Like cabinets, shelf systems are an exercise in applied geometry. The design is often dependent on the practical requirements of the space and the items to be displayed. Bookshelves, for instance, can be of varying depths, to accommodate books and other objects of different sizes; with any luck, the variation becomes an attractive design feature. Of course, the heights of shelves are generally designed to be adjustable.

I have learned to resist the urge to add design features to projects simply to make them seem less plain, because it often turns out that the functional plan provides considerable visual interest, which is only obscured by edge details or the like. This does not apply to the judicious use of glass shelves and lighting, which support the display function of the shelf system.

However, the Brooklyn bookcase (named after a neighborhood in Oakland, not a borough in NYC) is an interesting counterexample. The piece is not built in but was designed to fit a long wall closely and to complement the existing moldings and stylistic feel of this Victorian house. This project is over twenty years old and still feels like a great success.


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