Sunday 22 April 2018

Interiors: Shelf life - inspirational bookcases

Book units are no longer one dimensional pieces of furniture

Domino unit from Lomi.
Domino unit from Lomi.
Confetti shelf system
Conran Balance bookcase
Biblo bookcase
Lomi Puzzle room divider
Lorraine Stevens
Darcey shelves
MADE polygon collection

Eleanor Flegg

I grew up in a house of books. There was a bookshelf in every room, apart from the bathroom (because humidity is bad for books). All the bookcases were low-lying, sturdy and positioned against the wall.

There were no empty spaces on their shelves. When we ran out of shelving, we bought a new bookcase. Luckily, it was quite a big house.

I admit that this was an eccentric way of living. It's better to arrange your books around you than arrange yourself around your books, and modern bookworms have found better ways of managing their habit.

For one thing, people have fewer volumes. The book hasn't yet become a niche object like vinyl, but the growth of electronic reading devices has definitely reduced the burden on our shelves.

There is also a tendency to separate book storage from display. People who have a lot of books tend to keep them tucked away in their home office, while a few choice volumes are kept on show.

"The word bookcase leads you to a one-dimensional view of what that piece of furniture can do," says Michael Connolly of Lomi Design. "A shelving unit is as flexible as the objects that you want to display. That could include books or pieces of art or even your prized Lego model kit of the Millennium Falcon. People use them to express their personalities."

He also suggests leaving some of the shelves empty, as this draws attention to the design of the unit itself. Once it's no longer struggling to house your entire library, a nicely designed bookcase has a lot of potential.

The traditional place for a bookcase is against the wall, but a free-standing bookcase can help solve the problem of how to divide an open-plan space. The interior architect, Lorraine Stevens (below), explains. "People buy open-plan houses, because that's what you do nowadays, but they struggle to furnish them," she says. "They move all their furniture into the corners and they're left with a big uncomfortable space in the middle. They don't realise that you need to divide the space into rooms without using walls."

Lorraine Stevens

"Open shelving breaks up an interior space like an internal wall but, rather than a big lump of plasterboard, you've got a piece of furniture that's beautiful and functional," Connolly adds. Once again, he points out that a room divider will work best if it's not overburdened with belongings.

He also recommends that you think carefully before investing in a large piece of furniture. "People rush out and buy a shelving unit without considering that it's going to have an architectural impact.

"We spend a lot of time solving problems created by impulse purchases bought to fill a storage need." Cheap shelving units can also be problematic. "If it is going to be used as a storage item, then it needs to have a certain amount of structural integrity."

Lomi Design is the supplier for the high-end (and therefore quite pricey) Italian brand, Porada. These range from the solid walnut Biblo bookcase (€6,815) to the Myria bookcase system, also walnut with shelves in smoked glass (from €4,000). It can be ordered as a single unit or combined in multiple units to create a room divider.

The Domino system (from €2,900) consists of glass boxes suspended on metal poles that run from floor to ceiling and would have to be architecturally installed. Once in place, the boxes can be swivelled to change the flow of light and traffic within the space. The less spectacular, but more cost-effective Jesse range of modular bookcases starts around €1,500, while the Puzzle bookcase and room divider starts at €2,657, both from Lomi Design.

In a lower price bracket, the Polygon unit, designed by Luca Stepan for Made, consists of curved ash veneer bent into a series of polygons. It comes in grey or white and would make a lovely room divider. The only drawback is that the shelves aren't the ideal shape for books, so they come with powder coated steel bookends. It costs around €388 excluding delivery and requires assembly.

Another attractive free-standing unit from Made, the Darcey, is designed by Steuart Padwick. The unit tapers and one of the colour options has shelves that graduate from dark grey below to white at the top. It costs about €271. Both of these break up an interior space nicely but neither has a huge capacity for storage.

If you're a book lover, you may still be wondering what to do with your books. Mine are in the home office courtesy of Billy bookcase, a cheap Ikea classic that does what it says on the tin.

I'm also flirting with the notion of the Booken bookcase, designed by Raw Edges Design Studio and supplied by Go Modern Furniture.

The idea is that you can display your books, instead of hiding them away, by letting them hang downwards so that the spines come together to form a side table. It's a quirky idea, but I'm not convinced that it's good for books. It's also expensive and costs €738.

The attractive Confetti shelf system (€225) is more affordable. It's made in Sweden by Pellington Design and consists of brightly-coloured wall tiles and clear Perspex shelves that slot between them, and can be repositioned.

It won't hold a huge number of books but it's hard not to like the cheery versatility.

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