Peter Armstrong

Cofounder of Leanpub & Author of Lean Publishing

As the cofounder of a bootstrapped internet startup (Leanpub, the best way to publish in-progress ebooks), I tend to work a lot. I’d much rather work than exercise. This has taken a toll on me though, so recently I set out to fix this.

The solution was to create the ultimate home office sit-stand treadmill desk setup.

Now, I have a pretty hard space constraint to work with: The dedicated floor space I have to work with is 5’ x 7’, plus I can move my office chair out of the way when unused.

But, it’s done, and it’s awesome.

Why a sit-stand treadmill desk?

It’s the perfect way to work. When I have energy I walk. When I get tired I sit. And going from walking to sitting or from sitting to walking takes about 10 seconds. I don’t need to unplug my computer or anything.

And as the pictures show, this isn’t just a laptop + treadmill. It’s a treadmill + laptop + two 30” monitors, using all the displays at once. It’s an incredibly immersive work environment, either walking or sitting.

Regarding the walking, I typically go between 1.6 and 2 miles per hour when doing serious work, but I can walk faster when just consuming information. More about all this in a separate post. This post is about the details of the setup.

The setup is kind of DIY (I had the MDF cut to size, I hacked the treadmill, etc), but kind of not (I mean, I’m using a relatively expensive sit-stand desk).

If space and money are of no consideration, you could just buy a large Steelcase Walkstation instead. This configuration saves some money and floor space. But it’s not a budget setup: when discussing two 30” monitors, a 15” retina MBP and a Steelcase Series 7 desk, this isn’t cheap either.

Anyway, for those looking to create this at home, here are the details:

Components: [prices are approximate, and are in Canadian dollars]

  • Two Dell 30” monitors (one U3011, one 3007WFPHC) [about $1000 each, new, bought on sale]
  • Two Apple Dual Link DVI cables [about $100 each]
  • 15” Retina MBP [lots of $]
  • Steelcase Series 7 Desk (top measures 46”x29” roughly) [about $1400]
  • Freemotion 730 Treadmill [$799], partially assembled
  • Steelcase Leap Chair [about $800]
  • 3/4” thick MDF [about $30], cut to 49” x 42” at the lumberyard
  • thin rubbery mat [about $20], cut to roughly the size of the MDF
  • Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones
  • Razer DeathAdder mouse, SteelSeries mouse pad, Razer mouse bungee.

Setup notes:

  • The treadmill was delivered and partially assembled by the delivery people arranged via Costco. I just did not have the treadmill upright part put together, since it is not needed for stability and since it would be in the way of the desk obviously.
  • I cut the treadmill plastic console part down smaller using my leatherman, so that I could fit it under the desk rather than sitting beside the desk, which is how the setup used to be. The nice part about doing this is that it seems more streamlined and I can get at the control panel easier. The downside is that I duct-taped it to the desk (I’m Canadian; we use duct-tape for everything), but by doing that I made it impossible to adjust the incline. But I wasn’t using that feature anyway, and if I want to use it in the future I’ll just move the control panel out from under the desk to be beside the desk. Mounting it will be a bit more annoying that way though: it might require more than just duct tape.
  • The second Dual Link DVI cable barely stretches, but it does. Note that the display port portion of the cable is plugged into one side of the laptop and the USB cable portion is plugged into the other side. I have no idea why nobody makes a big deal about the fact that you can connect two 30” monitors to a 15” retina MBP. I remember reading an article showing Al Gore’s home office with a bunch of 30” monitors and recall thinking “but I need to use a laptop”. And then you Google about connecting 2 monitors and read about people using the HDMI port for the second one, but then being frustrated because supposedly it only does 1920x1200 etc, and trying to use third-party resolution setting software, etc. Using two Dual Link DVI cables is much better and easier. (Yeah, you can connect two 27” thunderbolt displays too, obviously. If I ran the Apple stores I’d set up a configuration like this in the corner, and I’d sell a lot more displays.)
  • The Steelcase Series 7 desk legs are balancing on the steel frame of the treadmill. This is important because otherwise the desk would not go high enough. Shockingly, the fit is exact. (Yes, I measured first, and you should too if you’re going to try this.) It’s amazingly stable. (The legs are T-legs, and I took the circular adjustable feet off, so the entire surface of the desk leg makes contact with the treadmill frame.)
  • I’m 6’3” and the height of the desk at full height when standing is basically correct, or maybe a half inch too low.
  • The thin rubber mat is there so I don’t roll too much on the MDF. I wouldn’t want to roll off!
  • The mouse setup is geeky, I know. Blame StarCraft 2 for that.

Update: Hi HN! If you liked this, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Update #2: The 2 main questions I get are whether I can type effectively (yes) and how the desk setup transforms. So I added videos:

Here’s a video of me working while walking.

Here’s a video of me transforming the desk to sitting.

Update December 30, 2012: I missed my SteelSeries 7G keyboard, so I made a modification to the setup.

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