Words by Hugo Ross
Mar 17, 2019
Vitsœ’s two flagship products, the 606 Universal Shelving System and 620 Chair Programme, have never been discontinued. Instead these modular furniture ranges have been improved, adapted and added to. They change to fit the changing needs of the people that own them, though their quality, elegance and design remains constant.
Both Dieter Rams, Vitsœ’s original designer, and Mark Adams, its managing director, maintain that the company’s goal is to sell products that will last multiple lifetimes.
Let’s hope the tides of inheritance wash in your favour!
In 1959, Niels Vitsœ and Otto Zapf formed a partnership with Dieter Rams called Vitsœ + Zapf, with the sole purpose of manufacturing Dieter Ram’s furniture designs. Rams, a protégé of the likes of Hans Gugelot, Fritz Eichler and Otl Aicher at the Ulm School of Design, had quickly established himself as a product designer at Braun since joining in 1955. Zapf left a decade later in 1969 and the company became, simply, Vitsœ.
By 1980 the famous 606 shelving system, an uncomplicated and lightweight track-based wall design, had more than 150 different positions and accessories available. It was by this stage a bestseller, having won numerous awards and well established as the jewel of the company’s collection.
The 620 lounge chair, illustrated, is a further testament to Rams’ innovation and modernist vision. It expresses, at the same time somehow, both comfort and restraint.
Rams wanted to design a living environment that actively encouraged freedom of expression. In order to achieve this his furniture needed to be aesthetic but unobtrusive, and completely free of anything unnecessary. As the tenth of Rams’ ten principles for good design upholds, good design is as little design as possible. The emphasis, as he saw it, had to be on utility and flexibility of function; hence the components allow for adaptation and change.
In 1995, under the guidance of Adams, Vitsœ’s entire manufacturing base was moved to the UK. In 2017 a new production space at Leamington Spa has taken shape (read more about it here: https://www.vitsoe.com/rw/voice/arrival)
Adams says he took on the challenge of producing the two systems because of his “total and utter belief in what the company stood for - its authenticity and integrity of the products and the solidarity of the ethos behind them.”
Unlike most furniture companies today, Vitsœ has a long-term customer care approach. The 606 system is less a furniture purchase and more a lifestyle choice – fulfilling its adaptable function so well and for so long. Adams and the company is committed to supporting those who make that choice. This is a valuable lesson in sustainable design that carries increasing resonance today, more than half a century after Rams first began designing his ‘less but better’ furniture.