How I Set Up a Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk

I didn’t realize something important about myself until I took a class to find my purpose and passion and the teacher said to imagine what you loved to do as a child and where you could be found when you did whatever that was. I’d heard the first part of the question many times before, but not the second — and it was a game-changer. 

Whenever I did anything creative as a child, I was almost always on the floor. Even when I had a desk or table available, I would often choose the floor instead. I never noticed the pattern before, but the same was true into adulthood.

Once I realized this, I made a more conscious effort to be on the floor when I wanted to be creative. If I wanted to journal, I’d lie on my belly on the floor and write — but I couldn’t do that very long without falling asleep.

I wanted to avoid that pitfall, but our apartment is not that big, and I was hesitant to spend a ton of money or take a lot of space for something I wasn’t even sure would last longer than a few months. 

As a compromise, I decided to set up a mostly unused window nook in our bedroom with some items shopped from our home just to get started. This way I didn’t spend any money, I could see how often I used it, and if I could develop a routine that would justify spending money on setting up a dedicated space. 

The original writing “desk” was an adjustable TV or laptop tray. Photo by author.

The photo is more of my cat than my writing area, but you get the idea: It started out simple and inexpensive. 

This was fine in the beginning because I only used the area for writing in my journal. But as I started writing more regularly, the after-thought feel of the area niggled at me. I also started getting serious about pursuing a side hustle or blog, so I decided I needed to take it seriously if I wanted to get anything done. 

I knew I wanted to stay on the floor, but I didn’t know how I could accomplish that. Google searches only resulted in floor desks available in Japan, and I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars importing a desk from overseas. Commissioning a custom low desk would have been similarly too expensive and risky since I didn’t know what height or size I wanted.

I looked for months before I was able to find solutions to get set up, so here it is. And if you’re interested in any of the computer peripherals and accessories shown in the photo below, check out my Essentials For a Great Work-From-Home Day for all the links and brief reviews.

TThis is my first post in a series about my Japanese-inspired floor desk. If you want to see how my low desk works for me over time, check out the other posts below:

Part 1: How I Set Up a Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk (you are here)

Part 2: My Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk: 6 months later + 5 tips for sitting on the floor

Part 3: My Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk: 1 year later

This content may contain affiliate links for products I use and recommend. If you subscribe or make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn some money at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

IKEA PAHL Children’s Desk

My current writing desk. Photo by author.

I wanted to have a desk that was compact enough not to stick out from the nook area but sturdy enough to handle a monitor mount clamp. This children’s desk is intended to grow with the child, so it came with legs to add height. This was great because I could use it as a normal desk if I couldn’t get the floor desk to work.

The Pahl desk is approximately 12.75″ high, from the top of the desk to the bottom of the leg, without the bottom part of the legs attached. Keep in mind this measurement may change if it’s used on carpet. Since I’m on the shorter side (about 5’1″), I have to angle my hands and elbows upwards to reach the keyboard when I’m typing, but it’s a great height for when I’m writing in my journal.

The build quality on the Pahl is pretty standard IKEA fare. The desktop is that cheapie particle board stuff, but it’s thick so that makes it feel solid, and the legs are metal. Maybe someday I’ll buy a nice wood top to replace the standard IKEA white, but this will do for now.

Cushion Labs Pressure Relief Car Seat Cushion

Figuring out what to sit on took a lot of trial and error. Of course what works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone, but after trying many options, including yoga bolsters, meditation cushions, folded blankets, regular pillows, and more.

I initially tried the regular Cushion Labs Seat Cushion, which feels super soft and luxurious on the seat, but the upward slant in the front of the cushion made it awkward and uncomfortable to use on the floor. I tried the car seat cushion on the floor by itself, but that was a bit too firm for me. Using the Cushion Labs Car Seat Cushion on top of a zabuton ended up being the best combination for me.

I’m still working out the best positions for my legs, including some extra support for my knees, but it’s been much more comfortable than other options I’ve tried for a softer seat. It doesn’t provide that much lift, so if you need something to raise your body, you may want to try a more traditional meditation cushion or zafu. Check out My Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk: 6 months later + 5 tips for sitting on the floor for tips to sit on the floor comfortably.

For more information about the seats I’ve tried and am currently using, check out All the Seating Options I’ve Tried for My Floor Desk.

ClosetMaid Cubeicals Shoe Bench

Figuring out a storage solution was tricky for this area. The window is prime real estate for my cats, and I’d already taken away their beloved cat tree; I didn’t want to completely rob them of their morning sunshine. I also didn’t want to block any light since this is the only window in our bedroom. After exploring a few options, I realized that a shoe bench was the best option because they are the right height, and many of them come equipped with a cushion. 

