Kya deLongchamps finds 20th-century designed and inspired shelving is still an impressive support act in terms of style and quality
TAKING a piece or a greedy grab of wall, floating, fixed with brackets or completely free-standing — shelving is the single most versatile piece of storage and display furniture in your home. Here’s some iconic supporting acts to think about this season.
The high street is ringing with the influence of early 20th-century German modernism, Bauhaus, and you can find the startling presence everywhere from EZ Living to the antique galleries of Dublin and the Chelsea Design Centre in London. Wire-work, and polished slender metal framing with stark geometric lines, celebrate a more refined almost Art Deco sophistication while retaining that honest industrial feel we have all come to love. The Joris, metal and wood round mirror and shelf from Made, is a perfect example with its slightly Willy Rizzo style vintage louche, €92. In their similar Penn wood mirror shelf, I sense Eileen Gray herself, €103, made.com.
Roche Bobois’ Dojo floor-standing shelving by Marcel Wanders (Globe Trotter) is informed by the ancient sliding room partitions of Japanese architecture. They speak perfect Bauhaus too in oddly mathematical fixed panels in an oak or glossy finish. Sliding doors set over shelves can be used to conceal or reveal various lengths of the shelving, balancing storage and display in tantalising arrangements. POA, roche-bobois.com (Beacon South Quarter, Dublin).
We love the Loki 5-Shelf from Habitat for Argos — with stiff solid oak ladder side-supports to sleek lacquer shelves, it looks twice the money — €270, Argos. For the utter minimalists with light ballast to handle in a single shelf or two — the skeletal, all-metal Woud Coupé collection is elegant and understated from €219, ambientedirect.com. For a pure L bend in raw, plain, black rolled metal, Como powdered coated steel shelves at BoConcept start at €79 and can be flipped up or down to taste. Functional, timeless, avant-garde — worthy of Marcel Breuer and his companion designers.
For a timeless, tough old classic of the ‘90s, Sir Terence Conran’s celebrated Balance shelf units are perfect as low timber partitions finished on both sides and allowing light to flow uninterrupted in an open plan room. The shapes were prompted by stacked brickwork and piles of listing books, and the collection has grown year on year. The new Metal Balance unit, is far more airy and urbane, in a tall shelf, alcove shelf, low shelf, coffee table, square coffee or side table. Available in oak, walnut, charcoal and white lacquer from €339, Arnotts.
Budget alternative? Try the handsome Frida bookcase range from Harvey Norman, from €129 on offer.
Aimed to be “simple, practical and timeless”, the Billy bookcase designed by Gillis Lundgren turns 40 this year. Modest, unchanging, predictable, a staple of the Viking style giant with 110 million sales behind him, Billy is a marketing legend and has provided the carcass for tens of thousands of DIY hacks into built-in shelving. Priced from €19-€330 in a natural wood veneer or painted finish with adjustable shelving it’s so economical and inoffensive, what’s not to love? Go to Pinterest to discover what you could do with your own old Billy. The new 2019 Billy Bottna offers a display shelf option (€27-€84, IKEA).+
The style, size, colour and visual weight of any shelving materials will make them more or less present than their contents. Built-in units were favoured by the Georgians and went viral in the 1970s. A clever carpenter can build straight into other wise orphaned, wasted spaces with simple materials, even good old ply’ or MDF (white please) — surprisingly discreet and classy. Try to include movable elements set on small dowels to make DIY built-ins truly future-proof. Brackets and side panel design can be just as showy as the shelf.
In a single wall-mount, Alvar Aalto’s c.1936 shelf 112b delivers signature, soft ellipse of hand bent golden birch. They carry the simply utilitarian spirit of Thonet bent-wood furniture — think of a 1940s schoolroom or a Parisian cafe. The shelving can be hung brackets up or brackets down. Avoid high humidity areas like the bathroom. From €387. 109c, Aalto’s coat-rack is a good introduction to this still fresh, young collection from Artek, €496. Suppliers include designcollectors.com and pamono.eu (used).
To put something together, shop for brackets and shelf materials separately, and buy quality ever time. Keep in mind, the total weight you intend to load on the shelf, as this will influence the span between your bracket positions. Try Dowsing & Reynolds for some unique hardware to carry your shelving set above or below the plank, from €20, dowsingandreynolds.com.
It’s impossible to touch on 20th-century home shelving without following the String story. Made since 1949 to a design by Nils Strinning (1917-2016) and wildly copied, String is versatile, unpretentious and remarkably lightweight. There are unlimited combinations for any room, making the final arrangement potentially unique to you — bespoke. The original system is supported on a highly distinctive coated wire ladder side panel with a choice of shelf finishes. It’s functional and modular in the best sense, allowing you to add panels and shelving of varying depths to suit, and without fear of the brand or collections disappearing when your budget to add-on appears. Developed in 1954, String Plex has side panels of laser-cut clear Perspex, allowing a seductive hover for shelving and cupboard elements.
String Pocket shelves packages (three-shelf) that can climb up and down the ladder sides to suit start from €149. To create a home office, the Strings Works range by Bjorn Dahlstrom and Anna von Schewen offers free-standing, floor-mounted partitions and bowl shelves that can sit into standard String shelf ladders; finnishdesignshop.com.
For a slender, sophisticated timber alternative in modular mid-century shelving that’s still in production, Poul Cadovius’s Royal System shelving (another 1950s favourite) offers the first wall-mounted furniture, with brass or stainless steel hangers. €250 per shelf, scandium.com. Any pieces by Cadovius right into the 1970s are highly desirable second hand. Vintage Ladderax by Robert Heal for Staples (1960-1969) is well worth looking out for in auctions, sales and with dedicated 20th-century dealers, just check the teak veneer is in perfect condition.