.” She uses a vintage version similar to this unfinished wood option. If you’re looking for a finished, painted alternative, this very similar one comes in three muted pastel shades and is just $120.

Khalea Underwood, global editorial manager for MAC Cosmetics, recommends this acrylic-top, metal-base folding table that she bought after discovering that her “vintage coffee table is a bit too low to use as a workstation.” Underwood says she uses it “as a desk, table, and workstation” and when not in use, it can be folded up and stored; plus its transparent top and thin legs give it a lighter visual footprint useful for small spaces.

Best under-$500 small desks

To maximize desk space in a small apartment, interior designer Pramiti Bhargava recommends replacing a nightstand with a small console like this sturdy oak option from Article, the maker of some of our favorite affordable-yet-sturdy dining chairs. The two-tiered piece can double as storage; Bhargava recommends keeping the top clear and a stool nearby that can be pulled over and used as a seat.

Timothy Brown, founder of NYC-based design firm Timothy Brown Studio, calls this West Elm piece, an interpretation of the design classic Parsons table, his “favorite compact desk, hands down,” adding that “the size is perfect, the design is ageless, the construction is solid, and it’s very easy to use in any room.” It’s a piece he has used for himself and for “countless” clients.

Vogue’s Sarah Brown is a fan. “Some desks you want to hide away,” she says, but “the Parsons just looks like a white table so it’s not necessarily too office-looking.” Because it only has “one little drawer,” she recommends supplementing it with additional storage space, such as bookshelves on the wall above the desk or a filing cabinet beside it.

From $420
Photo: Retailer

Interior designer Liz Caan has used West Elm’s petite two-door desk in multiple projects. She likes that the model is “on the more contemporary side but works in a range of room styles” — an acacia-veneer style would fit in a mid-century office, and the design also comes in classic white with bronze-finished drawer pulls.

Another smart wall-mounted option — albeit slightly more expensive than the Ikea set —is this Kernel shelving system with a built-in compact desk that comes recommended by Talusan. “Bells and whistles like drawers or shelves will make the desk less portable, so if you’re getting something modular, it might be worth getting the basic model first, then adding accessories as you go along,” she says. In addition to the Kernel option, Talusan likes this slightly pricier Design Within Reach String Shelves setup (one of our favorite gifts for new homeowners), which she calls “a perfect example of expensive minimalism.”

Best splurge-worthy small desks

Eero Saarinen’s often replicated side table is Timothy Brown’s go-to when working from the sofa, and while he has a vintage version, it’s also available brand-new. “It’s the perfect height and size for my computer, a notepad, and — depending on the time of day — an adult beverage,” Brown says. “Go with the 20-inch round version for an optimal work surface.”

“I worked at MIT in a former life and we used Anthrocarts,” says Taulesen, referring to a now-discontinued model from medical supply and research manufacturer Ergotron that’s similar to this Neo-Flex version. “I still miss them, because they’re portable, customizable, and virtually indestructible.” She notes that while they might not be particularly desirable for those who are “design-conscious,” if you do envision moving your desk around, this option is very useful.

Or, if you’re prone to clutter, consider a secretary desk, a style with a drop-leaf writing surface recommended by Fenton, Caan, and The Perfect Escape author Leah Konen. “They have the distinct advantage of letting you close the door on work at the end of the day,” Fenton says, which means they’re great at hiding a messy desk. Fenton notes that they’re “often small and not too office-y looking,” making them a good option for a living room or bedroom. Her antique secretary desk looks like this West Elm piece. Konen and Caan also recommend looking for antiques; Konen stumbled on her prized maple secretary desk at an auction in upstate New York, and Caan pointed us toward a (now sold out) teak desk on the vintage site 1stdibs, which has plenty of other secretaries in stock — from French desks with intricate wood inlay to space-age Danish teak.

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The Best Small (Yet Stylish) Desks, According to Cool People