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Why Modular Shelving Is the Best "Investment Furniture"

Ample storage, good design, and countless configurations
white room with shelving by Space Exploration Design
The 606 shelving system was designed in 1960 by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe, but it's used in countless contemporary homes—like this two-bedroom stunner by Brooklyn-based Space Exploration design.Photo: Courtesy of Space Exploration Design

Sofas, dining tables, chairs: These are the pieces you’ll so often find labeled as "investment furniture," those pricier objects that take center stage in a home and are loved and lived with for a lifetime. They accompany you through new jobs, moves, and maybe even relationships. Even if it comes time to downsize, they aren’t the pieces you shed. But say your space is tiny, you live in a city, and you really love organization: Enter the modular shelving unit.

Yes, high-quality shelving should be near the top of your “buy this and keep it forever” list. In fact, it can be considered the very best investment piece for small spaces or renters—it holds up in the face of heavy, you can always break down and reassemble it in a new home (even in a new configuration), and while it’s there to be a keeper-of-things, it looks like a design object itself. Plus, while you can certainly justify splurging on a modular shelving unit for all the reasons above, you don't have to—scroll down to read about our favorite picks at a variety of price points.

The Classics

606 Universal Shelving System, by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe SHOP NOW

Photo: Courtesy of Vitsoe

If there is an iconic midcentury shelving system, this is it. The 606 system is endlessly customizable, from one ledge to a whole library of mixed drawers, tables, and shelves—and its genius is its no-tools-necessary assembly once the the tracks are up.

Haller System, by Fritz Haller and Paul Schaerer for USM SHOP NOW

A USM Haller storage unit in light gray, mid gray, and anthracite.

Photo: Bruno Augsburger for USM

Building out a USM Haller shelving system is like playing with large, colorful blocks that have configurable panels, drawers, and doors and can stand in for walls (like in this couple’s studio apartment), turn a table into a desk, or just sit pretty as a bedside table.

835 Infinitio, by Franco Albini for Cassina SHOP NOW

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While it was designed in the late '50s, the Infinito was only put into production in 2008. A modular bookcase that has vertical supports, storage with different types of doors, and shelves, the Infinito utilizes wood as its main material, giving it a sleek yet cozy vibe.

String System, by Nisse Strinning SHOP NOW

Photo: Marcus Lawett for String

This iconic design, a mix of dainty metal side panels and light shelves, sprung from the mind of Nils Strinning in 1949. Be prepared to spend hours building and subtracting from the String shelving system using their online planning tool (just scroll down to find it), but beware: If you want to make it a reality, it can get expensive quick.

The Cost-Effective Without (Design) Compromise

Modern Shelving (formerly ISS Designs) SHOP NOW

Photo: Max Burkhalter for Modern Shelving

An excellent choice for someone with discerning taste who doesn’t want to blow the amount of money it would take to build out one of the classic designs. Modern Shelving (formerly ISS Designs) has five different series to choose from, from wall-mounted shelving to room dividers and pole-mounted aluminum.

Parallel Shelving, by Terence Woodgate for SCP SHOP NOW

Parallel shelving by Terence Woodgate for SCP.

Photo: Courtesy of SCP

A component shelving system design by Terence Woodgate for the UK’s SCP, this system is made of pressed steel that’s powder-coated in one of a few neutral colors. The shelving is available in two sizes, which can be fitted together in different configurations. It’s made up of the upright sides that are screwed into a wall and then the shelves that slide through each opening without the need for additional screws or tools.


Photo: Courtesy of Rakks Blog

You might recognize this brand from university hall or library shelving, or even offices you’ve worked in. The no-nonsense shelving has so many ways to go when designing your system, it’s a little dizzying. Thankfully, they have an online-shopping assistant to help you navigate the process.

Elfa, by The Container Store SHOP NOW

Photo: Courtesy of The Container Store

The Elfa system is often associated with building out closet space, but it can be used to create cost-effective modular shelving in whatever room you’d like. While the finishes that the shelving comes in are pretty basic, it’s easy to go see the systems in person (and pick up different components if you want to change things up).

The Beginner Affordables

SUS Shelves, by Muji SHOP NOW

Photo: Akiko Arai

Modular shelving from the Japanese minimalist brand is as a simple as you’d expect. They go with everything (so feel free to mix them with some higher-end stuff), are available in wood, steel, or stainless steel, and come in varying heights and widths. Easy to put up, easy to break down, easy on the eyes.


Photo: Andrea Papini for IKEA

You didn’t think you could finish out this article without a mention of IKEA, did you? Both the SVALNÄS and ALGOT shelving systems will set you back less than $300. The ALGOT system can be used in bathrooms or other damp indoor areas, while the SVALNÄS system comes in over 16 different combinations. Paint the wood if you want to customize!

Modular Shelves, by Kernel SHOP NOW

Photo: Courtesy of Kernel

Hundreds of configurations can come of the Kernal Modern system, which has shelving and desks that you can attach to the hang tracks. The desks are particularly pretty, with a walnut armrest contrasting with the bright white powder-coated steel.