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Artfully floating in space

For those who favor simple lines, are there bookshelves that aren't clunky? A Newport Beach couple found an elegant solution: hidden cleats.

September 18, 2003|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

Urban planner Randy Jackson and his wife, Linda, an abstract painter, don't like disorder. Their Newport Beach home is uncluttered, minimal.

A few months after moving in last year, though, their need for more shelving almost sidelined their streamlined style. They had objets d'art they wanted to display in a front entry room, and it seemed the only solution was to put up clunky standard bookshelves.

The Jacksons shook their heads. They didn't want "a piece of furniture squirted out of a box," says Linda Jackson. "Art is a big part of our lives, and we needed something functional but with a strong design element."

The couple imagined a series of shelves that stretched almost to the corners of the 9-foot-long wall. They wanted the planks to be so light and linear that they looked as if they were floating. That meant there could be only horizontal lines; no vertical legs or triangular rod brackets. Yet the free-standing shelves needed to be sturdy enough to hold thousands of pounds of books, sculptures, glass bowls and frames.

In an Italian magazine they saw a photograph of a bookshelf that hung on a wall without noticeable support. They showed it to Michelle Johnson, whose company, Silho Furniture in Los Angeles, designs and makes custom furniture.

Johnson figured out the mystery: cleats.

Each shelf has a thin strip of wood along its length. The strip, or cleat, is beveled to create a 45-degree wedge that angles down. That wedge fits into its mate, another wedged strip that is bolted to the wall studs and angled up. Once the two strips are joined, the thickness of the shelf hides the cleats, making it appear as if the shelf is levitating.

"They fit like a glove and seem seamless," says Johnson, who oversaw the daylong installation. "And because of the cleats, the shelves are flush to the wall for a clean look."

A cleat also is practical. The more weight put on the shelf, the more it drives into the bottom cleat, making it stronger, Johnson says. Each interlocking shelf can hold 400 pounds. "They're completely stationary and great during earthquakes," she says.

Johnson measured the items to determine the space between the shelves and then drew a sketch that was made into a model.

Once the design was approved, carpenter Omar Martinez of South Gate made the shelves out of solid walnut and finished them to match the floor.

So much for functional. But the Jacksons also wanted something visually arresting.

For added interest, the shelves have graduated depths. The top two jut 7 inches from the wall, the next one extends 9 inches, then one at 12 inches and the bottom three at 16 inches. The step approach makes the shelves' profile -- which faces the entryway -- elegant and dramatic. "It's unusual and captures everyone's attention," Jackson says.

Capping the ends are upright pieces with exposed dovetail joints and mitered corners. Screws are concealed. Everyone's happy.

"We just couldn't settle for boring boards across the wall," Jackson says.

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