Vitsœ: A persistent system

Regular readers might have noticed that I worked for Dieter Rams shelving makers Vitsœ for some years and have often referenced Dieter Rams in my blog posts.

Last week saw the release of a short film by Vitsœ about how the company which spans more than 50 years has today become a much loved and desired product, being something so very unsexy as a shelving system. Of course, this love rarely comes about because of the aesthetics of the product but for the geeks amongst us, those aesthetics are the sexy part.

“We’ve never sold the same system twice” says Mark Adams, managing director of Vitsœ. The product is not a packaged item, but something where the parts are configured and packaged to your individual needs before sending them off to you to arrange, and rearrange, as you need them to be.

My system is testament to this philosophy, having been through a move once and reconfigured to work within the new space… this idea means that all of my books have been accounted for, my clothes, my desk space, my cookery books and even vases will always have the same place in each home, even if the place they occupy is in a different place than the last. No longer do I need to concern myself with “is there enough storage” and I bring it with me.

Dieter-Rams-1955-sketch

This drawing below, drawn in 1955 by Dieter Rams, shows this idea in a simple way. A system that can fulfil the needs of a space without intruding and can be configured to any other space, over and again. Many have tried to copy this idea, but very few achieve the same result.

Designer: Dieter Rams
Manufacturer: Vitsœ
Year: 1960

Vitsœ 606 Universal Shelving System

I’ve been writing this blog for almost four years and realise that I have never written about my favourite piece of 20th Century design, Vitsœ’s 606 Universal Shelving System, designed by Dieter Rams in 1960.

For more than 50 years it has been Vitsœ’s goal to make long-living furniture and consistently stand up to a world that has favoured new over better. With single-minded determination Vitsœ have not only designed and made furniture that lasts for generations but have supported it with some outstanding customer service.

vitsoe-606-universal-shelving-system-living-room

Niels Vitsœ, a Dane, created the company in 1959 to realise the furniture designs of a young German designer, Dieter Rams. This partnership was to become an important part of mid-Century German life as the products produced were as innovative and forward-thinking as Rams’s electrical products for Braun.

vitsoe-606-universal-shelving-system-living-room

The shelving system is exactly that, a system. From a multiple of components, you can configure a system that does what you want it to do and fits your possessions. Having owned some shelving for some years now and moved home with them I can truly appreciate the value of the shelving. I have a few under the bed that were not needed but there for when I do and the same system has been reconfigured in to a new space with entirely different purposes. What was once kitchen shelving for spices and herbs is now a shelf for paperback books in the living room.

A product that is designed to fit in to your life, the 606 Universal Shelving System is available only in off-white or black, with one wood finish as an option… beech. This simple combination is the same that Rams had used for his electrical products which has lasted for the 50 years that he has been making products.

vitsoe-606-universal-shelving-system-living-room

Vitsœ tell this customers “paint your walls and not your shelves” when asked why they don’t do other finishes. A great proposition that is against current product design but makes much more sense than you might at first think. With these limited finishes, Vitsœ can promise to continue to supply this for a very long time, meaning that additional shelves can be added at a later date. Ignoring fashion they can maintain a product collection that will never be removed, something we are all too familiar with these days and accept when we should not be.

This product might look like a simple shelving system and not a sexy Eames chair, but I would argue that the 606 Universal Shelving System is one of the most important furniture products of the 20th Century and has never seen a competitor come close to offering a solution as brilliant as this. Dieter Rams can be very proud his design.

vitsoe-606-universal-shelving-system-living-room

This is my entry into Little Greene’s 20th Century Design competition. Find out more at: http://www.littlegreene.com/retro

winner-little-greene

Happy Birthday Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams, recognised as one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century, has blown up the balloons, baked a big cake in the shape of an eight and zero to celebrate his 80th birthday today.

VITSOE_Dieter_Rams_portrait_by_Anne_Brassier
Dieter Rams at Vitsœ by Anne Brassier

Dieter Rams is known as somewhat of a God amongst the design cognoscenti but lesser known outside of that world. Except of course by the work that he produced for Braun. In 1955 Dieter Rams began working for a little known electrical company called Braun (pronounced ‘brown’) and quickly became an influential force within the company. From 1961 Prof Rams was head of design until his retirement in 1995.

SK4 by Dieter Rams for Braun
SK4 record player by Dieter Rams for Braun. The first record player to have a plastic lid.

To mark the occasion of his 80th birthday today, Rams invited Vitsœ to release the transcript of his speech, ‘Design by Vitsœ’, which he gave in December 1976 in New York City; it provides an insight into a design ethos that was remarkably ahead of its time.

And if you still want to learn more about this iconic designer, watch this nice video with Dieter Rams in conversation with London’s Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic. I’m not bragging, but I was stood behind the camera for the entire time.

Fiell publishing… one year on

Charlotte and Peter Fiell have been making waves in the publishing industry for many years, since they were in charge of the design books for Taschen, creating some of the most memorable books of our generation.

One year ago at the London Book Fair, they shocked everyone by launching their own publishing house, Fiell.

Today, they are back at the London Book Fair showing everyone just how far they have come in the past year and that this was a move that paid off in spades. I took a little time out with Charlotte and Peter to discuss this success…

charlotte-and-peter-fiell-at-work

ATELIER TALLY: Almost one year on, has the launch been as successful as you had hoped?

Fiell: Obviously starting up in the midst of a recession isn’t easy, but actually the first year has been a pretty good one considering the tight ship we are having to run. We now have a great team in place to move forward with and we have a number of books out in the wild, which is helping us gain traction. We realise it is going to take time to build up our list and also the Fiell brand, but considering it has only been a year we think we are doing pretty well. It is just frustrating because we would love to do so much more, but we are currently constrained by having to grow organically one step at a time.

