Henry Julier on his development of Reference Bookends for Areaware.
The origin of Reference dates back to the Fall if 2016 when I was asked to participate in a group show of bookends in Los Angeles. Not having a bookend in my portfolio, I got to work.
After conducting some research on existing designs past and present, I found that you can divide most bookends into two categories: ornamental and purely functional. Ornamental bookends are essentially sculptures – whether it’s a block of marble or a dachshund split in half – that happens to have a flat side for supporting a book. Most importantly, they are meant to be seen.
Purely functional bookends are found in libraries, archives, and institutions where space is at a premium, and where aesthetic concerns take a back seat to low cost and functionality. These bookends are often made of thin sheet steel, and depending on who you ask, are either charmingly generic or totally ugly.
At home, I have several basic sheet steel bookends that do a fine job supporting smaller books. However, when it comes to heavier art books (and my ever-expanding collection of vinyl) these bookends start to flex under load. I also found them difficult to adjust, since they are held in place by the weight of the books themselves.
For Reference, I decided to focus on a purely functional approach, with a focus on improving the design for larger books. I had two major goals: create something heavy and stiff with as little material as possible, and create something that could be moved around easily.
The resulting design is made from a thicker gauge of steel which adds more weight, which, combined with larger overall size creates a large supportive surface area for heavy books to lean on. A long base flange ensures stability, and a rubber pad underneath prevents skidding. The round top flange acts as a handle and visual counterpoint to the base. Special attention was paid to the size and shape of the handle and base - making sure they were the right size for their respective functions, but not too long. The round shape of the flanges comes from the desire to eliminate unnecessary material while creating a shape that's friendly to human hands.
As a result, Reference can be thought of as the “industrial strength” steel bookend for those who want something purposeful, minimal in appearance, and functional from day-to-day.