Vintage view: String shelving from Sweden


Vintage view: String shelving from Sweden

There are iconic lovelies out there, still on the market with their lines largely unchanged for half a century or even more.

Just a few examples (and there are a surprising number), the Aga range c1922, the Mini Cooper c1961, the Thonet chair no14 (cafe chair) c1859, the Anglepoise desk lamp c1935, and Mario Bellini’s Cuboglass television set c1969.

What unites them are quality of design, an often inexplicable rightness to the eye and a utilitarian strength of purpose.

Even an original Edwardian Aga delivers a mouth-watering roast using its dogged radiant heat technology.

All Minis are exquisite with cuteness (even if the fuel economy still gasps).

The Thonet 14 could be shipped in its individual components and crated in the thousands for easy reassembly by semi-skilled workers and stacked lightly on a cafe table top.

The Anglepoise — well c’mon, sheer poseable cool — and Bellini’s television — startling in its elegant acrylic boxiness and still an overnight sell-out when put into limited production by the company.

Pocket String in stainless steel, one of a number of limited editions from €130 depending on materials.
Pocket String in stainless steel, one of a number of limited editions from €130 depending on materials.

String shelving from Sweden is another market veteran, and it’s bought new and heartily collected in vintage survivals all over the world.

It has everything one could want in freestanding shelving — it’s light to handle and re-configure, it’s remarkably stable, it’s minimalistic and the best thing about it of all — it’s a system that you can build on (great for budget-strapped collectors and decorators).

The company was founded by architect Nils Strinning (1917-2006) in 1952, three years after his laughingly, simple ladder sided shelves designed with his wife Kajsa, won the Bonnier’s Public Library Bookshelf Competition.

The pair had started their trials with a dish-rack in plastic covered wire called the Elfa, and they took on the manufacture of several plastic domestic pieces.

String and its variants was the masterpiece, and the product won gold at the Triennale di Milan in 1954, going on to garner praise and design prizes across the globe, right into the early 21st century.

The ladder sides, which also work as book-ends are fixed to the wall with unobtrusive rear plugs and screws.

Shelves in attractive veneers are then perched with clips on the rungs, as required, adding structural rigidity, (and it doesn’t look naff in pure white).

The range developed to include cabinets, chests, folding tables and magazine racks. String’s delicately traced gables sit more lightly than Ladderax or Nelson’s Omni collection, allowing light to rake through the curated open display, occasionally broken up by blocks of blind storage.

You can build an entire home office with String, set it in the kitchen, the utility room, a dressing room or run a slim set up a wall in a hallway. Quiet as a pencil drawing, you can mix it up with rustic or contemporary with ease.

For thousands of inspirational ideas, go straight to

For original types, and new systems in Perspex, Lost Weekend in DunLaoghaire and Ambiente Direct, are registered dealers for the full String range, with Pocket shelves starting at €130 and office configurations from €431.

There’s a family of vintage shelving worth looking out for at general sales and online auctions. It’s easy to see where English maker Robert Heal got his idea for his more muscular take on wall mounted storage, Ladderax c1964 for Staples.

American designer, George Nelson’s take on similar floating wall storage uses poles on which wood boxes are staged at chosen heights (look out for a useful hack on this piece using IKEA Stolmen), and designed c1952 for Structural products.

Other alternatives for those drawn to the skeletal wall unit, legged or mounted to the wall, include Poul Cadovius. His Royal range of Danish teak furniture from 1948 is credited as the first wall mounted shelving system in the world.

Set on a series of battons, it cantilevers in chic shelving, credenzas, cabinets and even fold-out dining tables, on triangular stainless steel or brass brackets (this is right at the top shelf, with prices for originals by CADO starting around €3,000).

For new Poul Cadovius try Nordic Elements in Dublin, for systems from suppliers in Denmark, DK3, from €1,365,

Keep in mind with any dainty shelving, that there are ideal loading weights to head off shelves bowing. Read the assembly instructions to the letter, and ensure with vintage sets, that you have all the fixings you need.

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