THE HOURS THAT WE'VE CLOCKED working from home have altered the way we orient ourselves in our spaces. Conference calls have compelled us to curate backdrops that project ourselves into the world accordingly, with constant tweaks to ensure that our personal style translates virtually. HBO’s dark dramedy “The White Lotus” hit this nagging desire on the head with actress Connie Britton’s running joke. While on vacation in the Tradewinds Suite, her character, girlboss Nicole Mossbacher, rearranges the furniture for daily Zoom calls with colleagues in China — much to the annoyance of her family.
Seeking out the perfect Zoom backdrop to reflect one’s erudite and cultured abode leads many consumers to Vitsœ, the German modern design firm that deals in high-end modular shelving and furniture. The perceived popularity of appointed bookshelves as a statement backdrop — popping up behind celebrities, politicians, and news anchors — is no myth. “I’ve literally had clients who said, ‘Oh, I’m buying Vitsœ just for my Zoom background,’” says Josh Itiola, a furniture consultant and planner at Vitsœ’s New York showroom. Itiola, who initially studied engineering and design, has been working at Vitsœ for the last six and a half years, creating solutions and helping clients fulfill their decor goals.
Designed by Dieter Rams in 1960, the Vitsœ 606 Universal Shelving System is widely considered the crème de la crème of modular shelving. Rams is the German industrial designer who’s famous for penning seminal text “10 Principles for Good Design” in the 1970s, an ideological 10 commandments for the design world. The clean lines and airy-yet-sturdy construction of Rams’ 606 system are so iconic that the system, famously, has never changed since its inception.
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The perceived popularity of appointed bookshelves as a statement backdrop — popping up behind celebrities, politicians, and news anchors — is no myth.
Despite the uncertainty of the fiscal markets in the COVID-19 era, the furniture market is one that has seen exponential growth. “It was crazy and pretty busy, thankfully,” says Itiola. “I think the entire furniture world had a positive result from the pandemic. Everyone was reflecting and seeing their space in a different way. People thought: Oh I actually want to enjoy my space. If I'm going to be in it, I want to invest in what I have going on here, you know?”
If you, too, have been pondering ways to maximize your space and optimize storage that are at once aesthetically pleasing and efficient, look no further: We spoke with Itiola about how to approach and embrace modular shelving.
State Your Intent
When kicking off the design process, Itiola suggests starting with a clear intention. “The one question I'll ask every single person I deal with is: What do you intend to use the system for? One hundred percent of the time, this helps to inform the planning process. They might have only thought about how they’re living at the moment, and not about how the system will interact and evolve their space and their lives.” This line of decor soul-searching helps to shift the process from a purely aesthetic point of view to a question of function. It’s a moment to consider how design can augment the way we interact with our surroundings. “Clients have a sense of what they want the system to look like, but also it may not actually solve their issue.”
Start Small and Embrace the Evolution
After exploring the myriad configurations and seemingly endless possibilities of Vitsœ’s 606 Universal Shelving System, it can be extremely tempting to dive head-first and go full-on maximalist. On the contrary, Itiola suggests starting small, and embracing the eventual evolution of the system. “Because it's a system that has never changed from its original design, you can always start small and add on to it,” says Itiola. “The first shelving that I purchased was a closet system that I built out because the partner that I was living with at the time took up all of the actual closets in the apartment. Over the years, it's evolved into four different types of systems across three apartments.” For city dwellers who might change apartments every couple of years, the malleable nature of modular shelving makes it a true blessing. “When we moved, it was split up into two separate closets. And then I took some of the shelves from it and put it in our kitchen, and some shelves are also now in my office.
Think in 3D
The beauty of wall-mounted shelving is tapping into the vertical capabilities of a room and freeing up floor space. Most modular shelving systems are split up into bays, units that define the width of the structure that you’re planning to build. Itiola guides clients to think of the depth that shelving will occupy as well. “I love getting images of a client’s total space, so I have a clear visual of what the system will look like. This will inform the depth of shelves. So if the space is a little tight, we go with shallow shelves because you don’t want the room to feel crowded. Dieter designed the 606 system to feel airy and spacey, and you don't want to just cram it into a space that’s not going to really work.”
Don’t Forget the Brass Tacks
Naturally, when browsing for shelving solutions, it’s important to investigate the types of walls you’re drilling into. From exposed brick to drywall to ceramic tiles — be sure to find the proper mounting hardware for each type of room. “This is another common question. At Vitsœ, we provide the correct hardware needed for installation. It’s a service that we provide over the lifetime of your system. We'll send you new hardware to reinstall it, so all you have to do is literally just put it back up on the wall. We have installers who have worked for us for about 20 years now. So they know the system like the back of their hand.” For those opting for a different modular shelving system like USM’s Haller System, Design Within Reach’s Royal System, or Kernel’s Modular Shelf Kits, any licensed contractor can install the unit.
Consider the Full Shelf Life
Given the many lives and future permutations of modular shelving, it’s best to consider the full shelf life when making the investment. “Clients come in seeing enormously large library systems, and they want it. They want all the bells, whistles, drawers, and cabinets — everything. They ask for a quote and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, that's ridiculously expensive.’” While the sticker shock may give pause, the key to unlocking its true value is to consider Vitsœ a long-game play. “It is an investment, and it actually becomes cheaper over time as you expand your system. There are people who have systems that they purchased in the 1960s, and they still come to us and order parts to add to their system because they've just moved. I’ve had a lot of people whose parents have passed it down to them. Someone will call and say, ‘My parents gave me the system and I’d love to install it and add on to it.’ The beautiful thing is that the 606 system has never changed so it will always be compatible. This is a system that you’ll probably have for the rest of your life.”
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Deidre Dyer Writer
Deidre Dyer is a writer, editorial director, and brand consultant. Her clients include brands such as Nike, Converse, Instagram, and The RealReal. Dyer’s writing has appeared in Vogue, GARAGE, SSENSE, and Riposte magazine. She is currently an editorial and publishing manager at Netflix Queue.
Cookie Moon Illustrator
Cookie Moon (Sara Laimon) is a Tel Aviv—based artist and illustrator. She is a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and has worked with fashion photographer Nick Knight of London's SHOWstudio, the Meteor music festival, and Avira Studios. She is cofounder of Unterman, a music label inspired by her rabbinical heritage. Her works have been shown in numerous group exhibitions and festivals including ZAZ 10 Times Square, The Morgan Library and Museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Cinequest Film Festival, Berlin Experimental Film Festival, and more.