Knape & Vogt modular shelving: The first patent ever for a metal modular system, 1934

knape and vogt modular shelvingknape and vogt historical photosTalk about how a little bit of knowledge can turn your perspective around 180 degrees: I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and no question, the modular Knape & Vogt shelving like that shown above  was ubiquitious during the period… It was very affordable, and as with wood paneling, it went up in all in … like … every teenager’s bedroom, including mine… Yes, it was so ubiquitous that for the past several decades, I haven’t given it any thought at all, and if I did see it in passing, I would not have given it much respect… BUT NOW, as part of my continuing research into midcentury modular shelving systems, I have learned that Knape & Vogt is the original — it was the first such system to be patented, in 1934. That little bit of information made me snap to.  Knape and Vogt = Cool. Yes: Knape and Vogt modular shelving — with its steel ‘standards’ and brackets — still available for sale today, made in the U.S.A. — is worthy of our respect and consideration for our midcentury houses.

kv shelvingKnape & Vogt standards and shelving are extremely adaptable. Let me count the ways:

  • You can order the “standards” (the tall strips of powder-coated steel — with slots strategical designed to hold shelf brackets, movable all along the standard) in a wide variety of lengths…
  • The standards and brackets come in 6 weight-ratings, depending on your needs — light-, medium-, heavy- and three more super-heavy-duty ratings — The heavy duty standards+brackets are even strong enough to hold a desk top…
  • You can adjust your shelf locations, depths and materials (white? glass? metal? wood? yes) over and over again…
  • There is a decent array of colors, including white, almond, brown, black, and metal finishes.
  • Another advantage: Unlike those tricky, metric European systems that aren’t designed to hit our studs, Knape & Vogt’s standards and brackets are about as easy to install as it gets — you screw the standards into your studs and you are ready to rock and roll.
  • Finally: The KV standards and brackets are not terribly expensive — for example, 10 regular-duty standards are just under $80… the brackets aren’t too expensive either.

You know what? I am really needing to get some sort of modular system for a narrow wall in my husband’s office — to hold the small flat screen TV, some TV component thingie, a lamp, and maybe some tchotchkes. I just don’t have the time to wait out a vintage Cado or whatever that’s likely “almost” what I needs (and then fork over hundreds of dollars and then wrangle the metric). Instead, I think I am going to use KV standards and brackets, probably in brown — and use super nice wood for the shelving. It will kind of look like the unit above (the photo with the chair and the dog). Hey, I might even be able to hack a shallow cabinet onto the standards. We’ll see…

knape and vogt modular shelvingI do wish the Knape & Vogt website were more modern and retail-customer-friendly. But, their site does get the job done in terms of delivering info on all the different products available. You can order right there, or cross-shop at other online retailers, if you want to see if you can get an even better deal. Either way, KV is a classic choice, with a pedigree. I am now an official fan.

historical photos provided to Retro Renovation by Knape & Vogthistorical photos provided to Retro Renovation by Knape & Vogt

Links:

And note: I now have an entire Category going: Storage & Shelving. You can check out my growing list of research into midcentury modern wall unit systems there.

 

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Comments

  1. JKM says

    We had this type of shelving! Heck, everybody did! In the late 1960’s, it covered one wall of our “spare” bedroom, which was used as a study and where we did our homework. Screwed through the sheetrock and into the studs, it would hold up the world – and it did – including our World Book Encyclopedias and all sorts of heavy books. I had them in my bedroom, too. So versatile.

    We have Elfa shelving in our kids’ rooms now, which is easy to install, but I don’t like the horizontal hanging bar along the top. The design of this type of shelving is much cleaner.

  2. Jeanne says

    Woot! I’ve always been a fan of K&V and I, too, had them in my bedroom and our living room when I was growing up. I can’t tell you how many times I bumped into the angled “magazine” shelf that stuck out into the entrance to our living room. My mom thought those shelves were up-to-date and stylish. I can still picture almost every knick-knack on those shelves.

    When I updated (or backdated I should say) my dining room last year, instead of looking for a modular unit – I went with K&V brown standards, brown brackets and walnut shelves. Their website was difficult to navigate and I called the company wondering if I could just drive to Grand Rapids (MI) and pick up what I needed. They don’t have a show room, so I had to order online and I believe it came from “homehardwareoutlet” shipped from another state. The prices were great, though. You have to order in quantity (like a box of standards or box of five shelves).

