Learning to Invent: Building a Custom, Modular, Workstation for a Tiny House

Workstation Collage

As a relatively tall human (6’1’’) I’ve struggled with using tools designed for others of average height. One primary example was the ergonomics of my computer workstation. Computers have gotten smaller and more portable over time which has been wonderful for adapting the computers to tiny living spaces, but hunching over a laptop all day was a pain in the neck. I tried all sorts of marketed solutions, yet, these solutions were designed for smaller humans and never quite fit me. I loved the laptop size and portability for our tiny house but the problem was always that the keyboard and the monitor screen were connected so that either my hands or my neck were uncomfortable. My hands needed to be low and my screen needed to be high to meet my gaze.

Recently, I retired my seven year-old MacBook Pro computer. As such, I decided I had a new opportunity to address my old keyboard/screen problem. I purchased a new Microsoft Surface Pro computer which is a tablet, touch-screen, laptop hybrid where the keyboard is removable. I loved the concept of this new multipurpose computer but I hated the idea of hunching over an even smaller device at my desk or in my lap. Even if I had a separate wireless keyboard at my hands I needed a way to put my screen up high.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” – Richard Franck

To solve this surprisingly complex problem of a pain-free, tiny house workstation, I had to distil my most basic needs and wants. This computer workstation had to be:

  • Adjustable
  • Stable, durable, and inexpensive
  • Modular, storable, and easy to use

Most of the ergonomic products on the market were expensive, business oriented, and had to be permanently mounted for stability. My partner, Tammy, solved this problem elegantly by using the bookcase in the tiny house as a standing workstation. Unfortunately, the bookshelves are not at the correct height for me. Even if we had made our book shelves adjustable for my height, I like to alternate between a sitting and standing workstation. Also, I use my computer for more than work. If I wanted to read a recipe from my computer while I was cooking in the kitchen, or watching a movie in bed, I wanted to be able to do so hands free. I realized I needed a mobile stand with a mount for the tablet computer.

Since part of the tiny house DIY ethos is to simplify, it didn’t make sense for me to engineer this tool from scratch. I decided to search for a motley hodgepodge of items that I could assemble together. The result of my inventing process was:

For approximately $75, I now I have a stable, pain-free, workstation that can move around the tiny house. This little workstation adjusts to my height (standing, sitting, or laying down), and can easily be disassembled for storage. Living deliberately with a DIY ethos has helped me assemble my life to meet my physical and emotional needs. I believe all humans are capable of clever ideas. It’s the implementation of those ideas and inventing them into reality that is the challenging part. With a little practice using the Tiny House DIY ethos you too can tailor your life and reduce the discomfort of having to use tools made for the status quo.

Rear view of workstation

15 thoughts on “Learning to Invent: Building a Custom, Modular, Workstation for a Tiny House

  1. I LOVE this! What a terrific way to go when using a tablet and a wireless keyboard. I’ve been able to jury-rig a cheap way to alternate between standing and sitting while working on my laptop (I put some photos at http://therewillbestuff.com/standing-desks/), rather than splashing out on an expensive standing desk, but it never even crossed my mind to try to make something for use with my tablet. Thanks for sharing! I’m at the opposite end of your height difficulty. I generally find “standard” sized desks to be too tall for my height. And you’ve brought back memories of high school chemistry class. : ) I also like what appears to be a tall, wall-mounted scratching post for a cat, which I glimpse in the photos.

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  3. How are you liking the Surface Pro as a computer replacement?

    I always end up using a box and/or stack of books to make laptops and tablets high enough to work standing- not ideal. The chemistry stand is a great idea- I bet I could do something similar with a camera tripod.

    • Hi Jenn,

      I will be writing up my experience on the Surface Pro soon. I love it as a computer. Books are tricky, if anything gets bumped the whole thing can fall apart. Not sure about the tripod. I look fwd to hearing your experience.

  4. With your tiny desk, where do you put your papers and other things one uses a desk to work on? My “desk” is a tiny round table and that’s my major problem! I hate it when papers keep ending up on the floor.

    • Hi Ginny,

      Papers usually just go beside my keyboard. However, living in a tiny house, I have to pick up my desk daily and sort through what was completed and what still needs to be worked on. If you do transposition from paper to digital content I bet one could attach a perpendicular post using a ring-stand utility clamp to hang papers at eye level. Ohh, great idea, I may have to add this to my own set up. :)

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  7. Thanks for sharing your solution and for providing links. However, the chemistry stand shown says it is only 9″ and yours obviously is much taller. Right? How tall is it and is there another link? I am looking for something to hold my 24″ monitor when my wife and I are sitting side by side with the monitor between us, now sitting on a bulky TV tray. We don’t want it on a wall far away.

    Your Solution has sparked ideas for my own challenge. Thanks.

    • Hi Tom,

      That 9” is referring to the size of the base length not the rod height. The rod height for my model is 24 inches. They do make larger models. I saw Amazon suggest an “extra large” model that was 40” in height with a 12” X 8” base. I’m not sure how much your monitor weighs and you’d have to find a way to mount the monitor but I bet you could figure it out. Cheers!

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