They can be hosts to benign — or unpleasant — tasks.
But a desk can be one of the more important purchases in a home.
Design experts say that, far from being an afterthought once main rooms are furnished, a desk and its surrounding atmosphere warrant careful planning.
"If you don't feel compelled to be in that space, you're not going to use it," said Annie Brahler, owner of interior design company Euro Trash. "It's going to make you better at everything else if your workspace feels comfortable to you."
A desk should reflect what you hope to achieve, and ideally, it should inspire you in some way. What to consider:
First, think through what you'll want to do. Is this desk just for sorting mail? Enduring long hours on a project? Maybe you'll need heavy filing cabinets for papers or a sleek top for three computer screens.
"Form should always follow function," said Brahler, who is based in Jacksonville, Ill. "The first thing someone should do is write down what kinds of things they perform at their desk."
"Then," she added, "they have to think about the way to access things."
Pamela Sherman, founder of Chicago Organized Home, advised thinking about what you'll want to put in the desk — will you need a small pen drawer or deep cabinets?
"You want to try and strike a balance, because you don't want to have a desk full of junk drawers," she said.
For example, Brahler said she draws designs at a different desk than where she pays her bills. One of her clients, a former pro baseball player and businessman, preferred hard copies in files. So her company added file storage to a customized desk.
"He wanted to be able to open that drawer and see his files," she said.
Size depends on space, of course. A studio apartment might invite a secretary desk with a lid, or a leaning shelf tower with a desktop that pulls out.
"That way you're just optimizing every inch of space, and you might not need a full desk surface for writing," Sherman said.
Some people want an L-shaped desk, said Shannon Calderon at ergonomic furniture store the Human Solution, because of the space it allows. But she noted that the space often isn't all reachable.
The top of a desk is a focal point. Johanna Mele, lead home stylist at upscale retailer West Elm, suggested considering whether the surface needs to fit a laptop or piles of spread-out paperwork. For those who mostly rely on computers, she recommended a smaller desk.
But those who need to stretch out should look at a larger size or even a small dining table, Mele said. Pair a small dining table with an upholstered desk chair, she suggested. And she noted that West Elm provides free at-home advice from stylists in its Design Lab.
How high your desk is might have an effect on your posture and, possibly, productivity. The standard height is about 29 inches, experts said. These days, however, many people request counter- or even bar-height, in the range of 36 to 42 inches, Mele noted, so they can stand.
Finally, think about comfort. Calderon at the Human Solution, which sells height-adjustable desks, suggests making sure the height is at a level that comfortably accommodates you.
If it's adjustable, ensure that it's easy to use. "You're less likely to use the sit-stand capabilities when the desk is cumbersome to operate," Calderon noted.
And be creative when choosing materials. Remember that you don't have to purchase something that was created without you in mind.
"Really think of that space as your own," Brahler said. "You have to really be personal and pay attention to yourself and give yourself a little bit of indulgence, as well."