Shelves: Stack to the future

Shelves are great for storing books – but they can also be a quirky design feature. By Kate Watson-Smyth
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Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house," says Henry Ward Beecher, American clergyman and sister of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe.

While Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the US, declared that he could not live without books and managed to create three libraries in his lifetime. When the first burned down, he wrote to a friend that he would have been less upset to lose the money he had spent on the books than the items themselves.

Even if you don't possess an immaculate collection of first editions, books can still be an integral part of your décor. The designer Deborah Bowness has created a wallpaper called "fake bookshelf", which gives you an idea of the importance of books to a design theme.

But gone are the days when you just bunged some melamine shelves across an alcove on two metal brackets and watched them gradually buckle under the weight of the stacks of your favourite novels.

You don't have to have a spare room for a library, instead, transform the unusued spaces that you probably hadn't even noticed you had. Fixing box-shelves up the stairs, light-up shelves on bedroom walls and creating an entire wall of books in odd-shaped shelving patterns will all add to the style and feel of a room.

Sallie Trout, a designer from Texas, has rebuilt her staircase to wrap around a central tower filled with shelves of books. Access is from the ground floor, the stairs and, in a 21st-take on the library ladder, by a remote-controlled hoist suspended from the ceiling.

"The shelves are about organised chaos," she said. "The height gives it a cathedral-like feel when you look up. When I first designed it, the visual language of the angles reminded me of old computer codes.

"Dusting is done using a telescopic pole and, once a year, I go up in the chair to do a really thorough clean. The only problem comes from wanting to read instead of doing the cleaning – well that and thinking that there's always room for more books..."

If you want to make a statement with your storage then look no further than the ideas below and remember, if these are too pricey, it's always worth using them simply as inspiration and asking your local carpenter to see what he can create for you.

Statement shelves: Get the look


The Quad, right, will take your books, CDs, ornaments and anything else that you don’t want cluttering up your surfaces. It’s made from white or black laminated plywood with different colour backing options. 0131-557 4800;

YET: £166

You wouldn’t necessarily house a whole library on the Yet, which is also a light, but you could buy several and create something rather beautiful and sculptural on the wall. 0800 376 2518;


Designed to solve the problem of over-full shelves, this system allows you to start a second row in front of the first, but as it’s on wheels you can slide the front to one side to allow you to access the books behind. It will require a rigorous system of display – probably alphabetical – to remember where everything is, but it looks great. 020-7387 5840;

RANDOM SHELVING: From around £1,200

If you like your shelving simple and sculptural then this is the one for you. There is a tiny twist – because the shelves aren’t uniform, they can end up looking as if they have been custommade for your books. The clean lines look just as good with a few well chosen objets as they do full of books. 020-7381 0031;

CONSOLE BOOKSHELF: Price on application

The Console is a bench within a bookcase. It may not be the most comfortable place to sit and read but hey, it’s the statement piece to end all statements.


These shelves are made from polypropylene and come in a variety of colours. If you stack them up, they can be used as a dividing wall in open-plan areas. 01227 763637;

MUUTO-OTO 100: £599

Made of different-sized tubes, bound together, the Muuto unit can also be taken apart, reformed and moved around to suit your needs. 0131-557 4800;