A shelf and a balancing act

The understated design of the Levier shelving system was created to not draw attention from its contents, but at the same time be approachable to the user. This balancing act between restraint and generosity is emblematic of its makers, design studio Cate&Nelson.

Cate Högdahl from Eskilstuna, Sweden, and Nelson Ruiz-Acal from Seville in Spain were in the same class at the Europeo di Design in Madrid from 2002 to 2005. But it wasn’t until the last year, when they collaborated on their graduation projects, that they became a couple. The following year they started the design office Cate&Nelson. Since then they have developed a design language of their own, a mix of their respective design influences; Scandinavian but with strong continental features in soft and appealing colors and shapes.

Mattias Stenberg, designer at Voice contacted us and asked if we would like to design for Voice”, Nelson remembers.
They had already started exploring the basic idea behind the ​​Levier shelf system, an understated design assembled without screws (except in the wall), when they were approached by Voice. Since then, they have developed and reduced the design even further.
”The concept is built on the understanding that the shelf is the most personal piece of furniture in a home – not by itself but because the things we put in it reflect our personality. Consequently, the shelf itself should be as mute as possible”, he says.
”It’s not always obvious in a restrained design like this”, Cate adds, ”but it takes a lot of work with proportions and details to get the balance just right".

Today the couple have a studio in southern London, but after graduation they first moved to Sweden. Until then they had focused on product design, but in the Swedish furniture industry they discovered a new field of work. The move to London was about expanding the design business and better communications, not least to Nelson's family in Seville. But it was also about finding a balance between Sweden and Spain. English was something they had in common from the beginning.

We keep returning to the question of balance – between work and privacy, between Swedish and Spanish, and between the Scandinavian and continental European approach to design. From an international perspective, Scandinavian design is often perceived as attractive but inaccessible, luxurious and generous in the materials but stern in the visual expression.

"We are trying to soften up the Scandinavian design language a bit, make it more accessible to an audience in other countries”, says Nelson.
In Voice, they see something they have been missing in the flora of Swedish design brands. "These are products that are very Scandinavian, very low-key and straightforward with great attention to detail, but at the same time very approachable to the consumer. It is an appealing design language that blends in well in many environments”.