past & present

Past & Present: Uten.Silo & DIY Wall Organizer

by Amy Azzarito

This month, we’ve been all about organizing, and we’re practicing what we preach here at the Design*Sponge office in Greenpoint. This week, we’ve embarked on “The Great Office Clean of 2013.” We’ve barely been in this space a year, but craft supplies are like Tribbles, and they have a way of multiplying when you’re not looking. We’re currently at that stage where you spread out everything you own, and it looks like someone ransacked your space.  So I’m averting my eyes from the mess and taking a break from IKEA trips and organizing to look a bit closer at one of my favorite organizers — the Uten.Silo by Dorothee Becker. This item has a semi-permanent position on my design wish list (due to the difference between its price tag and my home decor budget!). If you’re in the same boat, we made a simple DIY version. — Amy Azzarito

Image above: Si Mazouz was given an Uten.Silo organizer as a birthday gift. She uses it in her office to help keep her desktop clear. See Si’s North Carolina home tour here.

Our DIY wall organizer pays homage to Dorothee Becker’s original inspiration and can be completed in just a few hours. (We’ve also experimented with creating a cardboard version and if you’re looking for more organization ideas, here’s our DIY: Best of Organization)

See more Uten.Silo history and the DIY project after the jump . . .

Image above: Diva of Linea Carta uses an Uten.Silo to keep her art supplies organized. See Diva’s Berkeley bungalow here.

When the Uten.Silo was introduced in 1969, it became an immediate bestseller. Made of the favorite material of the time, molded plastic, it was sold in bright, shiny colors and offered a playful way to display home necessities or favorite items in its 32 pockets. Dorothee Becker initially had the idea to create a wooden toy with geometrically shaped notches, but when her own children were uninterested in the toy, she scrapped the idea. The final Uten.Silo was inspired by her own childhood and the time she spent in her father’s drugstore and photo shop in Aschaffenburg, Germany. Dorothee remembered her sense of wonder at the countless drawers filled with fascinating things waiting to be discovered. There was also a toiletry bag made of waxed cotton cloth filled with pockets. Dorothee used that idea for the Uten.Silo.

Image above: Sara Hicks Malone is a self-described “organization freak.” She found her Uten.Silo on sale at a high-end furniture showroom. (See her Nashville, Tennessee, home here.)

Uten.Silo was initially called “Wall-All” and was put into production by Becker’s husband, Ingo Maurer, who had a design company. Maurer so believed in the Uten.Silo that he invested $200,000 of the company’s money to get the production off the ground. The majority of the investment went toward producing a metal injection mold that weighed over three tons. It was a huge amount of money for a small company, and initially, the investment paid off, until plastics fell out of favor as a result of the oil crisis in the early ’70s. The Uten.Silo was discontinued until 2002, when the Vitra Design Museum reissued both the original 1969 version and a smaller one dating from 1970. (Fun D*S connection: Grace was working for Vitra’s PR firm when the Uten.Silo was reissued!)

Image above: A red Uten.Silo was Diane Stafford’s 40th birthday present to herself. (See Diane’s South London home here.)

For such an iconic object, I found very little written about the Uten.Silo or Dorothee Becker. It was a little surprising to learn that the Uten.Silo hasn’t made its way into the collection at the Museum of Modern Art or other design museums. The best source I found was the amazing Phaidon Design Classics, Volume 3. (Seriously, one of my favorite resources.)

Our DIY wall organizer took a page from Dorothee Becker’s original inspiration: the fabric toiletry bag in her father’s drugstore. We used simple canvas and colored felt to create pockets for some of our many craft supplies.

photos by Max Tielman




1. Cut the canvas (ours is 34″ x 23″), leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance on the sides.

2. Hem the canvas (or use a fabric glue) to create a finished edge and attach the grommets (using the kit) at the top.

3. Gather all the supplies you’d like to store in the wall organizer. The benefit of DIY is that you can make the pockets to size.

4. Cut your pockets, lay them out on the canvas and pin them in place.

5. Attach the felt pockets to the canvas using a simple whipstitch. If the pocket is intended for a heavier object, you’ll need the stitches to be a little closer together, and you may want to partially stitch the top of the pocket. (This step should be completed while watching a full season of a mindless comedy. Your choice. Mine was Happy Endings.)

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