Amsterdam based Strackk sells neat looking, thin, aluminium shelves that are mounted without visible brackets (floating shelves). In this blog post I review the shelf with integrated lighting underneath.

TLDR;

We are pleased with the product, but the user experience would benefit from some improvements.

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Disclaimer

We purchased this shelf with our own money, on our own initiative. We bought a Strackk shelf with integrated LED lighting for our new kitchen. We originally picked a wooden shelf with integrated lighting when we bought the kitchen two-years ago, but that manufacturer went bankrupt during the COVID crisis of 2020-2022. We found the Strackk shelves after an online search, but couldn’t find any user experiences. We are sharing our experiences to help you make an informed decision.

The shelf

We found a good replacement in the Strackk alternative, which in the end probably looks better too, with a more sleek design that fits the aesthetic of our kitchen better. We paid 750 EUR and had a lead time of roughly a month.

We got a 160 cm wide shelf, that is 29.5 cm deep and has LED lights integrated in bottom side of the shelf. The cover of the LED strip sits flush with the bottom side of the shelf and integrates nicely. The shelf that we got has a nice, black, matt finish. It came scratch free and clean from the box. We found one small, sharp flake in the top side coating of the shelf that had to be filed down ever so slightly.

It now serves as a book shelf in the kitchen for our collection of culinary books and as a working light above the sink / cutting area of the kitchen.

The good: the aesthetic

The shelf looks very neat. It is thin, non obtrusive and looks luxorious with the integrated lighting. We have had many visiting friends and family comment positively on the shelf in our kitchen. It is available in many colors and in various textures, so that you can find a suitable option to fit other design elements in the environment where the shelf will be placed.

The integrated lighting (under-the-shelf version) gives a nice, warm, evenly spread pattern. It is not terribly bright, but also illuminating the wall gives a nice working light at full power to complement other light sources in the room. When dialed back, it gives a nice background light.

We also appreciate the customization options that Strackk offers. Due to the unfortunate placement of pipes and tubes in the wall that perfectly aligned with the standard hole spacing that Strackk uses (20 cm pitch). This meant we either had to move the shelf out of alignment with the rest of the kitchen, or we had to get additional holes. Strackk offered – free of charge – to decrease the pitch to 10 cm, so that we could use adjacent holes if one of the standard holes ended up above a pipe or a tube (a true custom hole pattern came at additional charge).

Strackk has a studio in Amsterdam that is shared with other small companies. Here you can see the various options for yourself and judge the light quality, which is always difficult to do based on a photo.

The shelf comes with a remote control, a controller for dimming the light and a transformer. This works well. The remote is intended for multiple channels, but you only use one channel. Because we wanted to control the light intensity with a wall-mounted dimmer knob anyway, we replaced the transformer with a Tronix 215-404 dimmable LED transformer and replaced the controller with remote control by a trailing edge LED dimmer by Ecobright.

Lamp powered through the new LED transformer and the wall-mounted dimmer.

The bad: the ruler

As Joep Melis of Strackk told me on the phone, the packaging is part of the design concept. The shelf comes in a cardboard box with an integrated ruler. The cardboard ruler easily detaches from the rest of the box, and has pre-punched holes that serve as a drill guide. The required bolts and wall plugs/anchors are included in the box. The ruler also has a rectangular cutout, more or less centered on the ruler, in which a small included spirit level can be clamped. This is everything you require and it is nice of them to include this. It makes for a complete package.

However, I have some issues with this ruler. Firstly, we got the shelf customized so that the number of holes was doubled and the pitch between the holes was halved. These additional holes were not matched on the ruler. This is not a big issue, but if it is part of the system, I’d expect this to be part of the customization. Secondly, the manual says that 8 mm and 10 mm diameter holes need to be drilled for 22 cm and 29.5 cm deep shelves, respectively. The pre-cut holes on the ruler are only 8 mm in diameter, where a 10 mm was required. Thirdly, the hole required for guiding the wiring through the wall is offset with respect to the hole pattern of the mounts. This hole was not indicated on the ruler. And lastly, cardboard makes for a poor ruler and spirit level after it has been handled a few times. When cardboard is bent or damaged in any way, it looses its integrity and buckles and bends easily. When we were drilling the holes, it constantly bended forward away from the wall, or drooped down slightly to bring the pattern out of alignment. This makes it hard to get a truly level result, especially as the included spirit level is of questionable accuracy when it is clamped into the cutout. If you want a truly level result, use a good spirit level to establish a reference line on the wall. Then use the included cardboard ruler to transfer the hole pattern onto the wall.

As mentioned, the wiring is offset with respect to hole pattern for the bolts and the wires are fairly close to the bottom side of the shelf. This makes it difficult to embed a tube in the wall with an exit hole that is fully covered by the shelf, and can still provide an easy entrance for the wires. We used a 16 mm PVC pipe with a custom, 3d printed 90-degree bend to make this possible, but we still had difficulties to make this work neatly and now have to close a small gap in the plaster that shows underneath the shelf.

