A degree of stability
Mike and Jeanette are a couple whose lives are anchored by their books.

Mike and Jeanette’s living room
London, 2018. Photography by Mike

With only two weeks to go until their transatlantic move, Mike and Jeanette’s London living room was surprisingly serene. Fresh tea was poured into cups placed neatly on coasters, whilst candles flickered, and the couple’s cats snoozed quietly on a nearby sofa. The Marylebone mansion flat they’d called home for the previous few years was soon to be vacated, but with the absence of cardboard boxes or any of the chaos associated with house moving, it felt hard to believe they would be relocating to New York in a matter of days. For Mike and Jeanette, it’s a familiar procedure. The overwhelming sense of calm stems from knowing what to expect, because this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve transported themselves and their beloved book collection across the Atlantic Ocean (and back again).

Mike and Jeanette’s cat
The cat snoozes quietly. London, 2018

Humans generally crave a degree of stability, familiarity and routine, which is why the upheaval of packing the contents of a busy household fills most people with dread. Jeanette, in particular, seemed very relaxed about the challenges ahead and explained that “moving around feels pretty normal to me. I emigrated to the USA from China when I was only six, which was such a huge change; it felt like a really big transition at such a young age and a very formative experience for me.”

Jeanette’s childhood was a time of frequent change, but amid the disruption she was able to find comfort in reading. Bashfully, she grinned and remembered, “Mum would take me to the local library every day, which was how my love of books began. Those trips gave me a sense of belonging to something, and I get a similar sense of familiarity with our Vitsœ shelving. We never have to worry about whether it’s going to fit, or if it’s going to work. No matter where we are, it always feels like home with all our books on there, even though the configuration might be completely different.”

Mike’s formative years were spent in the same place until his late teens. He laughed and said “My upbringing couldn’t be more different. I grew up in the same family house and stayed there until I left for university. My mom, particularly, is a creature of habit and I think I took a lot of my character from her. I rarely lose anything, and even if I suspect I might have misplaced something, it suddenly feels like the world is crumbling around me. I’m so neurotic that I’ll drive myself to near insanity trying to find it, which is a blessing and a curse.”

Differences in personality make relationships more interesting, and we’re often attracted to a partner with traits we don’t recognise in ourselves. Living together harmoniously requires compromise and Mike and Jeanette confessed to having a few heated debates over the years about how they’ve designed their home. One had been eager to set up a workstation in the living room, while the other made it clear the space should only be used for dining and relaxing. Aside from the squabbles, there is one thing they have always agreed on, which was making sure they had easy access to their ever-expanding, substantial book collection – which takes pride of place, regardless of where they are living.

Mike and Jeanette’s living room
New York, 2015

Mike took a quick glance around the room and explained how, “We keep everything else in our lives quite minimal, and the only thing we really allow ourselves to indulge in is our book collection. We’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of art institutions, book donors and foundations whilst travelling around Europe – I find it inspiring that people would amass a certain collection of things and then pass them on for other people to enjoy.” Jeanette laughed and said, “Remember we can’t take them with us when we die!”, to which Mike replied, jokingly, “You can bury me with the books! But really, on a serious note, we’d like to donate them somewhere, to a library or an institution.”

Whilst neither seemed concerned with the transient nature of their lifestyle, Mike described what helps them anchor themselves in a new environment and said, “I think with life being as crazy as it is – busy, hectic, sorrowful and scary sometimes, it’s nice to have the intuitive, efficient nature of something like the Vitsœ systems. The one thing I find very beautiful about the shelving is the consistency it provides. We’re able to install it ourselves and feel confident knowing that it acts exactly the same wherever we live. We know we can rely on it because it works, no matter where we decide to move to (unless of course, we suddenly decide to forget living in the city and decamp to a mud hut!). But really, it’s as simple as knowing that a book won’t slip off the edge because of the lip, or the ease of swapping out a shelf or two to accommodate a new need, or even the fact that the drawers don’t slam shut when you close them. It always works the way you expect it to. It’s one less thing to worry about.”

606 Universal Shelving System
“It always feels like home with all our books.”

Jeanette nodded in agreement and talked about how the Vitsœ planners “Treat you exactly the same if you’re buying one shelf or filling an entire apartment with 606 – and that speaks volumes about the company. Over the years we’ve come to make friends with the people at Vitsœ and feel like we’re part of a community of like-minded people; we know that whether we’re in London or New York, we can go to them for advice about how to re-install our system. The planners are always happy to work through as many iterations as it takes because they really do care about people enjoying their living spaces. It feels like It’s a company that encourages thoughtfulness.” In the meantime, their careers in the global design world mean there will inevitably be much more travel to come, and both are clear amid the demands of the ‘settling in phase’ they always want to create a home that feels warm, welcoming and considered.