  3. Just another Pam says

    My shelving uses the same standards but they are (mostly after so many decades) covered in teak veneer and the shelves are different in design. As I recall the backs of some of the bigger pieces are stamped Denmark but I’ve never been able to find anything exactly the same on the internet or elsewhere.

    I don’t have a wall long enough to have them all together so three units fill a wall in the dining room and one unit fills a nook in the living room. A dear friend scored them at an auction for me and I love them as much or more today then the first time I saw them. A big statement for someone with a hopelessly fickle heart when it comes to furnishings.

  4. Chris says

    Our house was built in 1934! Obviously, there were many different styles floating around then, but it has been very interesting to me to see the evolution of style in decorative arts between the 30s and the 60s. In preparation for our various projects, I went on a little e-bay binge and bought a bunch of catalogs and magazines from the year of our house. The home product advertising catalogs were a real eye-opener for me. Of course, those catalogs were pushing the latest and best high-style stuff — but I was shocked to see how much of the design was less “cute grandma” and more of what I thought of as sixties style. Just fascinating!

  5. Chad says

    I have an old advertisement for a modular shelf system that hides the standards in the grooves of plywood paneling!

  6. Dan says

    I would love to see some of their earliest advertising, to see how they matched their products to the design ideas of the time.

    • pam kueber says

      Dan, When I talked to KV for this story, I asked if they had old advertising, alas, too many office moves or people or something, they couldn’t find us any! They did provide the vintage photos of manufacturing, though!

  7. Barb says

    K & V also have some nice screw-into-the-wall type shelf brackets. I used Oak Park style in my office. Nothing like being able to clear floor space but still have books in a small (about 8×10 +- a few inches) space.

  8. says

    I am so glad that you are now a fan of this type of shelving! This is what I meant when I commented about track shelving on a previous post. I had no idea about Knape and Vogt, however. As always, your research is the best!

    I plan to install this in my office. I plan to configure the shelves so that I can put my flat screen monitor on a low shelf and scoot my laptop underneath. Now I know where to purchase the shelves, thanks to you!

  9. says

    I bought some shelves from The Shelf Shop in Manhattan probably 20 years ago. Sadly, they closed in 2010 due to economic downturn, but their website sent me to shelfshopguy.com and look what retro-cuteness they offer under “Specials.” I love the Rakks Spring Tension Poles because I can install them myself.

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks for the tip, Erica dahling! Shhh! Rakks are on my list to write about! Meanwhile I will go look at shelfshopguy for sure!

  10. jay says

    I used white KV standards and shelving in my furnace room for bulk storage – laundry and cleaning stuff. Very clean looking! KV shelving is a staple of any well stocked hardware store in my neck of the woods. I probably spent a few hundred dollars for the heavy duty standards, brackets and long shelves. I think it beats the Closetmaid wire shelving for ease of installation and good looks.

  11. wendy says

    my mom has an interesting set of standards for the shelves she put in our family room in 1978. At the point that most standards end, about 18″ off the floor, they angle off the wall and down to meet the floor. She said she got that style so they’d look more built-in. I’ve been trying to find an image/website the last couple of days to show you, but have been unsucessful.

    I hadn’t thought about them in years, but this post got me thinking I’m gonna have to get those whenever she decides to sell the house!

  12. says

    I love hearing about ‘golden oldies’ (companies I mean) that are still going strong. So many of the good old companies have gone bust now. Either that, or completely changed their product range and shelved the old ones, pardon the pun…

  13. Christine W says

    Just ordered some- wish me luck! Had to order from 3 different online sources to get all the pieces. I wish their website was more user-friendly and designed with consumers in mind.

    • Christine W says

      Not having a lot of luck with these. The brackets won’t stay in the standards. Wondering if the brackets got bent in shipping. Has anyone else had a similar problem?

      • pam kueber says

        I have tons of these, and they all work, so I don’t know what to say. I do knock ’em in with a rubber mallet, just to ensure they’re in. They sit tight.

        I guess I would contact the company if you are having issues….

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