Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bookcase Blogging: ISS Designs

My wife and I have a decent size library; not huge, but big enough that it requires a little planning to find a place for it. We'd been housing it in cheap Ikea bookcases which, while definitely functional, weren't really all that aesthetically pleasing. So we decided to ditch the bookcases when we moved to our new digs in Tacoma and get something a little nicer.

Oh... the horror... the horror...

Does nobody read anymore? We went to far too many furniture stores in our search for bookcases which were both interesting to look at and could hold a lot of books. There was nothing... absolutely nothing... to be had. When the store had bookshelves at all they were either ugly as sin, too small to be useful or, as was often the case, both. We'd ask a clerk what they had in the way of bookshelves and they'd show us a faux Colonial/Victorian/Country French monstrosity that looked like it was designed to showcase someone's collection of Precious Moments figurines. Bleh, and double bleh.

Eventually we gave up on traditional furniture altogether and started going to design stores, hoping that we'd be rescued by the reasonably-priced genius of a Johnson or Svenson. Europe had the goods alright; the look of the P&P 900 system availabe from ligne roset was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, what was also stunning was the price. The unit we saw in-store, which wouldn't even have been big enough to hold all of our books, cost $12,000 or so. Where I come from we call that a "non-starter".

After the design stores failed to pan out we even went so far as to look into getting some bookcases custom built. It turns out that there are actually a fair number of places that do that sort of thing. Unfortunately they all seem to be carpentry shops without a whole lot of imagination. They generally seem to turn out a quality product, but its not terribly exciting to look at. And expensive... not as bad as the P&P 900 in terms of price, but expensive enough that the proposition of custom bookcases began to seem doubtful.

Finally, after much sturm und drang, we found ISS Designs. Hallelujah! Here was a company that made a modular, extensible shelving system that was well-suited to holding books and looked interesting to boot. Even better, they were based in California, so there'd be no need to translate our emails into Italian. We decided to give them a try and see what happened.

I have to say that I'm immensely pleased with the entire process of working with ISS Designs. We sketched out what we wanted on paper and submitted a scan of the sketch via email to their sales department. Not long after that I began an email exchange with John Clark, the sales manager for ISS. After several iterations they came up with a design which met our needs and vision; they even custom cut some shelves to our measure. Once installed the system looked, as promised, quite slick and provided us with ample storage space.

The only challenge was the installation; its definitely not for the faint of heart. I'm fairly accomplished as far as do-it-yourself projects are concerned; I've hung cabinets, installed and rewired chandeliers, etc. I didn't find the installation all that difficult in terms of the skills and equipment required, but it took a lot of patience. Because the system is based on free-standing compression poles and infinitely adjustable shelving brackets (which are, by the way, super clever/cool) you spend a lot of time with your carpenter's level making sure that things are aligned correctly. In addition to the level I recommend a good drill (or electric screwdriver) for driving the 1-gazillion tiny screws that fasten the shelves to the brackets. You'll probably also need drill bits and anchors for the (optional, but highly recommended IMHO) attachment of the poles to the ceiling.

So I definitely recommend the ISS product line for anyone who's looking for a stylish and not-too-terribly-expensive way of storing their library.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the very beginning ISS Designs couldn't seem to get it right for us. We were very careful to design our wall system based on items ISS Designs already had in their online gallery. We submitted a detailed drawing with colors, sizes, and quantities of items clearly defined. The first parts that arrived were the poles that hold up the system. They sent silver poles instead of the black poles we had specified. We picked the black poles based on their online gallery. They said a customer had customized those poles and that for "additional money" they could have the poles powder coated for us. We decided to work with the silver poles to avoid delays. Also some screws were missing. After some phone calls customer service said they would send the missing parts before the the cabinets and shelves arrived (they sent us the wrong screws but we couldn't tell until we tried to build the system). When the cabinets and shelves did arrive nearly everything was damaged from poor packaging and we rejected the shipment. They said they were sorry and would expedite the next order. When a new system arrived a few weeks later it was packed very well, but I noticed that the orange door faces were darker than we had specified and they had a different orange (the approved color) on the sides. Also, the shipment was missing some critical hardware that delayed assembly of the system. ISS Designs made new doors with the approved colors, and sent us the missing hardware so we could finish the assembly. This is when we found that the drawer face for the center of the floating desk didn't fit. I called 3 times and sent customer service 7 emails and was finally able to get this resolved. I was a bit frustrated with all the issues we encountered throughout the process that I asked for a price discount to compensate for the 3 months of hassles. They offered me some bookends. I emailed and asked to speak with customer service again. They have never returned my calls. I asked to have a talk with the CEO of ISS Designs about my issues. They refused to give me the CEO's name and said he was out of town. My only options are to report them to the better business bureau and post reviews on Yelp! so others won't have to endure the same outcome. It's sad because they looked so promising in their ads. Photos can be found on Flickr:

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous,
It sounds like they did a pretty good job of satifying a difficult customer. Looks like ISS did deliver what you ordered and when you asked for some money back and they refused, you decided to go on the net and slam good people. They do good work and take care of their customers. How about posting some photos of the completed system? It might reverse some of this bad karma on your part. It is a small world.

2:08 AM  
Blogger Walt said...

Anyone know where ISS manufactures their stuff? My wife and I are interested in using their standards/brackets, but I am not interested in buying anything not made in the US. Just curious if the info is out there - I haven't been able to find an answer so far.


3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the following link on the web site regarding the materials used:
It sounds like the company is based out of California. I understand that they manufacture their products in the USA.

By the way, most products found in any major retailer are manufactured from sources throughout the globe. IE. Apple computer, etc.

I care more about the company behind the products sold. My experience has been only positive with the products and support provided by ISS!

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just had the worst day of my life trying to install my ISS cabinet/shelving system. I'm seriously regretting ordering from them, and after reading reviews around the web I don't feel confident that they'll address the problems to my satisfaction. Specifically, my order arrived with missing hardware, missing major cabinet components (e.g., cabinet sides, drawers), and 31" shelves for 24" bays. It's a large installation, and I'll try again tomorrow to install around the missing components, but as of this moment I'm majorly pissed and drinking heavily. Oh, and for the record, one of the cardboard separators in one of the boxes was covered with lovely handwritten Chinese script, like a to-do list or something, so I'm thinking they've got some 2nd-rate Chinese factory crankin' this stuff out.

12:46 AM  

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