I work from home 4-5 days a week. With that, I spend a ton of time in my office. My "office" is technically half of a room that was lovingly called The Florida Room by the people we bought the house from 14 years ago.

The Florida Room is a badly converted car port that still has a sloping concrete floor with some throw rugs, poorly constructed walls with no chance of good insulation and lots of windows. Unfortunately, the windows all have to be covered by thick curtains because they're completely inefficient at keeping out the elements. In the summer, it very easily can get to 85°F/30°C in my office, even when the house continues to be 10 degrees below that. In the winter, I sometimes have to run a portable heater under my desk to be able to keep my feet from going numb.

During heavy storms, the room was known to flood. Of course, since the room is sloped, the water would only ever go to one side of the room. The room actually has a drain on that side of the room, which means that the previous owners knew about this little fluke long before we did. Luckily, the flooding was all caused a seam between the concrete floor and the foundation of the house and easily rectified by a generous application of caulk.

I'm ok with this, though. I love this space a lot. It's big, it's mostly quiet, and except for having to share one corner with whatever stuff needs to go up in the attic this month, it's basically mine to do what I want with. Our house is actually fairly small, so it's a fairly big deal to have this much space to do what I want with without anyone really getting upset.

The room is basically split up into two areas: the desk/work area, and the Family Room/Man Cave area.

The Desk

My desk is very important to me. I spend 8-12 hours a day at this thing, and it's very important that's it's setup exactly right for me to get work done. Over the years, I've gone through many different configurations to get to that "exactly right" state.

Two years ago, I converted the desk into a standing desk. I did this by adding cinder blocks under the feet to get it to the right height. I said that I'd eventually put something nicer under it… it still hasn't happened. Here is what it looked like on Aug 4, 2011:

In the last month or so, I've kind of gone through a desk renaissance period of sorts. I had actually taken the summer off from working at it because it was so cluttered that I couldn't take it. I'd sit on the couch across the room and look at the mess of stuff piled on top of my long gone, pristine work surface and put it off for another day.

In early September on a fairly slow day at work, I went a little nuts, put together 2 Ikea boxes (you have to build boxes?!?), and threw everything on my desk in them. I started fresh, and it felt great.

Since then, I've been spending a little bit of time (and money) fine every week tuning my desk into a productivity sanctuary. Here's where we're at now…

Originally, I had monitors all over the place and multiple computers on desk. I had single shelves on both sides which really made it hard to work on anything that required even the slightest bit of room. Plus, there were piles of papers in different places.

By moving the shelves to one side and stacking them, it gave me some decent storage and also opened up one half of the desk into a workbench area, or a place to write. That's the section that will require the most discipline to keep clean.

Because I have multiple computers, do a ton of video conferences and have started dipping into screencasting, I rely on having a mixer on my desk. I used to have a big 12 channel mixer on my desk that I had originally bought for a developer team conference we hosted at my house a few years ago that was live broadcast. It took up a bunch of space on my desk and I only used a couple of the channels and the rest just collected dust.

I recently switched it out to a portable mixer I had lying around which opened up a lot of space on my desk — though I'm going to have to replace it anyway because there are just not quite enough inputs on it. I'll be getting a slightly bigger one in a few weeks that's still considered portable will fix the problem for not much money and only a slight increase in desk space usage.

The Living Area

The living area consists of a comfy couch, a 42" TV mounted on the wall and a coffee table. The coffee table is kind of neat, because the top extends up into a TV table of sorts; a perfect height for if you're sitting at the couch. The entertainment center consists of a cable box, PS3, Roku and my gaming PC running Windows 7. It also has a fairly decent 5.1 sound system that I got for a steal from Amazon.

I used to play all of my games on my TV. I left a keyboard and mouse on my table and when I wanted to play something. I'd just extend the tabletop up to couch level and play it there. Or I'd just use an Xbox controller and sit comfortably.

This worked well, but it was cluttered. Even with a USB hub and power strip hidden inside the table, it was a mess to have all that stuff on the table all the time. Not to mention, sitting on the edge of a couch for a couple of hours at a stretch isn't terribly comfortable and not what I would consider ideal.

Changes

What I wanted to do is play games with a keyboard and mouse at my desk, while still having the computer also on the TV. The first experiment for this actually turned out to be incredibly easy for me. Before I got my 5.1 tuner, I was using an HDMI switch and outputting all the sound through the terrible speakers on my TV.

So, I pulled out that HDMI switch, put it by my laptop, and strung over a 25 ft. HDMI cable from the computer. I also plugged my computer into the switch with a DVI/HDMI cable. Behold! A poor man's KVM. It worked perfectly… I could switch between both computers and my file server under my desk easily.

This led me to start thinking bigger. Why not send everything from the TV over that HDMI channel? Why shouldn't I be able to watch the Roku or TV while I'm working? I know people that do it all the time, but it was never really possible because the TV was behind me.

While poking around Amazon, I found the perfect item: the 4×2 Matrix HDMI switch. This little wonder would allow me to put any signal I want on 2 different monitors. You can even put the same signal on both monitors if you want, though I don't know why you would. I mounted this below my laptop stand so it was in easy reach, but hid of all the cables out of view.

A plan was starting to come together in my head. Here was my initial diagram of everything:

So, now I need 2 monitors… I didn't want to lose desk space again, so I decided to go vertical instead. The 2nd monitor was always going to be the one where "something less important" is going on, so it seemed to make a lot of sense to get a vertical stand instead, mount it slightly above and angled and keep my desk clean. My ceiling is easily 10 ft. high in this room, so I didn't think it would look too out of place to have a monitor sitting over 6 ft. above the ground. I was right.

The last thing I had to do was pull a USB hub over from the computer to my desk so I had a place to plug in my keyboard, mouse and webcam. After getting a 15 ft. USB cable, I just mounted the hub under one of the shelves slightly back so it was easy to reach.

Note: The other box is a USB audio device that I use for a 2nd audio channel to my laptop for recording. I should probably explain that someday… it's a neat setup for getting basic mix-minus to work.

Conclusion

Everything works almost perfectly. I'm having some slight issues with the HDMI splitter I bought and am going to replace it with a 2nd 4×2 matrix splitter near the entertainment center. Because of this, the cable box doesn't seem to want to send a signal to both my TV and my monitor. It's not a huge loss, as I really don't watch very much live TV anyway. Plus, by adding that 2nd matrix splitter, I can actually put something on the TV for the kids and continue to use my PC across the room.

Even with the splitter giving me problems, all my initial goals are met. While I'm working, I can watch my Roku or full-screen a Twitter client on my PC with no issues. If I want to play a game, I can put the PC on the bottom monitor and leave the 2nd one off or put my Mac up there. I love that kind of flexibility and I've very happy with how it turned out.

My work area is now almost exactly what I want. It has a ton of functionality without taking up a lot of space. Spending as much time as I do out here, I'm glad I spent the time and money to do these upgrades and make my quality of life just a little bit better.

Ted Kulp

Ted Kulp is a professional developer, author and technologist with over 15 years of experience from the suburbs of Philadelphia. In 2004, he created the popular content management system, CMS Made Simple and continued to run the project for over 8 years. These days, he makes his living from writing Javascript full-time, writing books, and hacking on open source.

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