The best bookcase design grows and adapts with our homes. It can be endlessly modified to suit our needs, and includes accessories and functional solutions that create enduring appeal. These classic bookshelves and shelving systems have stood the test of time, and have been developed to better suit modern living with storage cabinets, desks and lighting. Each of the carefully considered shelving designs can be adapted to any space, and has grown into a collection beloved by architects, globally.
A modular bookcase conceived by an artist
Load-it shelving system by Wolfgang Tolk and Porro
Designed in 1995, Wolfgang Tolk’s modular shelving system for Porro is a contemporary classic. Tolk originally created an all-white bookcase, whose thin, L-shaped bent steel shelves are slotted into a wall system made of metal or wood, giving the appearance of objects suspended in the air. Over the years, Porro and Tolk developed the design further, adding new materials and finishes, and the Load-it system is now available in the original white as well as black and steel, with metallic finishes including burnished brass, grigio porfido or rosso antico.
As the system developed, new additions such as cabinets and desk space have been created to extend its function beyond that of a bookcase. Another addition is a series of spotlights that can be placed anywhere on the system thanks to magnetic connection, and can be used to amplify the shelves' expressive potential.
porro.com (opens in new tab)
A modernist bookcase with endless potential
‘Infinito’ by Franco Albini and Franca Helg for Cassina
As its name suggests, the reach of Franco Albini and Franca Helg’s ‘Infinito’ bookcase can be endless. A freestanding, modular design created between 1956 and 1957, the versatile double-sided bookcase can be used as a room divider or placed against the wall, and it can be adapted with modules that include shelves and storage units that come with either standard or drop-down doors.
The original 1950s design was reissued by Cassina as part of its ‘I Maestri’ collection in 2008, adapting the piece’s manufacturing and maximising its potential for flexibility. The height-adjustable floor-to-ceiling bookcase is a modern classic that can adapt to any living, office and retail space thanks to the timeless design, available in natural or black-stain ashwood as well as American walnut.
An iconic shelving system based on minimalist design principles
‘606 Universal Shelving System’ by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe
Dieter Rams (opens in new tab)’ ‘as little design as possible’ mantra is epitomised by these utilitarian bookshelves. In 1960, the German designer created a shelving system that can adapt to fit any space, and that can be equipped with a range of practical solutions for storing and displaying objects. Created for Vitsoe and produced by the company ever since, Rams’ wall-mounted ‘606 Universal Shelving System’ embodies the company’s ethos of ‘living better, with less, that lasts longer’.
Ensuring flexibility and longevity, the shelving system is made sustainably in the company's Leamington Spa factory (opens in new tab). The shelves are simple to put together, repair and dismantle, thanks to a combination of recyclable aluminium, steel, and compostable wood assembled with mechanical joints. Available in off-white, black or silver, the ‘606 Universal Shelving System’ also includes desks, cabinets, drawers, sloping shelves, hanging rails and bookends, and can be configured to a user's needs to fit small, large and unusually shaped spaces.
vitsoe.com (opens in new tab)
Simple shelves for personalised bookcase design
‘String’ system by Nisse and Kajsa Strinning
Shelving for the study, outdoor storage or kitchen cabinets: there isn't a room ‘String’ furniture is not suitable for. Originally designed in 1949 by Nisse and Kajsa Strinning – with a simple principle characterised by a side metal grid supporting the shelves – the system has evolved into a full furniture collection for every room of the house. Created with flexibility in mind, the ‘String’ system includes shelves, storage cabinets, drawers, desks, hooks and hangers in a variety of colours and materials.
The flexibility of the ‘String’ shelving system can be traced back to its original conception. The Strinnings had created it following an open call to design an affordable bookshelf that was easy to ship and assemble. Upon winning the competition, the design became a common sight in Swedish homes; it was also installed at the UN Headquarters in New York and won several awards. The concept was relaunched in 2004 with a new design by Nisse Strinning (the ‘String Pocket’ shelf).
stringfurniture.com (opens in new tab)
Architectural shelving and storage for the office and beyond
‘USM Haller’ furniture by Fritz Haller for USM
Versatile, customisable, enduring: this is how the ‘USM Haller’ storage system is presented by its maker USM, a Swiss family-run business since 1885. The shelving system was designed in the early 1960s by Swiss architect Fritz Haller, who essentially created a furniture-sized version of his groundbreaking modular architecture; after Haller had designed an office building for USM, company director Paul Schaerer wasn’t satisfied with the available furniture and asked him to also create bespoke storage and office furniture solutions. The rest, as they say, is (design) history.
The storage range has since branched outside the office and into the home with cabinets, shelves, desks, TV units and accessories in a range of colours and featuring a clean, modular design. New lines have been added in recent years with integrated lighting (opens in new tab) and charging ports concealed in the shelves. The latest addition to the collection is dedicated to plant display for public, domestic and office space (opens in new tab).
usm.com (opens in new tab)
Colourful storage that can be customised
‘Montana System’ by Peter Lassen
There isn’t a storage solution that Danish furniture company Montana hasn’t thought of. From mega to mini, the colourful storage arrangements first created by founder Peter Lassen in 1982 have grown into a collection that includes shelves of all shapes and sizes, cabinets, mirrors, notice boards, a plinth, and more. The system is entirely customisable (with integrated lighting, and a choice of pulls and legs, for example) and elements can be mixed and matched into dynamic compositions. The Montana furniture collection is characterised by distinctive rounded edges, as well as a vast palette of colours, from the muted to the bold, updated in collaboration with colour expert Margrethe Odgaard in 2019.
The latest addition to the range is dubbed ‘Montana Mini’ and comprises a series of compact storage pieces that offer all the versatility of the main range in a smaller format.
montanafurniture.com (opens in new tab)
Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.
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