A family framework

Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System by designer Dieter Rams
Photography by Anton Rodriguez

At the bay window of Guy and Katherine’s north London home, Bailey the border terrier stands guard and barks excitedly as the doorbell rings. The entrance hall to their home for 15 years bears all the hallmarks of a busy family life: coats and school bags hang in abundance, football boots are poised for action, and dog leads sway from the bottom of the banister as Bailey rushes around.

The traditional Victorian layout of the ground floor has been updated for a more modern lifestyle, with the front and back rooms combined to form open-plan space. Guy and Katherine knew their Vitsœ shelving would respect the original details of the house and raise the storage above the skirting boards to keep the feeling of space in their home.

Their shelving systems are loaded with books, photographs, sports day medals, postcards and family mementoes. Guy bought most of the shelving in 1998 to help organise his vast music collection and stereo equipment – now his original system has adapted to become a constantly evolving display of their family life.

Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System by designer Dieter Rams

Guy explained, “when Katherine and I moved in together in the late 90s, our first flat was part of a converted factory building overlooking Clissold Park in Stoke Newington, London. It used to be crammed full of CDs, oversized design-books and records. Vitsœ was used by most of the design companies I’d worked in. I saw it as join-the-dots furniture – a kind of language between people working in the creative industries, I suppose. I knew when I bought it that I’d eventually end up moving, and our 606 could move with us – which, of course, it did.”

The couple were precious about their furniture before the arrival of their two children. During the early days of parenthood, the inevitable scuffs and scratches drove them to distraction. They soon grew tired of pulling Iris’s rocking chair clear of the cabinets, or asking Hector to stop kicking his football against the drawer fronts. They considered asking Vitsœ to replace the marked panels, but decided that restoring the furniture would erase the memories. Katherine explained their decision, would have been like removing a part of their family history. “We realised there’s no such thing as a perfect lifestyle – because real life interrupts it.”

Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System by designer Dieter Rams

The idea of buying furniture for life is something Katherine feels strongly about, “well, it’s what our grandparents did, isn’t it? They bought things when they got married that lasted them forever. We’ve had the same bed and sofa for decades, granted, they were expensive at the time, but it was worth doing. With Vitsœ, people have asked us about the cost, but I’ve never felt embarrassed. The way I see it: buy cheap, buy twice.”

With two serious football fans in the house (Guy and Hector), they had to find a way to hide the unsightly TV paraphernalia. Guy uses an open-backed 606 cabinet, “I love the fact that we’ve been able to hide the Sky box and Playstation, because of course, we’d have loved nothing better than to have a house that always looks neat and tidy, with only ‘carefully curated objects’ on the shelves. But the older we get, the more impossible it becomes – we’ve given up! Our drawers are full of pens, crayons, bike lights and crap. We’re not precious about how we use Vitsœ anymore. Even crammed full of all our bits and bobs, it still manages to somehow make the space look bigger.”

Their eleven-year-old daughter Iris has already formed her own opinions on Dieter Rams’s designs, and proudly explained, “I’ve told them that I want Vitsœ when I’m older – I asked if I can have theirs when they’re dead! We’re always being told at school about being ecological, so surely that counts? And Bailey loves that they’re off the floor – it’s the perfect little spot for a dog to sleep under.”

After living with the systems at home for nearly twenty years, the decision to install Vitsœ at their design company Studio Small was a no-brainer. “To be honest, nowadays we couldn’t imagine how we ever coped without it! We have a wall-mounted system for books, a compressed system that acts as a partition wall for the meeting room and a display area for showing our work to clients. The Vitsœ planners even opened our minds to the idea of using magnets to display working documents and print proofs.”

Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System by designer Dieter Rams

Having the foresight to invest in Vitsœ, Guy explains, “You never get bored of the shelving system because it just works. Even when the house feels like chaos, it somehow always manages to look so organised and ordered. What started as our ‘party hub’ has become a document of our lives.”