Modern Shelf

Shelves are practical, simple, yet still versatile pieces of furniture. Almost everyone has a shelving unit at home. The shelving unit we present in Design Display goes beyond the ordinary: it is the Modern shelf by Rafael Horzon, a Berlin-based designer and master of the art of living.

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So what’s so special about it? At first glance, not much. Aesthetically and technically, the shelf is so simple it’s hardly noticeable—like a child’s drawing of a shelf. It’s white, angular, and made of laminated MDF. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of Billy, the basic, simple, and classic Ikea shelf. One could, in other words, say that the Modern is not particularly special at all, which is exactly what makes it so special. It is, as Horzon himself puts it, the “ideal type” of a shelf.

Modern’s distinctiveness reveals itself with a little background knowledge. There is a complex history behind the shelf.

Modern’s distinctiveness reveals itself with a little background knowledge. There’s a complex history behind the shelf involving a person who designs whatever happens to come into his head. Horzon created the shelf because he couldn’t find one he liked on the market. Since 1999, his company Moebel Horzon—created specifically for the Modern—has been manufacturing the shelf and selling it out of a retail store where no other products are sold. As a designer, Horzon has also developed other products, always establishing a dedicated company and developing distribution channels for each new product. The range includes kitchen sinks, wall decorations, ventilation units, and more. But Horzon’s design drive is not limited to objects. As part of the Redesign Deutschland project, he simplified the German language and founded a partner separation agency, a gallery, and the Wissenschaftsakademie (Academy of Sciences) Berlin, all of which he runs with both great seriousness and great humor.

What remains important in all this activity is that he’s not a global player, but one firmly rooted in Berlin. Horzon’s success is based on his social relations. He and his stories are part of his products. He has even written a book about his career to date. And recorded a song about his shelf with Peaches under the pseudonym Ludwig Amadeus Horzon. The title refers to “Me, Myself and I” by the hip-hop group De La Soul, which Horzon appropriately translated into “Me, My Shelf and I.” Rafael Horzon is a designer who designs not just furniture and other objects, but also himself and his world—along with the products to match, from everyday items to self-narrations.

Friedrich von Borries, born in 1974, is an architect. He teaches Design Theory at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg and runs the Projektbüro Friedrich von Borries in Berlin. The relationship between design and social development lies at the heart of his work, which exists in the border zone between urban planning, architecture, design, and art. “As scholars, we try to understand the world. As designers, we try to change it.”