this thing's incredible

My Books Have Never Looked Better Than on These Red Steel Shelves

Photo: Louis Cheslaw

A couple of years ago, I reached a point where I had too many books and too little storage for them. Aware that I was inching closer to this tipping point with every title I bought, I began to bookmark bookshelves while I shopped online for books, keeping tabs on Ron Arad’s Bookworm, the Vitsoe 606, and CB2’s Stax bookcase via tabs saved in my browser. But since I’m a renter, their cost — and the effort it would take to install (and eventually uninstall) them — just didn’t make sense. Still, I was determined not to give up and become That Person with thigh-high stacks of books along the edge of their floors, nor That Other Person who settled for the Ikea Billy bookcase that I (and everyone else) had in my college bedroom. But as I continued to browse, I kept running into the same problem: Every good-looking, affordable bookshelf I saw had comment sections full of complaints about cracked wood, chipped paint, and painful assembly.

If I’ve learned anything from tasteful friends or reading the Strategist (both now and when I was searching for bookshelves two years ago), it’s that you don’t have to use products the way they are designed to be used. A golf rack can become an entryway organizer; a kitchen shelf can become a laptop stand; a power tool can become a massage device (or a shower cleaner). Remembering this kernel of wisdom, I changed my approach and began to look not for bookshelves but simply for any unit that was tall, wide, shelved, and strong enough to hold all the books I needed to find a home for. Within hours, I found exactly what I was looking for.

The industrial shelving unit in a cheery red — a color that reminded me of Arad’s Bookworm — was hiding amid a sea of steel and black shelves in Wayfair’s “Garage Storage and Shelving Units” department. Photos showed it holding garbage bags and antifreeze, but its 4,000-pound capacity suggested it could hold plenty of books as well. After measuring my space to figure out which of the five available sizes would be the best fit, I placed an order for the smallest model. It arrived four days later with clear assembly instructions, and about 20 minutes after I opened the box, the unit was holding all my books. It was only two hours later, when my roommate got home, that the piece received its first compliment.

I’ve moved twice since then, but even as I’ve gained square footage, friends with drills, and more money for my dream furniture, I have never been interested in replacing my bookshelf. It gets far more remarks from my aesthetically minded friends than any of the more design-y pieces I own, and it remains as sturdy as it was the day I bought it, even though I’ve moved it from place to place and room to room over the years. Sure, I may not be the first person to figure out that industrial shelving can make for an affordable (but still cool-looking) alternative to traditional pieces. But like the many industrial shelves I saw in my initial tromp through Wayfair’s Garage Storage and Shelving Units, most styles I’ve seen others using are black, stainless steel, or another utilitarian color that reinforces their utilitarian origins. In red, mine — like the many books upon it — draws me in, as well as most anyone who glimpses it.

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My Books Have Never Looked Better Than on These Red Shelves