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The Complete Guide to Office Desks

Despite ever-evolving technology in the workplace, desks are still an important part of almost every office employee's day-to-day work life. It’s where your computer lives, where you file away your documents, and, when it comes down to it, your desk is your home away from home. 

Whether you’re designing a home office or need to replace the old desk in your corporate corner office, there’s a lot to choose from, and it can be tough to decide. This comprehensive guide to office desks is designed to give you a solid understanding of where to start your search.

 desk guide


What Type of Desk Should I Buy?

The options can be overwhelming. Compare and contrast these common desk types to determine the ideal choice for you and your work style.

Executive desks are commonly used in large offices with space to spare. These big desks almost always have a double pedestal design and are equipped with file and box drawers for paperwork and supplies. Executive desks typically provide a single work surface. These high-quality desks are often situated in the center of the office, but executive l-shaped desks and executive u-shaped desks also exist for those who need more space.


Computer desks are scaled-down versions of executive workstations that typically include work surface space for a desktop computer, filing drawers, and wire management capabilities. Computer desks are ideal for home offices and spaces that aren’t quite large enough for a big executive workstation.


Compact desks are perfect for use in tight quarters. These small workstations come in corner shapes, L-shaped, and straight configurations that will fit virtually anywhere.


L-shaped desks come with 2 connecting parts—a desk and a return. The desk portion is typically larger, while the return is more narrow and meant to be used as additional work surface space. L-shaped desks come in a wide range of styles and sizes, making them a great choice for just about anyone who needs more desktop space in their work life. Just take caution—some L-shaped desks have an unfinished back and must be placed in a corner, so double-check your product details if you’re planning on using one of these in the middle of a room.

U-shaped desks are similar to L-shaped desks, but they have 3 work surfaces: a main desk, a bridge, and a credenza. U-shaped desks are typically very large, but compact varieties exist. A U-shaped desk is ideal for an individual who needs as much work surface space as possible to get their work done effectively. U-shaped desks almost always come packed with storage, so you can expect plenty of filing and utility space with this type of furniture.

Standing and adjustable desks allow the user to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the work day. Standing desks are stationary and must be used in combination with a standard height desk or an adjustable height stool. Adjustable height desks have a work surface that can be raised and lowered either via an electric or manual mechanism. 


Credenza desks are narrow storage units with a kneespace that allows them to be used as a workstation. Credenzas usually have 1 or 2 storage pedestals and are most commonly used in conjunction with a U-shaped desk.


Laptop and writing desks have a table-like design that consists of a spacious work surface with no pedestals. Any storage that may exist in one of these desks will be in the form of a pencil drawer and/or keyboard tray under the center of the work surface. It is commonly recommended that mobile pedestals be used if additional storage is needed.


Corner desks are designed for use in the corner of a room. This type of desk is different from an L-shaped desk because the user sits in the rounded corner of the desk rather than at one of the sides of the ‘L’ shape.


Cubicles consist of a work surface surrounded by modular partitions. Cubicles are great for use as employee workstations in an open seating area to fit a large number of people in a small space.

What Size Desk Should I Buy?

The size of the desk you choose will be determined by the size of your office and the type of work you do. Take these steps to determine what size desk is right for you and your space.

Measure the size of your office to determine how large of a desk will be possible within the space. When measuring the square footage of the area where you’d like to put your desk, allow for at least 2 feet of space around it.

Measure doorways and stairwells to ensure the desk will make it into your office. If you need to navigate slender doorways or narrow stairwells on the way to your room of choice, then you may want to consider getting a smaller desk or one that comes ready to assemble (RTA) to make sure that it will fit.

What Type of Material Should My New Desk Be Made Of?

Desks can be made from many materials, but these are the most popular options.

Laminate. Although laminate can be made to look like it has real wood grain, it is actually made of particle board with or without a wood grain print. Desks with a laminate surface construction are ideal for high-traffic offices because laminate does not scratch or dent easily and is generally easier to maintain and keep clean. Laminate is also affordable, making it a great choice for businesses on a tight budget.


Wood Veneer. Wood veneer is a good in-between for those who want that look of real wood without paying the high price of solid wood furniture. Veneer desks have a base similar to laminate furniture (such as particle board) but feature a thin layer of real wood on top. Veneer desks can be trickier to clean and care for than laminate, but the veneer layer provides a much richer look that many offices prefer.

Solid Wood. As the name implies, solid wood desks are made of solid wood. These beautiful desks are of the highest quality, but they are very heavy and can be quite expensive. Solid wood desks also require more care to prevent water stains and scratches.

Metal. Although you can find all-metal desks, most come with a wood or glass top on a metal framework for stability and industrial aesthetics. Metal desks are usually made of steel, though the gauge may vary, and the desk may come in a chrome or powder-coated finish.

