“The Spaceship” 2.0

Update: See how myself and others have modified The Spaceship to meet our own needs.

Programming while sitting at a desk has always been problematic for me. I’ve never been able to maintain perfect, upright posture while sitting. I usually sit hunched forward, which is terrible on my back. If I recline, I want to dose off whenever I come across something challenging. When left my full time and started working from home last April, I decided to give a standing desk a try.

Problem is, manufactured standing desks are quite rare and ones large enough to accommodate my setup don’t exist. I wasn’t about to shell out thousands for a custom made one, so I did what any self-respective bootstrapper does and built my own. My Mom had a couple mid-century file cabinets in her basement weighing at least 200lb’s each. I knew I could trust my setup on top of those tanks, so I unscrewed the counter of my ikea desk and layed it across them. It was sturdy, but not high enough to rest my elbows on. Eight cinder blocks later, I was in business. Only problem was it looked like this:

The appearance of my workspace wouldn’t be such an issue if I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a roommate / girlfriend with refined visual taste. Upon first sight, she dubbed it “The Spaceship”. Kaitlin approved of my experiment temporarily, but immediately set a deadline a month out to build a better looking version. A month later, I was in love with my desk, but had no time to figure out how to make it easier on the eye.

A year passed. I knew there had to be a good looking homemade solution out there. I came across this attractive Ikea hack, but at 42″ it was half a foot shy of elbow rest height. Yesterday, Kaitlin and I ventured to Ikea with the intent of finding materials for “The Spaceship” 2.0. Upon first glance of EXPEDIT shelving unit (below), I knew there was hope of finding a support as sturdy as my tanks. Problem was no single unit in the EXPEDIT collection was elbow rest height.

Not to be defeated, I starting thinking of ways I could saw off half of the one of the four shelf cabinets (above). Fortunately, I consulted with a masterful Ikea employee named Rocky. He strongly advised against using a sawed off unit as hollow particle board loses its structural integrity when cut. Fortunately, Rocky was down to hack and talked me through some other ideas for combining EXPEDIT items. I followed his vision and am thrilled with how it turned out:

The Ikea items are as follows:

  • 2 x 2×2 Expedit shelving unit (801.352.98, $40 each)
  • 2 x 5×1 Expedit shelving unit (201.162.74, $60 each)
  • 1 x 73″x10″ Lack shelf (601.037.50 $30)

The 5×1 shelving units are laid over the 2×2 units to create a countertop. I only used the frame of the 1×5 shelf for the front of the desk so that I could sit under it with my high chair (can’t stand all the time). Here’s what it looked like during construction:

I bolted everything together using some screws and braces from the hardware store:

The shelve is supported by some cut up 2×4’s. I meant to get some pretty 6″ Capita legs at Ikea, but forgot. Next time.

End result: a happier girlfriend for a days work and $250 in parts. Thanks Ikea and Rocky for the inspiration!

About petermarks

I'm a programmer and music nerd in Portland, OR.
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103 Responses to “The Spaceship” 2.0

  1. Rocky says:

    This turned out AWESOME! Thanks so much for letting me know. I have to show everyone I’ve ever met. If you ever get a far shot picture of the desk, I would love to see it!
    ^_^ Rocky

  2. Looks great. No decks?

  3. patrick t says:


    Love the standing desk! I just a few weeks ago got sick of my low sitting desk and stole a cabinet from the end of the row and squeezed it into my cubicle: http://yfrog.com/h8zmwuvj

    Not as scary as your first desk, but not as refined as your update. It’s a bit short at the moment for my hands and since it has a solid front I have to stand a few inches too far back.

    I may steal your ikea hack once I can get my lower desk moved out of my cube and free up some space. I tried to buy a standing desk at Ikea a few months ago but they were all too short (42″), but they had a perfect height desk/table in the cafeteria. Too bad it was an old discontinued model and they refused to sell me one.


