In a recent article, I explained my new desktop zero plan to remove distractions around me when I work. As someone working at home, it’s very easy to let things accumulate, and it’s also a hard habit to break. I’ve succeeded in reaching desktop zero – at least as much as is practical, as there are some things I need on my desk – but my makeover project has gone much further than that.
In order to get more empty space in my office, I decided to remove a tall, dark bookcase from one area in my office, which was laden with things I wanted in the room, but many of which didn’t need to be visible. I did a bunch of rearranging of two pieces of furniture – low Ikea shelf units – but I needed some more practical storage. I settled on getting some Vitsœ shelves, from the company’s 606 Universal Shelving System. Designed by Dieter Rams, in 1960, and sold since then, these shelves are very modular and flexible. There are shelves of two widths and different depths, and a number of cabinets, all of which mount on vertical rails.
To buy these shelves, you measure your space, contact Vitsœ, and work with a planner, who explains the various options and creates precise plans for your installation. (They use a custom Mac app for this.)
I am fortunate that the company’s warehouse and headquarters are about 15 miles from me, so I went there in person, where I could see all the various elements, but most people will do this over the phone. I spent about an hour with the planner discussing my options, and deciding on what I wanted, and my shelves were delivered about ten days later.
It’s a pretty big job to install all this stuff, and if I were good at DIY, I might have attempted to do it with the help of my partner, but I called a guy who’s done some work for me before to do it. There are only 12 screw holes to drill in the wall, and, in many ways, it’s simpler than putting together some Ikea units, but it took about three hours altogether. Here’s the finished setup:
The system is quite clever. All you need to do to mount a shelf is position it on what they call the E-Track, and slip a little pin through a hole. You do need two people to mount the cabinets, as they are quite heavy, but you can mount shelves on your own. (See this page for an image of how it works.) The only tool you need is a pencil or screwdriver to push the pin if you don’t get it positioned right.
These shelves are very strong, and some of them are bearing a lot of weight. In the photo below, you can see a couple of very heavy box sets of classical CDs, and a few large photo books; since this initial setup, I’ve added much more weight to them, and they will be able to hold anything I want to put on them (within reason).
The cabinets are practical, as they allow me to keep out of view a lot of tech dross that I need to have handy: external hand drives, dongles, and a bunch of other cables and chargers. In one of the drawers on the right-hand cabinet, I’ve put a set of dividers that Vitsœ sells and in each of the little cubby holes I’ve put one or two lenses or other camera gadgets.
One of the advantages of this system is that you can add shelves or cabinets at any time, just by ordering them from the company. After I set mine up, I added one additional shelf at the top of the unit; I hadn’t planned on this initially because I wanted to see how it looked. And if you ever move, you just take everything apart, re-pack it (it’s a good idea to save the original packing, but Vitsœ says to contact them if you need replacements), and rebuild your shelves in your new home.
It’s worth noting that I found out about these because the company runs ads in a number of publications I read, such as The Guardian and The London Review of Books. I had been looking for two small tables for my office – you can see one next to the leather chair in the photo above – and bought a pair. As I browsed their website, looking at the shelves, I had a eureka moment, that this system could liberate a lot of space in my office. The company only makes three products, all of which were designed by Dieter Rams: the shelves, the tables, and this fascinating modular chair system. I would love to be able to afford one of those chairs – I tried one, and it’s very comfortable – but even a single chair costs more than my entire shelving system.
These shelves are expensive, but this is a purchase for life. The attention to detail and the quality of their production is obvious. Not only will the shelves last for a very long time, but Vitsœ has been making them, always compatible with existing hardware, since 1960, so you don’t have to worry about new shelves not fitting with your system.