"Cube Shelves?" Why We Like Clean Lines and Rich Materials

Possibly, you have seen our product and are thinking: an open wooden box?  It’s pretty simple, right?

Yes and no.  The design is simple, and it is simple on purpose (read more about our origin story here).  The construction, less so. We'll explain.

Like many people these days, we are fans of minimalism and Scandinavian design (side note: these descriptions are often thought of as synonmous, but as Danielle Fox explains here, that’s not quite the case).  The basic tenants of these movements are that design should be unostentatious and functional.  It should avoid “preciousness” and focus on being useful in everyday life.  So instead of detailed ornamentation, minimalist designs are spare.  They feature clean lines and boil concepts down to the essential. The materials themselves become the focus.  

Scandinavian designers, beginning in the 1930s, adopted these ideas of modesty, simplicity, and functionalism and ran with them.  Partly this reflected the resources available; places like Finland did not have a lot of manufacturing infrastructure.  Partly it reflected individualism and egalitarianism: everyone should have things that worked.  But Scandinavian designers added their own flourishes, putting an emphasis on light colors and organic materials.

Leanne Ford - Pittsburgh Interior Designer well known for her projects and use of the Scandanavian aesthetic.

Leanne Ford - Pittsburgh Interior Designer well known for her projects and use of the Scandanavian aesthetic.

Lucy Penfield and team out of Minneapolis with a flair for modern minimalist design

Lucy Penfield and team out of Minneapolis with a flair for modern minimalist design

On a recent trip to Finland, my wife and I found out why. Winters are long, cold, and dark. You spend a lot of time indoors.  You want a space that will not drive you crazy.

Reducing visual clutter reduces cognitive strain and helps your brain feel relaxed. So Scandinavian design limits knick-knacks and hides household items in drawers and cabinets. Light colors and organic materials brighten interiors and evoke warmth. So wood and fabric are everywhere.  

We can tell you that it works. Modest apartments feel spacious and bright even in the middle of a Helsinki January. Cabins north of the arctic circle feel open, warm, and inviting, even when there is only three hours of daylight.

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Simple Finnish kitchen and dining area

Simple Finnish kitchen and dining area

Of course, not all Scandinavian style home goods are the same. Maybe taking after the Finns is genetic (Deep Cut head maker Rob is half Finnish), but we prefer home goods and furniture to be sturdy, well-constructed, and made from quality material.  To put our cube shelf together, we use a miter-fold joint. This is not an easy process. It requires close measurement, precision, and finesse to get a clean tight fit. It takes time and patience, but the result is a joint that is incredibly strong requiring no hardware with a very pleasing look. It also allows for uninterrupted grain flow of the wood around the top of the box, over the corners, and down the sides - like a waterfall. This lets the natural beauty of the wood take center stage without distraction.

Continuous grain flow of walnut Deep Cut cube shelves

Continuous grain flow of walnut Deep Cut cube shelves

So why cube shelves? Because they are elegant, useful, and easy on the eyes and mind. Record collections are awesome, but they can sprawl into clutter quickly. But when placed in a fitting “home” that looks good, is made well, and simply but effectively does its job, they can make the space feel significantly better. The Scandinavians had it right: use materials that stand on their own. Employ simple functional designs. Make things that are durable and long-lasting.

So, yes, cube shelves. Complex construction. Simple expression. And that’s the point.

How do you use these principles in your home? Leave in comments below.

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