  4. Fiona EM says:

    Wow, thats just awesome. I have been thinking about building my son a raised bed with some expedits as the base, a simple design, but after seeing your desk youve inspired me and i now have all sorts of ideas for different levels, storage nooks, a secret hide out underneath and steps up to his bed made of expedits. Thanks so much for your genious and inpiration!

  5. skeeter says:

    I’ve been using a standing desk on/off for a couple years now. The problem I have is that standing all day is too much standing. Sitting all day is too much sitting…. So I need a transformer setup. I’ve had ideas, but nothing built yet. There are converting desks, but they are $1000+. Anyone built a convertable standing/sitting desk yet?

    BTW, standing desk + groovy tunes = good time working.

    Vancouver, WA

  6. Looks great! How tall are you? I might steal some of your ideas to mod an existing desk, regardless.

    • petermarks says:

      Thanks! I’m 6’2″. As mentioned in the post, the key factor is having the desk at elbow resting height. For me that’s 48″.

      • Richard says:

        Great stuff. I was wondering about the height of the keyboard for coding, mouse etc. What do you mean by elbow rest height? how did you work that out?

        Also, the extended chair is a great idea.

      • petermarks says:

        By elbow rest height, I mean the desk is high enough for me to rest my forearms at a 90 degree angle on it while standing up. I find that works best for my computing use.

  7. Jennifer J says:

    Wow very cool idea!

  8. Greg Diebel says:

    Great desk setup, I am really tempted to build one. I am the same height as you, but our proportions must be different, since I require a 45 inch desk height. Big question is when adding the dimensions of the expedit parts I get height of 49, you mentioned 48?

    31.125 (2×2) + 17.875 (5×1) = 49

    I was thinking about just cutting the wood anyway and stabilize with extra fasteners. Is your arrangement really stable?

    • petermarks says:

      Hey Greg – l must not have counted the decimals on the heigh calculation. Looks like it’s 49″ even. I have relatively short arms, so perhaps that’s why the height works for me.

      As for the stability of my arrangement, the fully built 5×1 cabinet (the rear portion of the table top) is quite stable. I could put a lot more weight on that than I currently do. The partialy built 5×1 cabinet (front portion) is less stable. I can lean my elbows into it without concern, but it gives in a little bit.

      The guy helping me at Ikea warned that cutting the Expedit’s hollow poly board compromises its structural integrity. I don’t know to what extent that’s true.

      Best of luck!

      • damian says:

        I see you’ve used a metal bracket at back on the fully built cabinet – presumably to help keep things lined up and stop your desk sliding off the back.
        If you haven’t already, using same brackets to joint the counter top in a couple (on the underside) should add some more stability.
        Additional brackets on the inside will help some more for side ways movement, but you’ll be able to see those.
        You might get away with sticking some additional screws through the unused drill holes, of your partially contructed shelf, down into the larger shelfing unit. You’d probably need to redrill a 45 degree pilot for that and be rather careful with the particle board.

      • petermarks says:

        Thanks for the tips! It’s holding together fine the way I originally bracketed it up. However, I may change the way it’s bolted together should I need to move it.

  9. Pingback: Expedit standing desk | Articles

  10. Chris says:

    Love this idea and I am probably going to steal it. How many brackets did you end up using to attach all of the pieces together? The only part that would worry me is the front piece…how do you have it attached to the rest?

    • petermarks says:

      I used 4 brackets on each side to attach everything. None of the brackets are easily noticeable. The rear fully-built 1x5s are attached to the 2x2s by square brackets on the bottom and straight brackets on the back. The 1x5s are attached to each other by straight brackets on the surface underneath the countertop and the sides underneath. Best of luck!

  11. Clum says:

    Awesome timing, I was just looking for a stand-up desk and this perfect – gonna put it together next week. I saw you mentioned the back half especially is nice and stable… I use work from home and use three 30″ monitors, do you think it can hold them (~90 lbs)?

    • petermarks says:

      I think the back part could definitely support 90lb’s. I can put all my body weight on it and don’t notice any give. You may want to support the shelf more than the two columns in my setup though.