Glass. In the case of glass desks, the work surface is usually made of thick tempered glass to prevent shattering. This is usually complemented by a metal framework. Glass is easy to clean, but it easily shows fingerprints. If you don’t want a full glass top, there are wood top options with a glass inlay.


Real Wood vs. Wood Veneer vs. Laminate: What’s the Difference?

Real wood, wood veneer, and laminate are common materials used in everything from kitchen cabinets to living room furniture to office furniture. Even though these are 3 of the most widely used materials in furniture, many of us are still left scratching our heads wondering, “What’s the difference?”

Conventional wisdom says that solid wood, or real wood, is best. But is that always the best choice when shopping for furniture? We’ll define each of these materials and run through the benefits to help you determine which material is right for you. The answers might surprise you.

What Is Wood Veneer?

Wood veneer is a thin layer of real hardwood applied to a less expensive material like plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

What Is Laminate?

Laminate is an engineered material usually constructed of plastic and bonded to a composite base. Office furniture shoppers should know about 2 types of laminate. High-pressure laminate (HPL) is constructed of multiple layers bonded together under high pressure and heat, making the product incredibly durable. High-pressure laminate is favored by some of the biggest companies in the world because it’s been designed to resist stains, scratches, and heat. 

Low-pressure laminate is more widely known as melamine. Melamine is constructed of a single layer bonded to the base material. Because melamine is less durable than high-pressure laminate, it performs better in lower-use areas. 

Because of the way laminate is constructed, it can be designed to create different styles and mimic other surfaces like wood or marble. 

What Is ‘Real Wood’?

Solid wood, often referred to as “real wood,” refers to natural wood or plywood rather than plywood. You may find furniture that has been constructed of solid wood or as a combination of materials. For example, it’s common to pair a solid wood desktop with metal desk legs. You might also find solid wood as an element within a mixed-material construction.

Understanding the Differences Between Laminate, Wood Veneer, and Solid Wood

Debating which option to go with for your new office furniture? Here are some distinguishing features of each material to make it easier for you to choose which is best for your needs. 

The Benefits of Laminate

Laminate is engineered to stand up to high traffic and heavy use, making it a popular choice for commercial offices, home offices, doctor’s offices, schools, and anywhere else you expect your furniture to see a lot of “wear and tear.” It’s often easier to care for than real wood or wood veneer. 

  • Durable, manufactured surface

  • Scratch, stain, and heat-resistant

  • Easy to clean and maintain

  • Modern, on-trend finishes

  • Budget-friendly and easier to manufacture

The Drawback of Laminate

One downfall of laminate is that, since it's a manufactured surface, you will not get the natural variations and true wood grains that you see with real wood veneer; however, the color possibilities are endless.

The Benefits of Wood Veneer

Wood veneer gives you a solid wood look without the matching price point of solid wood furniture. Because the veneer is composed of natural wood, it has a richer and more varied look. Since more effort goes into crafting a veneer top, they are usually priced higher than laminate alternatives. Wood veneer is softer and more susceptible to scratches and dents when compared to laminate, so we recommend using desk pads and coasters to protect your surfaces.

  • Real wood finish with natural variations

  • Richer, stained finish options

  • Requires coasters and desk pads

  • Higher price point versus laminate

The Drawbacks of Wood Veneer

Wood veneer can be more delicate because it’s topped with a very thin layer of natural wood, making it susceptible to chipping and scratching. 

The Benefits of Solid Wood

Solid wood gives you a natural wood finish that is beautiful and luxurious. In furniture production, solid wood has become a stand-in for “luxury.” Nothing sounds more opulent than a solid mahogany desk (however heavy it may be in real life). Solid wood gives you the beauty of the natural grain, and because it’s a natural material, it will break down faster than laminate wood or wood veneer, making it a sustainability favorite. 

  • Beautiful natural grain

  • Luxurious

  • Sustainable

The Drawbacks of Solid Wood

While not as fragile as wood veneer, solid wood can be prone to chipping, staining, and rings. Because of this, many shoppers will choose solid wood for their homes and laminate for their offices. 

Maintaining Laminate, Wood Veneer, and Solid Wood

If you plan on using your desk or table for years, you'll want to know how to keep that beautiful finish looking its best even after daily use. Always consult the manufacturer of the product to ensure that you are using the proper cleaning method for your furniture. Make a habit of performing these regular maintenance tasks, and you'll thank yourself for it in the long run.

Pay special attention to wood veneer and solid wood finishes. They require a special cleaning process to ensure the wood is not damaged. 

Laminate vs. Wood Veneer vs. Solid Wood: Which to Choose?

Choosing between laminate, veneer, and solid wood really comes down to durability and consistency versus natural beauty and variation. Consider which of these benefits is more important to you when making your decision.