Around the turn of the new year I upgraded both my office chair and desk. I did a ton of research, contemplated the principles of feng shui, prayed to Milton, and sprung for the Herman Miller Embody + Jarvis Bamboo combo. My goal was to create a working environment that was more conducive for good posture. I make my living off the internet, so I’m constantly on a computer, and for years I worked from a stiff wooden chair hunched over my 13-inch MacBook Pro that sat directly upon an old dinner table. I hauled ass with this setup (i.e., much work was completed) but one day I caught a side view of myself in a mirror and realized what in my mind felt like me standing straight was actually me slouched over. (Talk about body language …)
I wanted to correct that. I believe good posture can go a long way toward well being. The tools needed? An adjustable desk and ergonomic chair. And because these are both fairly big-ticket items and few truly critical reviews exist, I thought I’d share my impressions of said purchases as a singular entity (and not some possibly-maybe-definitely bribed or incompetent review website).
Some Ergonomic Education
An adjustable desk is great because it not only allows you to stand while working from a computer, but while sitting it can be adjusted to the perfect height. Consensus is that your keyboard should be right around belly-button level, creating a 90° bend at your elbows — a natural resting position. I don’t necessarily know if or think that’s “correct” (I prefer the keyboard slightly closer to lap height) but it does feel much better than having to raise your hands like a velociraptor to touch type.
Your computer screen should then be high enough so that you don’t have to tilt your head downward or upward to view the glowing real estate; all that should be necessary is to glance straight ahead.
If I were under a tight budget and could afford only one or the other, I’d say the desk is the more important of the two commodities. Even if your chair isn’t great, with the adjustable desk you’ll be able to alternate between sitting and standing. As one J.B. might say, you can “get up offa that thing.” (But I’ll be open and say these thoughts on partiality may be influenced by my mild disdain toward my purchased seating apparatus. More on that later!)
The Jarvis Bamboo desk looks nice and it’s fairly stable. I’m working from a carpeted room so there is of course some wobble when I type, but from hardwood floors I believe the sway would markedly be less so.
The control panel should be a mandatory inclusion. I would not purchase this desk without it. At the press of a button the height recalibrates automatically. It’s great! I programmed only two of the presets — there are four — but the extras would be good if you had another person using the desk. Each user would want to configure a sitting height and a standing height, and that should be it. (If you switch between high heels and bare feet or jump between different chairs of fixed height, that’s perhaps maybe when you’d personally want more than two presets.)
The price is about as affordable as you’ll find for an adjustable desk that looks and functions this well. I paid $634 total configured with the 48″ x 30″ rectangle top, black frame, and digital display with memory preset. I perhaps should have opted for a contoured frame, as the lip of the table isn’t super pleasant. I’ll elaborate upon this and the other negatives I’ve found now which allude to how the desk is priced so competitively.
The way I type, I rest the fatty bottom part of my palm along the edge of the table. This feels most natural to me. I suppose I could push my keyboard forward and — you know — simply not do this. Maybe I should. But I like putting my hands in this position!
Anyway, the lip of the tabletop is a bit scratchy, abrupt and unpleasant to the touch. It’s bothersome enough that I actually requested a replacement from Jarvis, thinking mine was anomalous and damaged. Turns out that’s how all these tops are. The edges lack love. Six months later I’m still mildly irked by it.
For this reason, I’m curious whether their contoured top is any better in this regard. From the photos I’ve seen, the lip is more graduated. Perhaps it’s more comfortable. I simply can’t recommend the rectangle top with my current knowledge and typing habits.
I persist in face of waning tolerance for the gear-crunching that emanates from my desk as it churns its way up and down. The right leg in particular sounds nasty at times, and I am suspecting it might have a slight defect. My left power box arrived defective — the connecting pins were malformed and the unit had to be replaced — so it would not surprise me if something’s off with the right leg as well. It doesn’t seem to move in perfect unison with the left.
Now, I may be dramatizing to an extent, but I do switch between sitting and standing quite often, and I’ll just say my life would be slightly more cheery if the motors were more muted.