My requirements for the shoe bench were that it had to be small enough to fit in the slim space between the window and my desk but big enough to hold the items I want to keep handy. Drawers and cabinets wouldn’t work because either the desk or my body would prevent them from being opened easily; open cube storage was the most practical choice.

Once I narrowed down my ideal storage, I was pleasantly surprised to find an inexpensive option that fit all my needs. And only the last cube ended up blocked by the desk. Woot!

Side note: My cats did not approve of the stiff outdoor cushion that came with the bench and refused to sleep or even sit on it. After trying a few options from shopping my home — all of which were met with disdain — I found a small crate pad that Tobi absolutely loves. If you have cats, you know how excited I was to find something they actually like! Iroh sometimes uses it, but it is definitely Tobi’s spot.

Photo of my Siamese cat Tobi sleeping on the shoe bench under the window. Photo by author.

Southern Homewares Wire Under Shelf Storage Basket

I had this crazy idea that I would be able to use this basket in the middle cube and store my journals underneath. I probably thought that because it worked with the 13” cube storage that I originally used. Not sure why I thought that would work with an 11” cube, but it definitely didn’t.

The good news is that it worked out perfectly, even if not how I imagined: The basket allows me easily access to the top half of the last cube, which would otherwise be inaccessible, and the bottom half is for items that I don’t need as often. This setup is perfect for the pens that I use often but don’t want to permanently live on the surface of my desk.

How to sit at a floor desk

Surprisingly, I took a while to figure out how to sit at my desk comfortably. Because of my experience with meditation, I assumed that I would need to sit on something to raise my hips above my knees. I’d sit at my writing desk for hours at a time and then have swollen knees at the end of the day. I didn’t understand what the problem was because I used my original TV tray setup without any problems.

After a few weeks of having to ice my knees every night, I was deeply worried that I’d caused permanent damage and would have to give up on my floor desk.

To give my poor knees a break, I stopped using my sitting desk for a little while, but I was determined to make it work. So I did some digging and discovered that I didn’t start complaining about knee pain until sometime in March when I switched out my seat and a few weeks after I stopped working out (my gym closed because of COVID). 

I also did a lot of reading and research to figure out the best ways to sit on the floor. During my search, I found this Work from home cheap and ergonomic workstation – Floor desk home office setup! YouTube video by Upright Health, which I highly recommend watching. Maybe it’s obvious to all of you, but something he says in this video blew my mind:

The mistake that people usually make when it comes to ‘ergonomics’ is they’re looking for the perfect position that’s supposed to make everything perfect for an unlimited period of time, and the reality is: There is no such position that is perfect for you to be in for 12 hours a day — or even 4 hours a day. You need to be moving around.

Upright Health

Based on this video, I realized a few things:

  1. This sedentary lockdown lifestyle has made me soft in all the wrong places.
  2. I was using seats and cushions when I didn’t actually need them.
  3. I couldn’t just sit on the floor in one position for hours and expect my body to be ok with it.

So I removed the cushions and floor seats I was using, and now I am working out regularly, changing positions frequently, and taking breaks about every hour or so instead of sitting for 4+ hours straight. The pain has subsided after just a few weeks of these changes, and now I can enjoy my floor desk without pain or worry.

The Brentwood Home Crystal Cove Meditation Cushion I use is comfortable to sit on in multiple different positions. It also keeps me at a better height for typing on the desk. I recommend it, though it does seem to be stressed at the seams a bit since the material is stretchy and I use it so much. Unfortunately, this cushion is now discontinued, but hopefully you can find something that works for you!

In closing

Over almost 18 months, this haphazard area evolved into a creative space that welcomes and beckons me to answer the call and write. Though I chose this space because it was what made the most sense in our home, I found that the natural light is just as important for my creativity as being on the floor.

Keep in mind that sitting on the floor is not for everyone, so check with your doctor about what’s best for your body. Also remember that this is my writing desk, not my work desk; I use a sit-stand desk for my day job where I spend about 40 hours per week. I am considering setting up a floor desk for my work instead of buying an expensive chair, but I want the option to stand up, so I’m not quite sure what to do about that yet.

In any case, I’m really happy with how my space turned out. Whenever I see it, I feel happy and welcome. I’m so productive when I sit at my low desk because I created it with intention, and it has grown into a special space for me to spend time with myself.

Although having your workspace on the floor does have its drawbacks…

Photo of cats on and around the floor desk by author.

hippopubco’s mascot Harley

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