Designing The Desk Shelf
We visited offices all over Portland, looked at over 600 desks, and then put our heads together to create something functional and beautiful. Here’s the story.
A Visit to Krownlab & The Multiple Screen Dilemma
In spring 2017, Ken visited his friend Stefan Andrén at his company’s headquarters in Northwest Portland. In a scene reminiscent of what inspired the original desk collection, Ken walked through the Krownlab offices and found himself surrounded by DIY workspace solutions—everyone was using cinder blocks and planks of wood, books, and a variety of solutions to prop up their screens and bolster their workspaces. But this time, everyone was working on multiple screens, from designers to engineers to salespeople.
The workspace was evolving, and there were new hurdles to organization and ergonomics. This time, it was really about screen management and organization. Screens were growing. Bezels were shrinking. Laptops were everywhere, sometimes present, sometimes pulled into a meeting.

This problem got the design juices flowing, and Ken and Sean embarked on an ethnographic deep dive all over Portland, visiting and studying workspaces and workstyles in offices big and small.
The Double Wide
KEN TOMITA: My design style is to build things: build, then reflect, then build some more.
Ken spent a weekend in the Grovemade shop, toying with ideas and solutions to the multiple-screen dilemma. On Monday morning, the design team gathered around his desk to see his creation.
SEAN KELLY: I’ll be honest. It looked really strange.
Ken had taken two Walnut Monitor Stands, removed a leg from each, and joined them together, creating a double-wide stand with an impressive span. It supported his 27” iMac—but it looked funny.
Why? Something about the proportions and the angles looked odd when extended outward.

"The monitor stand looks great with a single monitor, but when you stretch it out, it starts to lose the proportions that make it so attractive in the first place."

The Shelf
We had to move past our original monitor stand. In drawings and prototypes, a shelf structure evolved. We realized it was a simple solution, and probably the best one—a long flat surface, large enough to support multiple monitors and provide ample open desk space underneath.
Ken and Sean worked through a variety of shapes and materials to design legs for the desk shelf. There were easy and obvious solutions to hold up the shelf, but we were inspired to create something different, something uniquely Grovemade.
Enter a new material ally: cork!

Natural, machinable, soft, light, resilient and strong, the perfect material for creating lightweight and strong supports.

Sean created a sandwich concept—a metal insert for extra rigidity, layered between two cork halves. These legs would be pressure fit into precision machined pockets in the desk shelf bottom.
They were certainly unique.

The cork legs also helped with a major hurdle—shipping costs. The desk shelf was the largest product we’d ever developed, and we needed to find a way for it to ship flat. The lightweight cork legs were easy to assemble (no tools needed!) and made for a much more cost-effective shipping method.

The mechanics for how the legs and shelf would interact was dialed in, but many questions lingered: How many legs would it need? How would people really use it?
Sean created concepts that had extra leg slots, allowing the user to customize the orientation and spacing of the legs. There was another concept for a cord-organizing leg with a hole in the middle. We pushed and pushed on the prototypes and concepts until we’d refined it down to a simple three legs total. Crucial to the functionality of the shelf, with the final leg placement we were able to create multiple “zones” which could be used to dock all your tools: one large area, and two smaller ones separated by an integrated metal shelf.

"We pushed the design towards something that gave a huge degree of usability. We know everyone works differently, so the workspace solutions have to account for that with flexibility."

Lead Product Designer
It was a big step, but the workspaces we had observed were so varied, we realized that our shelf alone wouldn’t solve all workspace organization problems. It would work for a single or double monitor setup, but there was no laptop solution, and although we’d created organizational zones, smaller things still felt like they were clutter.
A Tray for Your Things
The inspiration for the desk tray was actually a tray for loose printer paper. Sean had mocked up a bent metal paper tray concept previously, and we revisited it to see how to give it more organizational capabilities. We wanted something that would slip cleanly underneath the small desk shelf. From our research we noticed that almost everyone has drawers and storage solutions in their workspace, usually below the desk, but they rarely use them! They might throw stuff under there from time to time, but they’re not a part of actual work.
We needed a solution that could function on the desktop while also being able to be tucked away out of sight. It needed space for little things, like sticky notes and breath mints, long things like pens, and bigger things like a phone or a wallet—all the stuff that’s unavoidable at your desk. And last, it had to look great either tucked away or pulled out and on display. Sean pulled machined cork back into the design, producing a compartmentalized tool tray that fits perfectly under the integrated metal shelf.
KEN TOMITA: The desk tray gives you organization options to help tidy up, and tucks away when you need more space.
Go Go Gadget Desk!
The final piece was the desk pad. We had just recently released a large wool-felt desk pad, intended to encompass your entire work area, but the desk shelf needed something else. The shelf’s large compartment was designed to stow your keyboard and mouse, but we thought it could be even easier.
KEN TOMITA: The fact that you can tidy up the whole desk surface with a simple slide is awesome. I use the pad all the time. Slide it out of the way to make room for sketching or writing.
A Lift for Your Laptop
We wanted to create a laptop solution to elevate the screen, providing a lift for people who work on an extended display beside their laptop screen. And it had to look good even when there was nothing on it. The laptop stands we’d observed had all worked great when in use, but looked out of place when the laptop was removed.
Sean worked through explorations using bent metal to create a solution that provides an ergonomic lift on the shelf, but can also be used as a standalone product on the desktop, something our existing Laptop Stand isn’t designed for.

"Ironically, the laptop lift alone ended up taking about 80% of the total time we spent designing the desk shelf system. We have to push our designs to match our expectations, but also what’s feasible to produce in real life."

Lead Product Designer
Sean went back and forth forever with our vendor, but despite our best efforts, the full metal version was going to be way too expensive. Sean got creative. Using a cork base simplified the overall manufacturing, helping us to make the laptop lift at a more reasonable price point.

He integrated the stop design we’d created for the laptop stand, and used wool felt as a soft surface, providing a nice visual contrast to the wooden shelf top. It could sit on the top of the shelf, or function solo on a flat desk surface, typed on directly.
All At Once
The whole desk shelf system started with you, our fans and customers. We set out to create something functional and beautiful that would make your workspace better. It’s the most complicated product we’ve ever launched.
MAX BROWN: Let’s be real. When we launched the desk shelf system, it was really four major product launches rolled into one.
NICK LaPLANTE: Ken was cool, calm, and collected when we launched, like usual. I was nervous.
Listening to very real needs seems to have resonated with people, as the desk shelf has been our most popular product in years. A big thank you to everyone who’s entrusted their working days to us!
Meet the Players
Each piece is available individually, allowing you to mix and match to dial in your desk.
Get the Bundle
Get the whole team in one easy step—available with or without the Laptop Lift.

Further Reading