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Office Desks and Chairs 101
By: JJ Astor

So, you need a desk, specifically an office desk. But you don't know where to start. You don't know a double pedestal from a single pedestal from a bike pedal; a laminate from a veneer; a credenza from an armoire. You don't know the difference between a contemporary, transitional or traditional desk. Or a desk that is L-shaped, U-shaped or X-Y-Z-shaped. How much assembly does "assembly required" require? How does delivery on desks work? And so on.

First, let's start with price.

At the low end, you have office desks you would find at a local retailer. These are inexpensive, functional, and may or may not be stylish. On the downside, they are usually made of particle board (wood pieces held together with glue, significantly cheaper than plywood, but heavier than and not as strong) and require assembly. How much assembly? It can be a lot, even if you are handy.

A higher-quality office desk typically comes assembled, is made from real wood (not particle board), has a high-pressure laminate or veneer finish, and is stylish, whether it is contemporary or traditional or transitional (a cross between contemporary and traditional).

Of course, you pay more for quality.

Laminate, in general, refers to a sheet of paper (can be any color or pattern) that is laminated (bonded) to a core-material (e.g., particle board or plywood) in one of a number of ways: low-pressure, thermofused or high-pressure. It's not necessary to know the details, but a quality office desk, at the minimum, will have a high-pressure laminate or one that is thermofused. These help protect the desks from dents, warping, and other damage.

Even better is a veneer. Whereas a laminate is sheet of paper, a veneer is a very thin layer of real wood that is fused to a core material (fiberboard or plywood).

It's important to remember a couple of points specific to ordering office desks. So, you've made your pick. You know what office desk you want. You've got your credit card ready and are about to place the order. What about shipping?

There are two basic shipping options: tailgate and inside. In either event, it is important to keep in mind, when placing an order for office desks, that anything heavier than 200 pounds (as most desks are) requires either a loading dock or a forklift. If your operation does not have either, then you will need what is called a "liftgate" delivery. That's a truck with a liftgate, a mechanical ledge that can lower the heavy furniture to the ground. This costs extra but is usually necessary.

Now, are you ready for the next deep, profound and fascinating course in office furniture?

Let's tackle pedestals. By now you probably realized that a pedestal is not a little metal piece on a bicycle you pump with your foot to make it go. When you think pedestal, think "drawers." There are two basic types of drawers: box and file. A file-drawer is - you guessed it - where you put files. A box-drawer is where you put pens, paper clips and things of that sort. A pedestal is the combination of one, the other or both.

Office desks typically come with either single pedestals (i.e., the box-file or whatever on only one side of the desk) or double pedestals (a set of drawers on both sides).

Single pedestal or double pedestal, a stand-alone desk is great. Is there anything better than your own desk? Well, yes. A desk with a return.

A stand-alone desk can be a spacious 72" x 36" or a cozy 60" x 30" or something in-between. The "return" is another desk - usually a little skinnier (e.g., 24" deep) and shorter (e.g., 48" long) - attached to your desk, creating an "L" shape.

Note that the L-shape descriptions follow the return. In other words, a "Right-L" desk is a desk with a right return. A "Left-L" desk is a desk with left return.

I'm sitting at a "Right L" desk. The desk part has my computer, assorted furniture catalogs and doodads like pens and paperclips. To my right, on my return, is a phone, a lamp and coffee mug. "Elbow room, cried Daniel Boone" - and that's what my return gives me.

There's not enough room in my office for a U-shaped desk, but if there was, I'd be in even more office-desk heaven. The middle part of the "U" is called a bridge, and besides allowing even more "elbow room," it creates a whole new feeling, an "executive aura," if you will. Bigger is, well, more executive.

A hutch sits on the desk, with shelves and/or compartments to store things. They can be open or closed (i.e., with doors). Besides functionality, a hutch is the ideal place to put a picture of your loved ones, a plant or other adornments.

A credenza is a relatively narrow piece of furniture (usually 20" or 24" deep, as opposed to a desk that is 36" or 30" deep) used as a work area or for storage. A kneespace credenza is a credenza you can sit at; it has space between the two pedestals for your knees.

By contrast, a storage credenza has no knee space. The middle area contains doors/drawers for storage.

Office Chairs
The most basic office chair or desk chair is what we call a "task chair," one in which you do your daily tasks at your desk.

Task chairs come in many varieties: with or without arms in fabric, mesh, vinyl or leather. They come in low-back, mid-back, and high-back styles. They come non-adjustable, adjustable, and multi-functional. They can be ergonomic or non-ergonomic (explained below). They come in styles that are contemporary, traditional and. well, something that breaks the mold and a proper name for it hasn't been invented yet. Prices for an office task chair can range from less than $100 (including shipping) to $1,000 or more.

So, with all of those choices, it's no wonder you are a little lost.

In my experience, the first qualifier people are looking for in office chairs is price. But, there are other considerations as well.

The next most common thing people typically want to know in office chairs is comfort. I promised you I'd explain ergonomic. Ergonomic is a fancy word for an office chair designed with features meant to enhance comfort. Those features can include any or all of the following: contoured seat/back, controls to adjust height, tilt (back and/or forward), armrests (up or down), and lumbar support.

Lumbar support in an office chair refers to a contoured extrusion in the backseat of the chair to give extra support to the natural curve of your spine, particularly the lower back. The effectiveness of lumbar support is in the back of the beholder. Some swear it makes all the difference, while others contend it is much ado about nothing and are very comfortable in a basic office chair. To each his own.

If office chair comfort is in the back (and bottom) of the beholder, all the more so is beauty. A few years back, mesh office chairs became the rage in office chair furniture. You found them behind the desk of the CEO as well as the secretaries out front. And the popularity of the mesh office chair continues today - whether in a simple, classic mid-back styles or a sophisticated, super-contemporary, high-back version with adjustable lumbar support and head rest. In addition to good looks, mesh office chairs are "breathable" and keep your back cool even when sitting for a long time.

Vinyl, leather and fabric office chairs are still very popular, and in addition to having choices, all of the options mentioned above typically offer a wide variety of color choices.

Price, comfort, looks-you can find the office chair that's right for you.

JJ Astor writes professionally on a broad range of topics, including furniture articles on the Hertz Furniture Web site, www.hertzfurniture.com. He has more than six years of experience as a sales representative and regional sales manager for Hertz.

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