Yes, technically any surface — be it a dining table, kitchen counter, or mattress — can function as a writing desk. But for many people (and according to a Harvard productivity study), having separate spaces to work from and live in is crucial, especially within your own home. That means, even if your desk is in the kitchen, simply having one can make you more focused and efficient.
While most desks have surfaces you can write on, for the purposes of this story, we’ve defined writing desks as ones used by folks whose workdays consist mainly of writing, be that novels, articles, or just emails. Which means you won’t find architects’, illustrators’, or gamers’ favorite desks below, but you will find the favored desks of some cool writerly people we admire, from fiction writers to book critics to journalists who report on topics like crime, design, food, travel, politics, and more. Since most of their desks serve the same function (but contain slightly different features), we’ve grouped them by price to make it easier for you to find one that works for your budget.
Best under-$200 writing desks
We learned about this ingeniously designed coffee table from Jacob Gardenswartz, an associate White House producer for NBC News, who tells us it’s pop-up mechanism allows him to have a desk in front of the TV by day and a coffee table by night. Because his job requires him to “spend most of my days watching a whole lot of screens while I work,” he likes that he can have a desk in front of his TV without having, well, a desk in front of his TV. “I know you’re not supposed to work on the couch,” he adds, “but I’ve found this set up works great for me.”
Marko Gluhaich, an associate editor at literary journal Cabinet magazine, says, “When I’m working, I need enough space for my books, notes, and laptop.” While “no-frills,” he says this “cheap” table from Ikea offers ample desk “space so that I never feel cluttered.” He’s worked from it for more than two years and notes the minimal design means it’s simple to put together.
Also from Ikea’s Linnmon line, this table is what fashion designer Niyi Okuboyejo, the founder of Post Imperial, uses as his desk. Okuboyejo tells us that “I used to have a really heavy, wide table for my desk that came in handy for cutting and pattern-making,” but as he “transitioned into focusing more on the design and strategic aspects of my career,” he no longer needed the extra space to accommodate hands-on work like pattern making. Instead, he needed something simpler that would allow him to manage his business and inbox. “I wanted something much lighter and easier to assemble, and this did that for me.” That assembly, he notes, is basically one step: “Just place the tabletop on the legs.”
Rachel Charlene Lewis, a senior editor at Bitch Media who moonlights as a freelance writer, told us that while working from home, she and her girlfriend take turns using this desk from Target. “It’s a simple writing desk,” she says. “We like it because it has drawers, so you can hide away extra papers and the sort of nonsense that accumulates on your desk.” Lewis adds that this has the type of “nice, open surface” she looks for in a writing desk, which allows her to organize her supplies and décor in a way that lifts her mood. “I have a stack of old issues of Bitch in a magazine rack to the right of my Bluetooth keyboard and the little stand I keep my laptop on,” she says. “I also keep a speckled vase on the desk, which holds cheap, fresh flowers from the grocery store.”
Reporter and podcast host Sylvia Obell recently told us about her favorite desk, which she says suits her minimalist aesthetic while also “forcing” her to keep tidy because of its open-facing drawers. Obell adds that the marble is a perfect canvas for the “pops of color” she likes to decorate her desk with, “from a stack of books to a cute tray shaped as red lips.” Lastly, she says it’s “easy to assemble, which I appreciate as a single woman. All I had to do was screw on the legs.”
[Editor’s note: This desk can be purchased now and usually ships in one to two months, according to the retailer.]
Best under-$400 writing desks
Gabriela Ulloa, a writer and the assistant to Architectural Digest’s editor-in-chief, told us she bought this writing desk as one of her “more practical” pandemic-induced purchases. “Equal parts adult and aesthetically pleasing, it motivates me to be productive and get all of my articles and Zoom calls done,” she says. When work ends, she’s been sitting at it to edit videos for her Instagram Live series “and, most importantly, to unsubscribe from all of the workout memberships I oh-so-naïvely joined in March.”
“Whether I’m conducting an interview or just staring off into space, I’m doing it at my ‘Big Ideas Factory,’ a.k.a. my yellow desk,” says Emma Orlow, a freelance design and food writer for T magazine, Bon Appétit, and our sister site Grub Street. While some “might find a neon work area distracting,” she told us that having a bright yellow desk actually helps her get into the headspace to pitch and write the kind of “cuckoo stories” she enjoys, “like a recent ode to collectors of tiny dollhouse food.” Orlow adds that she “dresses up the desk with accessories, such as a ’70s era Mad Libs set,” and that “clacking away on my computer while sitting at it makes me feel like a modern day Ms. Frizzle.” While her yellow desk is a vintage find, given that its color is the main reason she loves it, we think this bright-yellow alternative channels the spirit of her recommendation.