This Trendy Shelf is All Over European Homes, and It’s One of the Best Ways to Store Books

published Nov 10, 2020
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String shelves in

As a lover of books, I’m always on the hunt for a well-styled shelf that’s also practical for storing my collection. Lately, one version seems near omnipresent in the European homes I’ve been peering into via Instagram: the String Shelf from String Furniture

In essence, String’s shelving system, which you can see above and below, is wall-mounted and modular with simple, clean lines that are typical of Scandinavian style. The company’s collection includes a series of ladder-shaped brackets, which are called “wall panels,” and shelves that can be customized for just about any configuration. No matter how you arrange them, the shelves are light, airy, and really work well with the more warm but minimalist-minded spaces coming into focus in design right now.

What’s particularly fascinating about String is its backstory. According to the brand’s website, the shelving system was first invented by Nisse and Kajsa Strinning for a Swedish publisher’s design competition. In 1949, the Bonnier Group held the competition because they “realized that the majority of Swedish homes were not furnished with a focus on bookshelves, which made it quite difficult for them to sell books.” The String was the victorious design and went on to grow in popularity in Swedish homes during the mid-century period. 

The system fell out of production for some time, but the brand was relaunched in 2004. Along with the relaunch came a mini version of the system, called the String Pocket, which has made its way into small apartments across Europe. Now, these shelves seem to be popping up everywhere, and I can see why. Built-in bookshelves or floor-to-ceiling shelving units aside, I can’t think of a better way to store books, and that’s just the beginning. You can style these shelves in kitchens, bathrooms, or bedrooms. They look great decked out with plants and decorative accessories, too, and their simple design lets whatever you put on them take center stage. Even better, if you live in a rental or just like to switch things up regularly, you can constantly rearrange or add onto these kinds of pieces as your needs—or spaces—change.

Here are a few ways to bring the look of String shelving into your own space at three very different price points. To a certain extent, you get what you pay for—quality of materials, size, choice of colors and finishes, etc.—but all of these styles would look striking in practically any setting except an extremely formal interior.

Credit: DWR

String Pocket Shelving

The original String Pocket is great for storing books, displaying your favorite mugs, or creating the plant wall of your dreams. White metal is a popular choice, but these shelves are actually available in a variety of color combinations, including orange, gray, and several shades of wood. String’s system is iconic, but it’s on the pricier side and is probably best if you only want a few perches for things rather than a full wall of shelving.

Buy: String Pocket Shelving, Starting at $173.00 from Design Within Reach

SMILE Shelving

Speaking of industry-disrupting design, SMILE is a new brand that makes each shelf in its modular system entirely from recycled chopsticks. The company has out-raised its funding goal on Kickstarter by more than five times and plans to start shipping before Christmas. This system has the look of the String but for a little less and with a nice sustainability story to boot.

Buy: SMILE Modular shelf, Starting at $69.00 from SMILE

Credit: IKEA


Leave it to IKEA to offer great design at a low price. While this other Swedish retailer’s design isn’t a traditional modular shelf, its simple brackets give it a similarly streamlined appearance to the String. Stack a few of these together to create a similar look and you’ll have a few dollars left over for stylish planters to perch on your new shelves.