The included cable (intended for use between the controller and the lamp itself) is wired to a four-terminal connector with standardized plugs. For usability it would be better to simply use a single-terminal connector.

I opened up the connector to see how this was wired, to avoid connecting the wrong connector before hiding it behind the kitchen cupboards. The manually does not indicate if there only one or all of them are connected.

The ugly: the instruction manual and labelling

I have some issues with the instruction manual. Right of the bat there is the advertised permissible load of 250 kg/m, which is very high for any shelf system for domestic use. In the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on the website, some disclaimers are available (13 june 2022) on the permissible load, but these are not mentioned in the user manual. From a user perspective, this should be in the manual. And from a liability perspective, it is advisable to put this in the user manual. The operation manual is included with the product, the frequently asked questions section is not. For the reader’s reference, the disclaimers listed on the website currently are:

  • The permissible load of 250 kg/m is only valid for brick walls (‘stenen’ in original dutch text, on the phone Joep Melis mentioned that it should be concrete, not brick).
  • The permissible load is reduced to 100 kg/m for gipsum walls.
  • The permissible load for the shelf is reduced to 80 kg/m on a brick wall, and 60 kg/m on a gipsum wall. On the phone, Strackk mentioned that this lower limit only applies when the lighting for the behind-the-shelf-lighting and not for the underneath-the-shelf lighting system.
  • The permissible point load is only 20 kg/m (unclear if this is true for all wall types).
  • On 1.25 cm thick MDF or gipsum walls, loads up to 80 kg/m are permissible. This load is reduced to 60 kg/m for shelves with the under-the-shelf-lighting (?) 5

As you can see, this 250 kg/m load is only achieved with the Strackk system without any form of integrated lighting and it takes a significant hit under very common deviations from the basic form. For example, in the Netherlands load bearing walls are made of reinforced concrete, whereas most internal walls are made of gipsum blocks. Moving the shelf to the opposite side of the chamber reduces the maximum load to less than half! The claims are also not backed with any publicly available test results or proof. If you claim to have the highest permissible load in the market, you better have the proof to back it up!

However, how important is the permissible load to begin with in a domestic setting? A load of 250 kg/m is rarely necessary in domestic use. Even a fully packed book shelf of the densest and largest commercial sized sheets ‘only’ requires 140 kg/m, where as 40 kg/m is more typical. I think that most customers buy this shelf for its aesthetic and not for the load bearing capabilities. It is nice to know, though, that the load capacity is still as high or better than a much thicker alternative, so that you don’t have to worry about more sagging or failure under realistic loads.

My second issue is with the labeling. In violation of EU regulations, this shelf is not CE marked and I think it has to be. With the integrated lighting, the shelf qualifies – in my professional opinion – as a lamp and therefore falls under the Low Voltage Directive. By integrating the lights in the product, the shelf became a lamp too, and has to meet the same regulations as any other lamp. The included transformer and power supply are CE marked, but that does not exempt the assembly from testing or CE marking of the total package. For example, the manufacturer has to show that the included transformer is safe for domestic use, that switchmode power supply of the shelf/lamp meets EMC requirements, and that the shelf can dissipate any generated heat without any risk of fire. More importantly, the lamp has to be shown to be safe to touch, given that it is electrically powered and electrically conductive. In short, CE + CE does not make CE. The assembly of the shelf, the integrated lighting and the attached transformer and controller needs to be tested for safety and compliance to existing regulations. In addition to this, the electrical specifications for the electrical inputs and outputs are not listed in the manual. Nor are the clearance requirements for the transformer and controller. These requirements should be part of the instruction manual of the assembly (the shelf with integrated lights).

The manual is also missing any guidelines for the disposal of the product as required under the WEEE or for repair and maintenance. Although LED lighting typically has fairly long mean times to failure (MTTF) of 50 000 hours or so, it will eventually give out and either needs to be repaired or disposed off.

Suggested improvements

Based on our experiences as end-users and based on my professional opinions, I recommend the following improvements to the Strackk shelf:

  • CE marking is mandatory and should be added
  • Update the instruction manual
  • Improve the ruler design. I think the stiffness of the ruler can be significantly improved by rotating the cardboard wave pattern 90 degrees without changing the entire concept.
  • Bring the wiring in line with the hole pattern for the mounting holes, so that the required hole in the wall is easily covered by the shelf. Alternatively, a small recess in the back of the shelf can be added so that the cable be guided to be in line with the hole pattern.
  • Replace the included transformer by a dimmable transformer. It barely affects the cost-price of the product, but allows owners to install a wall-dimmer out of the box.
  • Replace the four-terminal connector by a one-terminal connector for usability sake.

Conclusions

Don’t let the amount of text in the “the bad” and “the ugly” sections fool you. We are very pleased with the product that we got and that now features prominently on our kitchen wall. I recommend the Strackk shelves if you are looking for a good looking shelf with integrated light, even though the product and user experience would benefit from the improvements discussed in this article. I hope Strackk will address the safety and CE concerns, but we are otherwise very happy.

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