It could be argued that poet and critic Hanif Abdurraqib owns too many sneakers. Since moving back to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio in 2017, he has amassed a collection of 94 pairs, including a release from the Nike x Stranger Things Collection, and the Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1s. Abdurraqib, whose recent work includes The New York Times best-selling essay collection Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, is not holding onto these for their resale value or even thinking about the money he could make selling them on various exchanges. The man just really loves sneakers.
And, necessity being the mother of invention, he has rigged up one of the most elegant (and affordable) storage and display systems that we've ever seen (we first spied it in the background of an Instagram shot taken in his Columbus loft). His emotional commitment and meticulous craftsmanship will come as no surprise to anyone who's read his new poetry collection Fortune for Your Disaster.
Abdurraqib has been interested in sneakers since high school. But he wasn't really able to start collecting his favorites until he got older. "When I was growing up, we were pretty poor and couldn't afford any," he recalled. "So when I started to have income, I wanted to spend it on something I did not [previously] have access to. I wanted to rebuild the fantasy of my youth."
As the fantasy got bigger and the sneakers started filling up the guest room of his first apartment in Columbus, Abdurraqib had to figure out how it would be organized. His first attempt involved a closed off armoire, which accommodated all his shoes but quickly started to smell, even when filled with air fresheners. His next attempt involved a bookshelf from Target, which ended up being too narrow for his size 12 shoes. The toes poked out over the edge.
Then came the IKEA hack. While moseying through the endless maze of staged Scandinavian rooms with his friend Stephanie, the pair stumbled upon the iconic LACK shelves. The unit features a slightly unconventional design, basically one tall plank with seven shelves screwed to its front. It has no side walls. The effect, when installed in the conventional manner, is that of expertly mounted floating shelves.
"What would happen if we just stuck these on top of each other horizontally?" he thought. So the pair brought a few units back to the loft and got to work. They painstakingly assembled each shelf, screwing in each bolt with an Allen wrench until their hands were covered in blisters. And then they laid each on their side and started stacking them.
"It was painful and horrible," Abdurraqib reflected. "But we realized that when we stacked them on top of each other, it not only created a place for the shoes to fit comfortably, but it allowed for expansion. That was the vision of my friend Stephanie, who was like, Well, you're not going to stop buying shoes so, you can't have a bookshelf with a finite number of spaces. We needed something that trended towards infinite."
Of course, in any finite space, there is a limit to infinity. Hanif has already filled the majority of one long wall in his apartment with the shelves, and if he stacks them any higher, he'll have to rearrange his art. And besides, though Abdurraqib is confident that the shelving he has is stable ("once they're balanced on top of each other and leaned against the wall, they're kind of anchored into place by each other") adding any more might make the shelves unstable. After all, they're just kind of stacked on top of each other. "It creates a very fragile ecosystem," he said.
There's something about that ecosystem though that's so much more striking and elegant than the various hack solutions you see on sneaker forums and Reddit threads. That's intentional. When thinking about his ideal storage solution for the sneakers, Abdurraqib's mind, as it often does, drifted to the romantic.
"I'm always encouraging sneakerheads to find a system of storing your shoes that works for them, but also considers the fact that they might not always live alone. In the ways that people should open themselves up for love, whatever that looks like, you should open yourself up to to the idea that your space won't forever just be your space. Find a sneaker solution that speaks to that, that does the work of making room not just for more sneakers, but for the potential of another person."
Originally Appeared on GQ