Health

Mükava Adjustable Reading Table

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A place to put offscreen reference material when you're working standing up

Though I’m getting tired of all the sitting-is-killing-you hype, I do seem to focus better and longer if I can contrive to work standing up, in a relaxed posture, with minimal tension in my back, neck, and shoulders. Just elevating my desk to standing height was not really enough; I had to add siegeworks above, below, and around the worktop to get my monitor up to eye level, my keyboard down to wrist level, and my other peripherals within easy reach somewhere between. The idea, basically, is that the stuff I use for hours of work every day should conform to the natural shape of my body, not the other way ’round.

It seems like a simple goal, but it has been surprisingly hard to achieve. Traditional furniture is mostly inadequate for the purpose, and a modern adjustable office suite costs a bundle. Though rising demand is pushing prices down, a nice hand-crank variable-height desk will still set you back at least $700, and decent monitor/keyboard stands start at $350. My setup is almost entirely homemade, which took some time and effort but allowed me to get everything just right, ergonomically, without having to spend so much. It’s not sexy-looking, but it gets the job done.

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The Mükava adjustable reading table, by Tom Keenan’s Project for Adult Literacy and Schools, is an interesting addition to the fold. It’s hardly cheap at $260, but it’s sleek-looking, solidly-built, and solves a problem in my office that I didn’t really anticipate when I was setting everything up for keyboard-mouse-monitor work, which is where to put offscreen reference material. If I’m working from loose paper, a magazine, or a book, the Mükava holds it right up next to my monitor, where I can just cut my eyes directly from page to screen and vice versa. Ditto for my iPad, in the increasingly common scenario that I find myself going back and forth between tablet and desktop PCs.

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The table has a built-in 5.5-volt DC supply rated for a whopping four amps, which takes power from a wall-wart connected to a barrel jack in the base. From there it runs, via concealed internal wiring, up to two USB-A ports on the underside of the worktop. This is nice, among other reasons, because you can easily keep your tablet or phone charging, while you use it, without snaking cables everywhere. A lightweight gooseneck LED reading lamp is included with every table, which you can plug into one of the USB ports to light up your old-fashioned cellulose-based reading material after dark. The lamp offers two color tones — warm and cool — and stows in a handy recess underneath when not in use.

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The unit ships fully assembled, and though it’s heavy and solid, it’s not so heavy that a normal adult can’t pick it up and move it around the house with ease, which is nice because the Mükava finds lots of uses outside the office. If you should, in a moment of weakness, decide you want to sit down and read a book, it’s easy to set Mükava up beside your armchair so you don’t have to lean, hunch over, or raise your arms to get a clear view of the page. Likewise for reading in bed. It folds down into a compact side table for storage or transport (or if you need another side table) and I’ve even found occasional use for it as a music stand.

All that said, the design isn’t perfect. Its three locking points of articulation — two planar hinges in the arm and one ball joint under the worktop — are all released by a single catch, at the ball joint, which is a nice idea that falls slightly short in practice. For whatever reasons, pulling the catch, alone, isn’t enough to actually release all three joints, and there’s a learning curve about just how you have to jiggle everything to actually make them let go. The operation of the reading lamp is likewise counterintuitive; instead of a simple press/press/press control for warm light/cool light/no light, the designers added the needless complexity of “long press” to turn the light on or off and “short press” to switch color temperatures. These things are easily figured out by reading the manual, but tend to stand out because, in virtually every other respect, the Mükava is so attentive to design that no instructions are needed.

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Still and all, I’ve come to love and depend upon my Mükava table, and while it’s not the sort of thing I would normally buy for myself, it’s pretty much perfect as a gift: it comes in a big box, it’s already assembled, it’s good-looking, it’s useful, it works very well, and it won’t break the bank.

-- Sean Michael Ragan 11/5/15