      Counter question – Three 30″ monitors eh? Sometimes I think I could use more than my single 30″. Are they all running at 2560 x 1600? What kind of video card(s)? Mac or PC? Vertical or horizontal orientation?

  12. Clum says:

    Do you mean the extra Lack shelf on top might need more support, or the actual 1×5 Expedit shelf? I plan on forgoing the Lack shelf and just resting the monitors on the 1×5 itself, so hopefully that avoids any potential problems.

    I actually only have two 30s right now, but plan on getting the third one soon so wanted to make sure the desk can handle it. Extra space is always nice – even just a smaller monitor on the side to separate all your non-work-related stuff. All max resolution, PC, horizontal orientation. Video card is nothing special – NVIDIA GeForce 9500 – since I don’t do any intensive video editing/gaming, but I will need a second card for the third monitor.

  13. ageekymom says:

    That is an awesome desk! You have managed to incorporate tons of storage into a small footprint. You have me seriously considering a trek to IKEA! Great job!

  14. Looks fantastic. I am actually moving into a new apartment, and I’m thinking I need to find a solution for a standup work environment. However, I am 5’10”, so this particular design might be a bit too high for me? I don’t know; guess it’s time to get creative in Ikea.

    I’m also considering having a specific spot for my laptop (I normally work from a 27″ iMac) as well as a cool place for my iPad. I guess I’ll have to post pictures!

    Great post, my friend!

    • petermarks says:

      Thanks! Regarding desk height, it also depends on the length of your arms. I would try to experiment with a makeshift counter to see what height comfortable before building anything.

  15. Lis says:

    What would you reccomend for a 50′ wide space?
    (I’m only 5’5″ so I think I can use an under-table keyboard shelf.)

    • petermarks says:

      Hi Lis, With 50″ of space, you might be a little tight for chair room (if you plan to have a high chair for backup like I do. I don’t think Ikea makes a 1×4 expedit, but they have some shorter countertops that are closer to 50″.

  16. Clum says:

    I built the desk just as you set it up – except without the extra top shelf for my monitors – and it’s working great! The only thing is you must have a freakishly tall upper body (or I have the opposite I guess) – I’m 6’2″ and the desk is definitely an inch or two taller than I would like. Especially when sitting on a high chair similar to the one you linked, my arms are extended out almost straight instead of 90 degree bend at the elbow. So I’m looking for some sort of riser or stand to give me a few inch boost (I have a gel mat also which I STRONGLY recommend) – and anyone shorter should do likewise before building this IMO.

  17. J. Chamberlain says:

    Thanks for the strong design. I built this desk (with a few modifications) today and am very pleased with the results. One caveat, I’m 6’3 and find the 48″ height very comfortable when standing. If you’re shorter than that (below 6’1) you might want to think twice about the height of the original design (especially if you plan on standing).

    I also made a few modifications:

    1. I bolted the desk together rather than using braces on the back. I placed three bolts through the two ends of the rear 1×5. I think that bolts will provide a better hold over the long term versus the brace system.

    2. I drilled two 2 3/8″ holes for two grommets to pass cords through and give it a more “desk-like” appearance.

    3. I used a brace to hold the two 1×5’s that form the “top” of the desk together. This way there’s less of a chance for the front piece to slide from side to side (for those who aren’t bracing one side against I wall).

    4. I took your advice and used the Capita legs for the upper shelf and I like the overall look.

    I’m very pleased with the results both in terms of the desk and the overall cost. Kudos to you for the excellent (and economical) design.

  18. J. Chamberlain says:

    One other point:

    You can use the additional shelves from the Expedit shelving unit that you don’t fully assemble as supports. Specifically, I felt that over the long term the front half of the desk may have been too unstable to support heavy items or a lot of leaning. After all, the only thing holding the top of the desk together is four screws inside particle board. Therefore, if you turn the extra shelves lengthwise (finished portion up) you can slide them between the top of the front portion of the desk and the Expedit shelving unit. The result is a desk that now feels very sturdy and one that should last over the long term. You will have to take a furniture marker (I chose the Espresso/Brown version of the shelving unit) and color the exposed portions of the shelves, but one would have to look very close to notice the difference.

