When we lose loved ones, we can sometimes find ourselves reflecting on their lives through the artifacts that they’ve left behind—perhaps in the jewelry that they wore, the china that they kept pristine, or the books that they loved. It’s this connection to symbolic objects that inspired designer William Warren to create Shelves of Life—a wooden bookshelf that can be used both in life and in death. According to the British designer, the bookshelves “were part of a series of designs that looked at ways we can promote sentimentality in objects.”
Warren’s designs look beyond the physicality of the furniture and into what emotional connections these household fixtures create within us. When you take this coffin to the grave, you’re not only taking the piece of furniture you lovingly rearranged every few months, but you’re taking with you the thoughts from the books placed on its shelves and the love of the people who were featured in the picture frames that lined the bookcase. “The wood will color, the surfaces will mark and stain, and over the years…the furniture will become a part of you,” the artist
While this particular design series is a few years old, the way it straddles life and death has continued capturing people’s attention. As for more recent projects, Warren has designed all the furniture for the new children’s hospital in Edinburgh. “That was another project where the feel and meaning of furniture played an enhanced role. Catering for the emotional needs of sick kids is a sharp example of when design can reach further than cosmetic style or unfeeling practicality.”
The designer runs a furniture and product design consultancy in London, but also finds the time to lecture to a variety of universities around the area. You can visit his company’s
William Warren’s Shelves of Life follow you from life into death as they transform from bookshelves into coffins.
If you’re not quite sure how this transformation works, you can check out these helpful guides below.
My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by William Warren.