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Modular furniture has been on my mind for years. Having covered the home and design industry for the better part of a decade, all while moving several times around New York City—with a three-year detour to my home state of Indiana—I’ve gotten to know the classics and the newbies, the budget and the pricey. I’ve assembled sectionals by myself, anchored many a shelf, and put together so. much. IKEA.

After decamping to the East Coast in January 2020, my partner and I were set on hosting guests regularly in our prized second bedroom. Fast-forward a few months and, after coming to terms with the fact that nobody was coming to stay for a very long time, we went back to the drawing board for how to best use the space. We decided to outfit it as an office/reading room and started searching for a set of shelves to anchor everything.

What we ultimately chose is not flashy or new—and certainly not one of a kind. But that’s not the point. Here’s why, after almost a year of research and trials with other brands, we chose Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System.

Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System

I’ve seen the circa-1960 Dieter Rams–designed Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System in all sorts of homes, as well as home tours across Domino—a Craig Ellwood gem in Hollywood, a multihyphenate guest room in London, an exuberant Brooklyn brownstone—and it’s a classic for a reason. The customizable unit can be as simple or complex as you like, pieced together based on budget, storage requirements, or simply your dream layout. Shelves and cabinets, even a desk, are simply hung from incredibly light aluminum E-Tracks (available in various heights, from 4 1/2 to 89 3/4 inches) and locked into place with notched pins. There are two bay widths, 26 1/4 inches and 35 7/8 inches, that you can mix and match to suit whatever area you need to cover. The shelves are metal, while the cabinet surfaces are covered in easy-to-maintain lacquered MDF. Everything comes in three colors (off-white, black, and silver) with the option to add beech veneer.

You can fill an entire wall and shift items around at your leisure or create a room-divider bookshelf that’s held up by alternate X-Posts, mechanisms that press against the ceiling and floor (you can even attach an E-Track to an X-Post for a semi–wall mounted option). I’ve seen the Vitsoe system used compactly as an entryway console and sprawlingly to cover most surfaces in an apartment. It can fit as seamlessly into a classic parlor room with ornate molding as a minimalist loft; you could outfit a pantry or a walk-in closet with it. These numerous setups could be intimidating—but that’s why Vitsoe’s free planning service is so helpful. And since the products are made to order in central England, free U.S. delivery doesn’t hurt either. Pricing, as you might expect, varies widely. For example, if you chose two 4 1/2-inch E-Tracks and a single shelf, you may find your receipt around $200. From there, adding on E-Track height and more components punts the price up.

The Decision

In 2021, our two main objectives were to fit in a desk and find a more aesthetic home for a keyboard—plus shelves had to be able to withstand the weight and force that comes with playing one, a requirement for my partner, a jazz pianist. There were also books, magazines, and decor to stash. With slope-y floors in a charming but old building, it became clear that we needed something on the wall. We had good experiences with more affordable Muji SUS shelves and Modern Shelving units, but we knew we wanted to invest in a well-designed, secure system that was versatile enough to use in other configurations should things change.

Diving in on the online purchase of a large furniture piece requires a small suspension of disbelief. After an initial inquiry via the Vitsoe website, we were assigned a designer who worked through our ideas with us over the course of a couple months (and later helped us figure out the correct hardware needed for our wall type). We tweaked shelf depths, desk options, and material, and our designer was ever-patient with our many random questions. We settled on a white color scheme so it would blend in with our walls, and the 15-piece set (which included all the necessary hardware) came out to just a hair over $2,500. Our designer then coordinated the delivery and gave us a timeline: six weeks.

The Installation

Our order, once placed and dispatched, took five weeks to arrive (ahead of schedule!) with clear and prompt communication from the shipping partner. While there were several boxes delivered, it was mostly packaged in cardboard and cloth; easy to recycle. Everything we needed for installation, save for a drill, was included (even two surprisingly chic levels I will never let go of).

I cannot reiterate this enough: If you plan to install the system yourself, which is entirely possible, take a beat and read all the instructions. Then read them again. They are clear but incredibly detailed—and necessary to follow exactly to successfully install the unit on your first try. The process outlined is pretty straightforward, but there are different methods and tools for solid (brick, concrete) walls, drywall, or laith and plaster walls.

We would have been able to install the unit in one day if not for one minor inconvenience: We were under the impression that our drywall was consistent across the entire wall. What we didn’t realize was that there were portions of masonry mixed in (bless you, old funky apartment building). This required a change of drill bit, which thankfully the Manhattan Vitsoe store stocked. If you are 100 percent sure of your wall material, this shouldn’t be a problem. If not, you run the risk of hitting the same roadblock we did. Fortunately, the company seemed versed in handling the issue and we felt taken care of in the process.

Once the E-Tracks were up on the wall, the rest of the process was, to put it plainly, fun. We knew where the desk and keyboard shelf would go, but played around with the rest of the layout and moved shelves again after living with them for a while. Today my partner takes all his work calls from the desk, and I shuffle and style items when I’m feeling inspired. Magazines are filed, books are transferred to our coffee table, and ceramics and cameras take up residence in the nooks and crannies. The whole thing is an instant mood booster, and practical at that.

The Final Word

Almost two years later, going all in on Vitsoe shelving proved to us that making a commitment, even as renters, improved our day-to-day quality of life. And something like modular storage, especially a timeless system, can grow (and go!) with you in a way many other items can’t.

Case in point: While we plan to stay put for a while, we’re already talking about breaking down the keyboard and installing more shelves and a periodical rack, and maybe even adding more units in other rooms. Vitsoe’s flexibility and simplicity keeps it from ever bordering on a one-and-done installation. How’s that for a lifelong investment?