    • Could you post pictures of how you did this because I’m having trouble visualizing how you strengthened the front 1×5 ( which is my only concern).

      • J. Chamberlain says:

        I’m sorry, but I don’t have a picture. However, if you turn the extra shelves so that the unfinished portion is facing outward and the finished portion braced against the 1×5 that will do the trick. Withe the extra shelves the desk will be very sturdy.

      • Chris says:

        I just made this desk but I see what you’re saying about the front part of the desk. Could you post a pic or let me know how you strengthened this specifically too?

      • petermarks says:

        Chris – All I have done to strengthen/secure the partially-constructed front top of the desk is to attach it to the completely-constructed back top via screwed on brackets like the ones in the photos.

  19. I really love this idea, but at a somewhat diminutive 5’6″ I’m trying to conceive a good strategy for building this with a few modifications. I’m thinking about leaving the second 5×1 Expedit on the back side but using no shelf for the monitor/speakers, which would leave the monitor at just about eye level for me. The front counter is a bit of a bigger problem, but I’m considering just trimming the supports that are attached to the 2×2 Expedits about halfway with a circular saw (to about 40″ total height). A little bit of work, but I think it may be sufficient albeit slightly less elegant. Any ideas?

  20. Rick says:

    After many trips across town to many furniture stores, trying to find something similar, I’ve finally arrived at the conclusion that your IKEA hack is the coolest thing ever. My wife really likes the idea as well! So, we’re now in the process of planning a great IKEA trip. Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. kellyheld says:

    love it! I have just finished the build without the lack shelf.
    Did you do any additional bracing?
    Do you have any more pictures? I am interested in how to attach the lack shelf using the
    updated Ikea legs. This is exactly what I needed as I have been in pain sitting at my desk for the last 6 months. Fantastic idea. Perfect fit as it lands right at 48″. Thanks for sharing!


    • petermarks says:

      Hi Kelly – I did some additional bracing under the desk. I never ended up putting on the ikea legs, still using my cut up boards. Unfortunately I don’t have any more pics handy, but feel free to hit me up with any other questions!

  22. Kelly says:

    Thanks Peter,

    I braced where it needed it. Solid as a rock now. I am thrilled. Thanks for sharing your idea!


  23. Rick says:

    So, I did it–I built the thing! It’s a bit higher than anticipated, but I might actually prefer it. (I’m 6’1″.) If you want to see a pic, here ya go: http://campl.us/dyE5

    Thanks again, Peter, for posting this rad setup.

  24. Pingback: Standing Desk | The Mac Instructor

  25. Matt Bradley says:

    super cool. nice work. ping me when you have a chance. always looking for good rails and iOS peeps….

  26. Pingback: How can I rase up this Ikea desk for standing? - Quora

  27. Jared says:

    You know IKEA sells a standing desk, right? http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60111123/

    I’ve been using this for a few months and it works great.

    They also have a narrower version: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/00115992/

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  29. Excellent setup, may I ask which kind of speakers are you using?

    • petermarks says:

      Thanks! Those are 8 year old Event speakers. I don’t know the model number off hand. They’ve been great, but are showing their age now. I’ve been shopping for new ones.

  30. Pingback: “The Spaceship” 2.0 | PeterMarks.info « Jomalo

  31. Such a small world. I came to this page to view the desk you made. Very cool by the way. It was funny to see the Event TR5 speakers on the desk. I was the production manager at Event Electronics (the manufacturer if the TR5 speakers). I now work for Equator Audio (www.equatoraudio.com) manufacturer of the 5.25″ D5 speakers ($299.99/pr.)

  32. Pingback: The Reconstructed Bookcase Workspace | Lifehacker Australia

  33. Kelly says:

    Been thinking of getting a new desk some time by looking at yours I gotten some idea to build my own…

  34. ispellcaster says:

    Great idea! That desk looks really awesome. I almost feel sad that my current desk is still “good enough.” 🙂

  35. shateredsoul says:

    Hi, I really like the desk, but I have one questions.

