How To Get More Out Of Your Walls: Rolling Bookshelves, Shoji Screens, and Glazed Partitions


At its most basic, a wall is a vertical plane that divides one space from another.  In typical construction, it is a sandwich of drywall and 2x4s running from floor to the ceiling and punctuated by the occasional door set in a frame.  That’s one way to do it, sure, but why limit ourselves to that most basic form.  A wall can be temporary or permanent, translucent or solid, fixed or operable; it can conceal storage or reveal spaces beyond.  Consider this:

Free Standing Rolling Bookshelf Walls

Sometimes, all you need is a little sense of separation between one space and another, some of the time.  Moss HQ is a perfect example of this condition.  Our office area is a space for focus on work (and a bit messy) and it needs to be both free from distractions and a little divided (but not cut off) from the rest of the space.

moss hq walls

We can choose to reconfigure the whole space for special occasions.  Every year, we roll up our overhead door and turn the walls into a gallery space for the Ravenswood Art Walk.  Computers are tucked away, tables re-arranged, and our bookshelf walls serve to open up, rather than enclose the space.

For all those purposes, the rolling bookshelf walls we use at moss are a perfect solution.  The contain the office area but don’t block it in.  The 9′ height creates a sense of lowered ceiling, without actually cutting us off from the high windows and fans in our two-story space.  They store books and reference materials and, when we want to throw a party, roll right out of the way!

Track-Sliding Bookshelf Wall

At the Vic Loft, we had a slightly different situation.  An open loft in which the bedroom was simply an alcove off the main living space suited the owners most of the time … but they occasionally wanted a little more separation.  They didn’t want to wall off their sleeping area all the time – they just wanted to be able to close it off for company.  They also needed some more storage – both for the bedroom and for the living space.

vic loft bookshelves

Our solution: this quartet of track-sliding bookshelves which face into and out of the bedroom.  When fully spread across the space, they entirely close off the bedroom space, when separated to the two sides, they create a generous proscenium arch effect, framing the bed and sharing light between bedroom and living area.  The roll smoothly on tracks in the floor and ceiling.

Translucent Screen Walls: Shoji

In some cases a wall doesn’t need to do anything but visually screen one side from the other.  This is often appropriate for a guest room often left unused, or to conceal storage areas from main living areas.  The term Shoji refers to any room divider constructed of a light wood frame and translucent paper in-fill.  They were intended to help make living spaces more flexible – creating larger open spaces or smaller private ones.

erie loft shoji screen bedroom

Moss has employed variations on the Shoji theme in several projects.  Above it is shown screening a bedroom from the glass-floored hallway at the Erie Street Loft.  We also used them to good effect at Melrose house as a simple – but beautiful – replacement for closet doors.

Operable Window Walls at West Loop Loft

Another common condition is a space that needs private areas (bedrooms, offices, etc) to be completely separated – with sound privacy and a closing door, but still share some other feature of the space such as air or natural light.  At the West Loop Loft, we renovated an open loft into a slightly more divided unit with separate bedrooms.

west loop loft interior window wall

Since the existing building had limited natural light, and we didn’t want to lose any of it when we added partitions to the space, we opted to close off the bedrooms with operable window walls, screened with privacy curtains.

DSC04390 corrected

Sometimes the spaces could be opened to each other, sharing fresh air and natural light, at other times they would be complete distinct rooms.  The result is a flexible division of space that can accommodate many uses and situations.

Variations on the plain old “wall” are just one of the ways we like to think outside the box at Moss.  In our own space and those we design, we always try to do more than simply compartmentalize different spaces with walls of sheetrock.  To keep reading about the importance of natural light in our spaces, check out Windows: the Light of Interiors and the Soul of Buildings.