The Return Of the Cube

You don't have to be a Washington pol to compartmentalize. Ordinary folk need to get a grip, too.

Theirs is a battle against domestic sprawl. And this season, the containment strategy of choice has shifted to the classic stacking cube.

Think of it as the cubbyholing of America. Catalogues show versatile boxes in clear birch or galvanized steel. They are proposed equally for clothes or tableware, to display towels in the bathroom or keep stacks of mail separate on a shared desk top. Fitted with casters, cubes literally are on a roll.

"The cube system is a wonderful solution where you really do need to compartmentalize, to find what you're looking for quickly," says Sharon Tindell, executive vice president for merchandising at The Container Store.

Even at the high end of designer furnishings, geometry is king. It could be a '60s thing. This spring, Christine Van Der Hurd, a custom carpet artist in New York and London, introduced brightly colored area rugs based on a motif of squares inspired by the artist Josef Albers, who painted squares in the '60s. She calls her pattern "Building Blocks." And New York designer Peter Vaughn revived a '60s design for stacking cubes made of glossy acrylic. Known as the Albrizzi Classic Stack Cubes, the $2,500 set was introduced in April at New York's Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club Decorator Show House. The Washington Design Center is about to put it to use in the fall Design House, which opens to the public in September.

"Cubes, cubes, cubes," says Vaughn. "It's a classic shape."

Cubes are enjoying a stylish resurgence at a time of clear need. Last year, Americans spent $160 million on organizing gear at The Container Store alone. The Dallas-based company has 19 stores nationwide. Williams-Sonoma of San Francisco won't reveal sales figures for its Hold Everything division, which is devoted to organizing "every room in the house." But it counts a catalogue and 32 stores in 16 states. With two Container Stores and two Hold Everything locations in the metro area, they add up to a powerful support group for families with too much stuff.

"The whole concept of storage is about saving time," Tindell reminds. "Most consumers don't feel like they have enough quality time to spend with their family."

They shouldn't waste an extra minute wondering how to put things away.

Surveying Container Store's fall lineup, Tindell says she expects the stackable birch components to appeal to suburbanites. A three-cube birch tower on casters sells for $282. For urban dwellers, the company is trying out a grittier, Italian-made set of platinum-look cubes, at $40 each. The fall catalogue markets them as "heavy metal." Add a beech desk top to turn four cubes into a desk.

Hold Everything's agathis wood collection uses modules based on the cube to create wall units, towers or end tables. A stackable cube with drawers that open front and back sells for $89.

Vaughn appreciates the essential versatility of the cube. His hand-polished versions come in four staggered sizes to create a towering etagere or to be reduced to a single all-encompassing box. "I use them as end tables," he says. "I usually pull them apart."