    Why did you need the extra lack shelf? It looks like one of those 5×1 expedit wood pieces wasn’t used in your build. That could have been used for that extra piece under the monitor… no?

    The way I’m seeing it, the 2×2 expedits are the base.. right? Then the bookshelves are on their side except the one nearest to you is only the top, bottom, and one side.. sort of like this I guess
    I””””””I , so it’s missing the shelves and one side. Just making sure I’m visualizing this correctly, as I might be interested in trying this one out 🙂

    • petermarks says:

      Regarding the extra lack shelf, I didn’t want the shelf to be as deep as an expedit piece. The lack shelf is about 10″ deep, while the expedite piece is about 17″. You’ve got the rest of the setup straight!

  36. atxjules says:

    I absolutely love this!! I work from home and have been looking for something like this. I have next week off and fully intend to do this. Thank you so so so much for posting all the details!

  37. atxjules says:

    Just wondering, maybe I’m missing something, but couldn’t you have used the straight edge of the 5×1 frame that you didn’t end up using as the top shelf instead of the separate Lack shelf? Also, if you put it together with each of the shelves that it came with and then set that on top of the whole thing, it would not have needed risers at all. It appears it would have looked like this http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40163778/#/20163779 and then you could have set that down as the top piece. Or would that have made the top shelf too high for you? Sorry if I’m missing something – I’m trying to make a shopping list for Ikea so that I can do this!

  38. dmapps says:

    Thank you for posting! I am thinking of replicating with a few minor changes and have a couple questions…

    If you left one or two of the shelf pieces out of the EXPEDIT shelving unit (the 5×1), do you think there would be enough stability? I was thinking of putting my docking station below the main deck of the desk.

    Do you think this is sturdy enough to use a monitor arm ( e.g., http://amzn.to/PJCjXA ) instead of the Lack shelf?

    Thanks again!!

  39. I (like many others) have measured and found this was too high for my needs, but do like it a lot! I’m wondering if I could simply put a keyboard tray under the front 5×1 lack shelf to have it at elbow height. It should be sturdy enough, right? Great job!

    • petermarks says:

      Hi Robert – I think it should be sturdy enough. If the front part of the desk can support my laptop and leaning elbows for a couple years, it should be able to support a keyboard tray and weight from your hands.

      • robertbilodeau says:

        Thanks for the reply Peter. I went ahead and built the majority of the desk this weekend, using a single 1×5 instead of two, but instead of taking out the bottom part, I left it in, along with a divider on each side. It leaves me enough room to screw in a keyboard tray which I’ll be buying tonight, and the shelf on the bottom was actually the perfect size for my keyboard (instrument, not typing). Now I just need to get a chair… I’ll post some pictures once I’m done everything. Thanks again to you and Rocky!

      • Hey Peter! I put together a little blog post of my own if you’re interested in seeing my finished product. Thanks again for the inspiration! http://robertbilodeau.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/standing-des/

  40. Dylan Davis says:

    I’ve been thinking about building a standing desk for about a year now, and this build is just awesome. I’m only 5’9″ so that could be a problem, but I’m thinking of purchasing one of those adjustable aerobic step gizmos that you often see in gyms. You can buy them on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/The-Step-F1011W-Original-Health/dp/B0007OWSXQ. They’re adjustable to 4″, 6″, and 8″ and might be able to solve the issue for those who are too short for this setup.

  41. Dylan Davis says:

    Quick question. How securely do those braces hold things together when they’re screwed into particle board?

    • petermarks says:

      They’re secure enough that I can lean against the desk from any direction with my full body weight. It’s not secure enough that I would want to move the desk with the braces attached.

  42. Johnny Tremain says:


    Do you think the 2×2 shelf can be substituted with http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10192824/ ?

    Thank you.

  43. You have inspired me to build one of these for my desk at work. I also made a modification of it at home, which I will send pix of later. So – thanks for that. Is it still working out for you?

