For Form and Function: Make It Modular
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For Form and Function: Make It Modular

The beauty of modular shelving is in its flexibility.

Thu, Sep 16, 2021 2:11pmGrey Clock 3 min

Modular shelving is like a life-sized open-work puzzle that can be configured and re-configured depending on the space.

Whether stacked on top of each other, side by side or used as separate pieces in a room, the beauty of a modular unit is in its flexibility.

“Modular shelving adds the ability to style a room with chic accessories and storied mementos,” says Hillary Kaplan, principal designer and owner of Mimi & Hill design in Westfield, New Jersey. “It is also an easy and accessible way to add more storage to any room.”

With a wide variety of styles and materials available in the marketplace, there is an option to suit every sensibility. Here, tips from the design pros to expand your display horizons.

Materials Make a Difference

“Pieces picked up on travels, personal photos and family treasures find the perfect home on these kinds of shelves. As big fans of symmetry, we tend to use a lot of étagère-style shelves and pieces that can combine and expand to fit spaces with a semi-custom feel. This way, they feel more deliberate and integrate seamlessly with the larger design scheme. Wood is always durable and excellent for multi-use, but we love Lucite shelves that float or white shelves that let the pieces take centre stage.

“Often, the awkward space between a pair of windows is the perfect space for a shelving unit. It feels deliberate and adds a focal point to the room, anchoring a seating area while displaying your most personal objects and family photographs.

“Every room is unique, and it is essential to measure the space to ensure that you are not purchasing something that will feel too small or overwhelm the area. Another reason why we love the transparency of Lucite shelving is that they disappear just a bit. But be mindful of the shelf depth. If you have lots of books, board games or photo albums you want to ensure you select the correct size to account for the depth of your pieces. If not, your items may hang off the edge of the shelf, which looks messy.

“Curating your unit takes some know-how. To keep the look clean and not cluttered, be very intentional and display the most sentimental, fragile or important pieces first. Once those are identified as your must-haves, start to place clean stacks of books. We like to start with the largest ones on the bottom and then stack by size. Group books together in odd numbers depending on their size and thickness. You don’t want stacks that get too tall, as it’s often nice to cap the books with an object or an accessory. And, if possible, colour coordinate them to create a visually impactful presentation that stands out.”

living room with a modular Lucite unit filled with curio
Designed by Hillary Kaplan of Mimi & Hill, a living room feels more interesting with a modular Lucite unit filled with curio.
Toni Deis Creative 

— Hillary Kaplan, principal designer and owner of Mimi & Hill design in Westfield, New Jersey

Create a Custom-Crafted Look 

“One of the reasons I love using modular shelving is for its flexibility. There are so many options for both open shelving as well as closed storage units. This type of shelving can also be hung on the wall to free up floor space below.

“In my office, I used a longer-sized unit along the length of the wall and then, where the shelf overlapped a desk, I used a shorter unit to give it a custom built-in feel. Leaving some bigger spaces in on some rows of shelving allows you to situate larger items, such as artwork or lamps, to make it look more styled. Some modular shelving units even let you add a small desk as part of the shelves.

“In a bedroom, you can have the shelves encase the bed to create a sort of alcove with built-in nightstands on either side. The options are endless.”

wood, modular unit
A wood, modular unit, lends a curated look to an office designed by Jessica Davis.
Emily Followill

— Jessica Davis of Atelier Davis, a design studio based in New York and Atlanta


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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