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Shelf life

Shelf life

Storage is, at its core, functional. But as the lines between design, furniture and architecture begin to blur, storage solutions are bridging the divide.

Up the Wall


1: The attractive American walnut timber shelving system in this Cape Town home was designed by James Louw of JL Joiners and Shopfitters to be integrated around the arch fanlight. James and the owners came up with the design, which features differently shaped openings that display the family’s most treasured items and other household goods. The whole system is held together with biscuit joints, meaning not one screw or nail was used in its construction.

‘I generally advise clients to keep to clean designs with versatile functionality so that when circumstances change or a household develops, the designs can be used again’ – James Mudge, designer

2: With marble trending in all facets of interior design, we love this take on the modular block display system, called Logos, by Vincent Insinga for Italian company Margraf. The blocks are magnetised and can be configured in a multitude of ways on the raw-steel panels.

3: The Frame cabinet by Swedish company Lilja Löwenhielm Design combines display and storage in one sleek and modern unit.


4: A system of boxes rather than shelves, the First bookshelf by G Carollo for Italian company Porada frames its contents. Porada is stocked locally by Maldini.


5: The old Chateau de la Resle in the French countryside has been brought up to date with slick, contemporary design, including an attractive recessed shelf and modular timber storage blocks against the walls.


James Mudge is a Cape Town-based furniture designer and manufacturer whose fusion of traditional techniques with a contemporary aesthetic have made him the go-to craftsman for bespoke timber designs. Here he shares some insight into the how, what and why of custom-made storage systems.

Q: What storage/shelving trends appeal to you and what is it about them that appeals?

A:I like shelving systems that are light and unobtrusive to a space, adding to form while providing function.

Q: If a client came to you with an open brief to create a custom made storage or shelving system how would you advise them on the design?

A:Firstly, it would depend on their needs and where it will be situated in their home or business. However I generally advise clients to keep to clean designs with versatile functionality, so that when circumstances change or a household develops, the designs can be used again and again to create useful and beautiful new spaces.


6: The Ash Hanging Shelf by James Mudge is a wall-mounted structure that’s able to slide along the hanging rail, allowing for a lot of versatility. What’s more, the shelves are detachable, so large paintings, vases and the like can be accommodated.


7: The Romboidale Library design by Italian designer Pietro Russo is a two-in-one kind of unit. Its transparency allows it to serve as a striking yet subtle room divider, thanks to its clever diamond shape, while the birch plywood shelves let it double as a display unit.


8: This artist’s studio by Raanan Stern and Shany Tal of architectural firm Raanan Stern has been designed around a multifunctional storage system geared towards the needs of the artist. For instance, different sections were planned and built for displaying and storing work, tools and materials, smaller sections can be removed and removable sliding doors double as palettes.


9: An interesting take on the traditional, the Concave bookcase by Simon Pengelly for UK-based design firm Joined + Jointed adds dimension to a space without sacrificing functionality.

‘Joinery can very often be a heavy line item on your cost estimate or construction cost, so do it once and do it well. But at the same time, it’s an easy element to alter’ – Jo Anderson, architect


10: New to Stokperd’s product range is the Fourie sidetable, designed by Cape Town-based Monya Eastman. The effective cantilevered shelf with added bookend is simple and can be custom-made to any size and wood preference.


11: This functional, out-the-box range of storage products, called London, by German designer Meike Harde is a rethink of the fabrication of clothes storage. The freestanding cabinet, wardrobe and storage bag are made from textiles and are easily movable and adaptable.


12: While not strictly a storage system, this clever space-saving solution designed by Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects in the US incorporates an enclosed study in the often underutilised space below the stairs. This design solution could be adapted to be a storeroom, cloakroom, or additional drawer system.


13: London-based Levitate Architects in conjunction with Rodrigues Associates Structural Engineers designed this distinguishable ‘library staircase’ in an old Victorian flat in London. The client’s wish was to have a library, but with the limited space it was a difficult challenge, until the team came up with the English oak stair treads and integrated shelves leading up to the loft.


Architect Jo Anderson, who in addition to having her own practice is also programme manager at the Green Building Council of SA, shares her tips on what to consider when integrating storage into the design of your home.

Q: What do you favour, built-in storage or freestanding systems?

A:It all depends on what the space calls for. Personally I like anything that’s efficient, clever and works with the space as a whole. So much value is added by striking the balance between hiding things away neatly and creating a canvas for special items to be displayed.

Q: Tell us about the solutions you’ve come up with whereby storage space has been incorporated beneath stairs.

A:This is a simple, accessible storage solution, but only if the space calls for it. Filling the space below a stair can make the room seem smaller. Get a good carpenter to build the stair and a good joiner to build the cupboards, and make sure they can accommodate all the items you need to store – high enough for a fridge and sufficiently wide for a dishwasher, for example. The tall, slim pull-out for grocery storage is a good solution. And don’t forget the slot for the brooms, vacuum, bins and dog food.

Q: What is the one thing you’d advise clients on when wanting to incorporate storage into the architectural design of a home?

A:Because joinery can very often be a heavy line item on your cost estimate or construction cost, do it once and do it well. But at the same time, it’s an easy element to alter, so if your situation does change, don’t be afraid to play with a space by adapting the storage – putting a desk under the bunk bed, for example.

Q: What other underutilised spaces in a home could readers consider using for storage?

A:Corner spaces are always tricky and it’s sometimes better to pull the units apart to create the illusion of more space. That being said, they can always be filled with something like a tea corner or used as a storage spot for the toaster in the kitchen.

Contact Details

Words:Genevieve Putter, Julia Freemantle
Photographs:Cindy Taylor, Gidon Levin, Whit Preston, supplied

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