Far from being mere spaces for storage, today’s shelving systems often display more than they conceal, especially in a domestic setting. Here, arrangements of everyday objects such as books, plants, various ornaments and bric-à-brac can create a colourful composition celebrating everyday domestic life. Nevertheless, there are plenty of options that can also conceal more prosaic, less decorative objects needed for the everday.
A classic example of both displaying and concealing is ‘Eames Storage Unit Bookcase’, designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1949, at the same time as their seminal Californian residence. Drawers, open shelves, colourful screens and cupboard units with sliding doors are masterfully orchestrated within a slender steel construction. With similar intentions, albeit in a more minimalist language, Maarten van Severen designs the 2005 ‘Kast’, whose colourful storage units can be stacked to the desired height. Both are produced by Vitra.
In many cases, shelving systems can be used as room dividers: they offer flexibility, storage, and work well as a semi-permeable privacy screen. It is little wonder then that many architects turn their attention to designing these objects. David Chipperfield’s 2010 ‘Bookshelf’ for Riva 1920 is a well-proportioned, composition in solid wood, whereas Norman Foster’s 1997 ‘Cambridge’ shelving system for Acerbis offers a more flexible, generic system with several available material options.
Renzo Piano, on the other hand, combines slender chromed supports with float glass in his ‘Teso Bookcase’ for FontanaArte. Exploring different structural principles, French architect Jean Nouvel suspends his ‘Graduate’ bookshelf for Molteni & C from a top shelf by thin steel rods, and Zaha Hadid, having observed the physics of minimal support, takes inspiration from soap bubbles in her plastic, modular, wall-mounted ‘Tide’ system for Magis.
More whimsical and less regular systems are also available. Nadia Zaoui’s and Bernd Muller’s 2012 ‘Unicatum’ for ANB art & design recalls the colourful ‘526 Nuage Bibliothèque’ from 1928, designed by Charlotte Perriand and now manufactured by Cassina, albeit in a more deconstructed manner. Ron Arad proposes a flexible, wall-mounted, free-form curve with his Kartell-produced ‘Bookworm’ and Hiroshi Kawano’s 2010 ‘Birdie’ for EX.T is a small, light-hearted statement against the near universal horizontality of most storage systems.