On the hunt for vintage treasures: String Shelf System by Nils Strinning

Designed in Sweden in 1949
Find them vintage or still buy them new today $$

string shelf photoBrainstorming storage ideas for my home office studio remodel, I have become mildly obsessed with midcentury wall storage systems. So, I was immediately entranced when I saw this photo, above, uploaded by Jan in our new gallery of photos of 300 reader living rooms.
string shelf systemShe called it a “String Shelf”. I went to investigate and sure enough, String Shelves are a Big Thing.  The String System was created by Swedish architect Nils Strinning in 1949. He had created the Elfa wire storage system three years earlier, and built upon that idea to design bookcases for a design competition. He won, the system was put into production, and it’s still available today. Moreover, I think these are a great item to watch for, vintage, where you might find a fabulous deal now that you know what to watch for.

string shelf systemIn this short biography about Nils Strinning on the String Furniture website, Kerstin Wickman, professor of Design and Handcraft History, the University College of Arts, Crafts & Design, Stockholm, explains the importance of this system in midcentury modern and Swedish Modern design history:

Certain things become so strongly associated with an era that they become timeless. this is certainly true of nils strinning’s shelf system, string®, which was designed in 1949. it may seem strange that something as simple and humble as this little dainty light shelf with its thin side panels has become one of the twentieth century’s foremost design icons. the reasons are several; the thin packaging is simple and cheap to transport, the shelf is easy to assemble, the shelves can be quickly repositioned, shelves of various depths can be combined and books are held in place by the side panels, it is stable and can be extended in all directions. whether the wall surface is large or small string® is functional. it’s the side panel which gives string® its character. elegant and clean-limbed are the coloured threads, a slender ”ladder” ascending the wall, ingenious, variable, flexible… it’s not strange that post-war europeans, who were thirsting for freedom, adored string®. particularly the young, those who had begun to be called teenagers.

string shelf systemYes, the String shelf system is still available today, made in Sweden by String Furniture. The company website, with lots more info, photos and details on all the designs is here.

In addition to the classic String System, they also seem to have innovated with other designs playing on the same concept. Above: String Plex (for plexiglass sides). Pretty!

And, there is String Cell, above, with its little bead-like things on wire. All the rooms shots here (except for Jan’s at the top) are from the String System / String Furniture website. Yummy!

Where to buy String Systems: You cannot buy direct from String Furniture — you must find a local or online retailer. I did some basic poking around the www, and in the U.S. it seemed like Finnish Design Shop was a good place to start.

string shelf pinkBe forewarned, the pieces are not cheap. The cute, basic little string shelf (shown in pink, above), starts at $149. The small, sliding door cabinet is like $500. Use your search terms — shop around.

Look for vintage String Shelf Systems

This seems to be a great item to hunt for, vintage. I could only find one unit for sale on etsy.com: String System currently on etsy.com, $1,495 — thanks, Vicky, for the tip. I could not find any on ebay. But, I bet there were lots purchased back in the day — and that you can find them at thrift stores, vintage shops and estate sales now that you know what to look for. String System Shelves — very collectible. Don’t you want one now?

Thank you, Jan, for turning me on to them!


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  1. steve66 says

    I really like the look of that! The white and plexiglass would go really well with classic Kartel storage units. It’s strange that it’s not sold by the Container Store, since they sell Elfa.

  2. says

    Very cool! I could see it being especially useful in a kids room, where it could change as their interests change. I love the little cabinets.

  3. says

    I’ve seen these on the blogs I follow of a few ladies from Scandinavia! I’d always wondered what they were and assumed it was another awesome Europe thing. Wonderful to finally know, although I won’t be able to buy any anytime soon!!

  4. Jay says

    Thanks Pam for another Design101 class. I would think that IKEA has their own version of this at a cheaper price.

  5. Chad says

    So airy looking! And really exciting that they fit flush with the wall, even in a house with big baseboards. These are officially in my imaginary living room.

  6. Marion says

    Ikea’s Enetri system is about as close as I’ve seen to this.

    I think it’s been discontinued, I’m not sure what (if anything) replaced it – but it pops up in Google searches, so I imagine you can find it from ebay, craigslist, etc

  7. Paula Webb says

    I have been obsessed with similar systems since last summer and lucked into one for $400 off craigs list in January. They are out there if you keep your eyes open.

  8. Marion says

    you can purchase the sides and shelves separately, so the shelf can be whatever you want….

  9. says

    Hi Pam-
    I don’t have the String system, but the similar, all wood version of the Cado system…interesting that such similar ideas all were designed at around the same time .
    I ended up getting mine from CraigsList, but it did take months and months to find it.
    The reaseon…well my wonderful mid century split level has some floors that are, well, wobbly if you walk to hard…especially the dining room. My vintage blonde china cabinet was great, except that every time somebody walked by it, it would sway and things would clank and clunk inside ( it made me afraid for my grandmothers china!)
    So a teak Cado system, that attached to the wall ( they have floor standing ones as well) Solved the problem. Too bad the wobbly floor itself is not so easy to fix!
    This type of system is so flexable ( actually have Elfa in my daughters room and our study) and can work just about anywhere you want to put it!

  10. says

    I’ve been thinking of installing double-track shelving ever since I saw some nice configurations in the decorating books I have from the 60s. They are not as attractive as these string shelves, but you can configure them any way you want (staggered or parallel), they carry a lot of weight, and they are inexpensive! You can attach them to a large piece of wood, stained or painted in a different color than your walls for contrast. Anyways, I like Rubbermaid’s offerings on track shelving.

    • pam kueber says

      I’ve been thinking about this, doing some online research as well. Seems like super-cheap componentry — the coated wire part — is about the same quality as super-expensive componentry. Maybe spray paint and real wood shelving would make the difference. This is ripe for experimentation.

      • Jean Gough says

        In the house that I grew up in, (a lovely ranch that unfortunately my parents upgraded!) we had a shelving unit that my Dad built in. It consisted of walnut shelving supported by a double track support system with large L brackets holding the shelves. I wish I had a picture, but they were really nice and a simple shelving solution.

  11. Carrie says

    Ladderax is another one to look for, tho they are also quite pricy. There are some great pieces on eBay right now!

  12. says

    I JUST found these shelving systems at an estate sale, for practically nothing. They weren’t going to sell them because they didn’t want to deal with removing them from the walls in the garage. After finding a screwdriving and volunteering to do the removal they came home with me!

  13. Chris says

    Hi there, we have recently inherited a shelving unit which was manufactured by WHB in Germany circa 1965 which is similar. We were wondering if anyone knows if spare parts or fixings are obtainable for t. It’s a big ask considering it’s over 50 years old, but someone may know something and we would love to use it in our home. Thanks in advance

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