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'Bookshelf' by Alex Johnson holds volumes of fun design

May 17, 2012 |  8:30 am


Stacked cinder blocks and boards work just as well as most, but they’re nowhere near as fun — or as optimistic in this e-book world — as the swirling, angled, wacky shelves in Alex Johnson’s new book. “Bookshelf” (Thames & Hudson, $24.95) has more than 300 color photos of minimalist, ladder-shaped shelves, jumbled boxes, swirling towers and the occasional farm animal. (That's Estante Vaco, above, by Brazilian designer Dennys Tormen). One disorienting design built into a staircase holds 2,000 books, but many others were created without much apparent thought to storing more than a few volumes.

Bookshelf Alex Johnson“It’s partly that designers like taking something small and basic and playing with it, and there’s nothing much more basic than a bookcase,” Johnson said from his home in Britain, where his three children, ages 3, 9 and 11, are all big readers.

“The truth for many readers is that their bookshelves are nearly as important to them as their books,” he said, adding that he remembers the size and shape and smell of his childhood bookcases with as much fondness as the books in them.

Nobody & Co. designer Alisee Matta, whose Bibliochaise is included in the book, said life in a small, book-filled apartment inspired her to create a leather armchair that envelopes the sitter with 16 feet of shelf space. “Sitting and living in the middle of your favorite books is a very strong feeling,” she says in “Bookshelf.”

The author presents bookshelves shaped like real clouds and cartoon clouds, letters of the alphabet and Pac-Man. One bookcase is made from salvaged tables piled onto one another; another is from repurposed ladders. They’re made of wood or felt or plastic or metal. One called Of Wars and Wits and Power has dozens of small gold-colored soldiers holding up a missile-shaped bookcase.

The wit and delight that the designers seem to have taken in making these bookshelves collides head-on with the rise in reading on hand-held devices. That, Johnson said, could make bookcases just another piece of decoration. But, he added, that’s not likely for a long time.

— Mary MacVean

Bookshelf Puckman

Puckman by Studio Ginepro




Bookshelf Osisu

A design from the Thai studio Osisu




Bookshelf Quetza

The Mexican firm Pirwi designed Quetza as an abstraction of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec deity who took the form of a serpent.




Bookshelf Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis by Sebastian Errazuriz is a one-off handcarved bookcase.





Barok and Big Barok by the French design firm Presse Citron are lacquered steel shelves that create the illusion of books floating inside picture frames.


Umbra L ConcealUmbra's L Conceal shelf

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Photos: Thames & Hudson