    Another question: instead of the 5X1 Expedit in the back, do you think the 5X2 would work? Im 6’1″ and use a dual monitor setup. The monitors (iMac 27″ primary, Dell 23″ secondary) would probably be more stable on the expedit over the Lack shelf. Just not sure if they would be too high.

    So it would be the same except I would add a 5X2 in the back and not use the lack shelf.

    Does that make sense?

    • petermarks says:

      Hi Daniel, Glad you’ve made one of these at home! Would love to see a pic. I’m not aware of a 5×2 expedit. I only see a 4×2 and a 5×1 in the US store. For my height just shy of 6’2″, a 30″ screen about 7″ off the counter makes it perfectly centered for me. Another Expedit would put it another 9-10″ higher than that I believe. That would change the angle of my neck, but not too much I would think? Maybe you could experiment with the height on your home setup first?

  44. Pingback: The “Spaceship” DIY standing desk: A massive, attractive, and affordable standing desk for tall nerds

  45. Pingback: Why don’t you try a standing desk? | Jeremy Herve

  46. Tom Shannon says:

    This is brilliant. I did this over the weekend and did the Capita legs as you suggested. It is just a tad too tall for typing in a neutral position (I’m 6’2″ as well), so I am going to mount the keyboard on a tray below the desk.

    • petermarks says:

      Glad to hear it’s working out for you! I’ve also been experimenting with a lower typing position using a down-sloping keyboard.

    • Daniel says:

      Hi Tom I’m wondering if you might be willing to share your final fix on the keyboard make/model and or a pic? Lastly, if you might be able to give an estimate of the height of the top edge of the keyboard tray height? I know that’s a lot, but wow I’d be so grateful. I love everything about this hack, but I need ~ 44″ for my keyboard height. Thanks

  47. greg v says:

    hi peter!
    my wife and i have been eyeing your hack for quite a while, and i’m heading to ikea in a week. any thoughts on it that you haven’t mentioned above anywhere? how’s it holding up 2 years later? anything you would do differently now?

    • petermarks says:

      Hi Greg – It’s still holding up nicely. The only thing I’d consider is that I tend to like my keyboard a little lower these days. I’ve been experimenting with a down sloping keyboard modification, but it’s still the same wonderfully spacious desk that it’s based on. Best of luck! Peter

  48. Ryan says:

    I have been standing at work for more than two years and have used boxes and paper reams to prop things up. I have no work-space. It looks awful and my space at work needs to look more professional.

    I have looked every few months online for a good standing desk option and could not find anything that I thought would work or was worth the money. However, I came across your blog here on 10/9/13 and on 10/10/13 was using my new desk. It is a wonderful upgrade for me and the perfect height. It has received rave reviews from others in my office and looks very professional.

    I used the brown/black color, the capita legs, put on a GALANT wire holding tray, removed one of the shelves underneath in the back so my laptop docking station would fit and even put drawers and doors in the cubbies. Ikea sells inserts that fit right in there. I used wood filler for the holes and then colored it black with a sharpie.

    I wanted to extend my thanks to you for your post. The new desk has been a great blessing for me.

    (Happy to share pictures if anyone is interested. Not sure how to go about it)

    • petermarks says:

      Hi Ryan – So glad to hear it’s working well for you! I understand the pain of having an ergonomically sound, but ugly desk all to well. I’m curious to see what yours looks like in brown. If you could email me a couple pictures to petertmarks (at) gmail that would be awesome! – Peter

  49. Howdy! This article could not be written any better!
    Looking through this article reminds me of
    my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this.
    I most certainly will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a very good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  50. Pete says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the great ideas, here is my version with wall mounted monitors.

  51. Pingback: Get Things Done While Standing – 10 DIY Standing Desk Designs To Get You Inspired | Steal Mag

  52. panacamanana says:

    Really digging this setup and I plan on doing a build of this as well. But I had one question.

    Where did you get the small lamps used on the desk?

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