Here is a recording from my MacBook’s microphone so you can hear what my fuss is all about:
This again speaks to the economical nature of this desk: it’s subjectable to sun fade:
Where I situate my keyboard, trackpad, and monitor stand are noticeably darker than the rest of the table. If I cared that much I’d move my peripherals around to try and let the color even out. Still, it was disconcerting when I first noticed this.
Jarvis ships the desk with adhesive self-locking cable ties, which I think are a perfectly fine solution to managing the muddle underneath, but the adhesive is not so adhesive. I resorted to cinching everything up with clear packaging tape. It’s held together so far!
Having not demoed any other standing desks, and despite its shortcomings, I suppose I do recommend the Jarvis. Being able to stand while typing is awesome. The desk is stable enough to let you do that. However, if given a redo, I’d take a chance on the contour top or venture third party instead. (The Ikea Gerton is an option.) You aren’t going to find a much more affordable frame than the Jarvis, which is sold separately.
I’m not sure if something like the NextDesk Terra would be worth the extra $1,000 or so for a quieter ride. (And by the looks of it, slightly better all-around quality.) Maybe. I’m actually inclined to believe it’s the better buy.
Oh man. So, my intuition was telling me to go with the Steelcase Leap. I’d made trips to both Herman Miller and Steelcase showrooms to give all their flagship offerings a sit. The salesperson at the Herman Miller showroom — Spectrum — was awesome. Mark was his name. He really knew his stuff and sold me on the Embody. I also demoed the Aeron and Mirra 2, but I liked the Embody way better. The Steelcase showroom I visited — Corporate Interiors — wasn’t really much of a showroom, but more of an office building that had the Leap and their newest iteration, the Gesture, sitting in a common area where I could test-drive them. The person who showed me the chairs wasn’t a sales guy, and so I walked out not feeling at all obligated to follow up with a purchase. But the Leap was quite comfortable — definitely comparable to the Embody in terms of thoughtfulness of design — and I could see myself purchasing it if the Embody didn’t exist.
Anyway … I signed the paperwork for an Embody with black base and splurged on Balance fabric (graphite color) since I disliked the Rhythm fabric. The texture irked me visually more than anything. It looks bad. Ironically I also ended up not really liking the graphite color I went with so much (straight black may be better) and this prompted me to drape an emphatic plaid shirt I don’t wear that often over the back to try and draw attention away from the imbalance of grey tones. It’s hard to tell how a color will look in a setting of your own compared to in a showroom or photos you might view online. This is a case where in practice the graphite didn’t look as great as I’d hopefully imagined. Black might not be any better though. I’m not sure.
Sticking with the discussion of visuals, the exoskeleton back of the chair grew alien in the context of my office. Plaid shirt doubly to the rescue.
For all the dirt I’m throwing on the Embody, I really did like it in the showroom! It was comfortable to sit in. I liked how the back conformed. The arms were most accommodating. Overall it looked cool. However, long term I’ve found that I cannot sit in it for much more than half an hour at a time. It becomes unbearable … for me. I should note that I have a sciatic nerve issue and this chair seems to aggravate it no matter how I sit. The cushioning is kind of a suspension system with plastic tendons and springs — not your typical foam padding — and this causes less even dispersion of pressure (it’s more pinpointed) and I believe that is what exacerbates my issue.
So take that for what you will. I’m an edge case in this regard.
Aside from my personal discomfort, there is one last major qualm I have with this chair: it’s noisy! I’ve only owned it six months and I swear it creaks when I look at it. I’d noticed murmurings over Twitter about excessive noisiness when I was doing preliminary research about the Embody, but I assumed A) my chair would be different and not creak or B) if my chair did creak, I wouldn’t mind. Welp, wrong on both counts. It creaks, and it annoys me. There’s something to be said for a quiet chair.
Here’s another audio recording so you can get a glimpse of my world:
I cannot recommend the Embody, solely because of the noise issue. A chair this high-end should have all aspects well accounted for — including its auditory nature. Six months is way too little for this to already be a part of the conversation. It’s inexcusable.
Because of my unique condition, I ended up finding myself not able to sit in the chair for long periods of time, which is unfortunate because for the most part it feels pretty good. I will be purchasing a Steelcase Leap sometime soon once I run out of ways to rationalize to myself why I need to stick it out with the Embody and live with the consequences of my expensive mistake — hopefully the Leap doesn’t make two.