AT: How has the industry accepted your venture. Do they feel it was a bold move considering the economic climate?

F: We are basically content providers and unlike traditional publishers we don’t see ourselves tied to print, although we still believe in the printed page. We certainly have had a lot of good feedback from book distributors and booksellers who like the fact that our books are quite innovative and have more content and better images than most other illustrated books out there. We are currently developing a range of digital products alongside our print books and think that this is going to be a significant area for us because our books are so accessible yet visually and information rich.

AT: Which book has been the most successful for sales and which has been more critically acclaimed that you have produced at Fiell?

F: Our bestselling book at the moment is “Cult-ure” by Rian Hughes, which is a graphically impactful and thought-provoking exploration of media convergence in the digital age. The book that has had the most critical acclaim, however, has been “Tools for Living: A Sourcebook of Iconic Designs for the Home”, which was recently named “Best New Home Design Book” by Jay Johnson at Home Design Examiner.

AT: If there is one thing that has surprised you the most from ‘going it alone’ what would you say that was?

F: The very long hours and the incredible amount of stress. It is certainly not a 9 to 5 job, but it is also good to be doing something that we really care about and feel is making a difference.

AT: You use your blog as a way to share things you like, do you find that this is an essential tool or something you enjoy to post to occasionally?

F: Our blog is a very important way for us to convey information about our books, but also it is a means by which we can communicate about other things we find interesting, whether it is a new poster campaign or the world’s first-ever home gaming console.

Read the blog at fiellblog.com

charlotte-and-peter-fiell-at-home

AT: You talked to Wallpaper* last year about digital publishing being something that you would have to consider in the future, are plans moving along for this?

F: We are working closely with a number of major digital developers and will have some excellent digital products coming soon to a device near you.

AT: Being a very visual publisher, I imagine you choose the paper stock incredibly carefully to make the most of the images… if you publish to an iPad or Kindle, do you make any special considerations for how the images will be displayed on these and is this a worry for you?

F: Good question, we are actually working on this very issue at the moment!

AT: You describe yourself as a global publisher, have you found that sales are increasing in countries that you previously were not expecting to see, or is it a very stable market?

F: International sales are pretty much as we expected, but these can vary a lot depending on the book. We have a couple of new titles in the pipeline that could easily surprise us, especially in less well-developed markets such as Brazil and Japan.

AT: Finally, I work in the design industry and have my favourite objects, including the wonderful Vitsœ shelving which your office walls are adorned with, but I wondered after all of these books if there was one object that really stood out to you as your favourite… and of course I am sure you have different ideas, so it would be great to hear from both of you on this.

Charlotte Fiell: It has to be any chair by Pierre Paulin, because they are just so comfortable and with their sculptural forms they look great in any interior setting. [see upholstered chairs in attached photos]

Peter Fiell: The product I really enjoy using every single day is the Ciacapo teapot by Kazuhiko Tomita. As a Japanese designer working in Milan, Tomita has developed a wonderful design language that synthesizes cultural influences from both the East and the West. His teapot for example references the traditional Japanese tetsubin, but with a slight Italian quirkiness. It’s very poetic, yet very functional. I love it.

 

Reuters talked to them both upon the launch of the company. Watch the video interview…

Fiell publishing will be at the London Book Fair from 11 to 13 April 2011. Find them at stand i705.

Like Fiell on Facebook
Follow Fiell on Twitter

Britain Can Make It, can’t it?

How much do you know about British Manufacturing and export? Nor me. But it is in decline. It wasn’t always like this…

‘Britain Can Make It’ was an exhibition held in 1946 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It was organised and held under the auspices of the Council of Industrial Design (later renamed the Design Council) which had been established by central government in 1944 ‘to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry’. We still have the Design Council and I have to admit it can be hard to know what they get up to sometimes, although this is a nice reminder of their purpose back then.


Image courtesy www.vads.ahds.ac.uk

‘Britain Can Make It’ displayed the consumer goods which, the government intended, would form the basis on which the economy of post-War Britain would be renewed. Six years of war had left the country in severe debt. The government’s main concern was to ensure that income could be generated through trade, particularly with countries overseas. Hence all effort in production was aimed at the export market while the British market remained subject to a rationing even more severe than in wartime. This situation was made clear at ‘Britain Can Make It’ where all the goods on display were for purchase only by the export market and would not be available, at least in the short term, to home consumers (hence the popular nickname for the exhibition, Britain Can’t Have It).


Image courtesy www.vads.ahds.ac.uk

I wish I had seen this exhibition as it would have been ground-breaking to be seen. Instead, I had to see a later incarnation on a smaller scale, by David Nicholls for Liberty of London in an exhibition he entitled ‘Britain Can (Still) Make It‘ which showed some fantastic examples of British Manufacturing still going strong. Favourites of mine (not all shown in David’s exhibition) are Ercol, Vitsœ and Anglepoise… three really wonderful products with fantastic heritage that I could never imagine being without. In fact, my flat is adorned with all three of them but I’m not biased.

 

Still want to read more? Seriously?
Okay, there are further resources for ‘Britain Can Make It’ here:
http://vads.ahds.ac.uk/learning/designingbritain/html/bcmi_intro.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britain_Can_Make_It

“Obsolescence is a crime” Massimo Vignelli

Planned obsolescence is the design and manufacture of products that are deliberately intended to have a limited useful life. The result is that you are forced into an everlasting cycle of replacing, repurchasing and repeating.

Designer Massimo Vignelli was said “Obsolescence is a crime”. He couldn’t be more right. This is the message that Vitsœ live by and whilst I worked for them during most of my twenties this was something that I firmly believed in. My love of the slow movement grew out of this message and I began to search for a way to live better, with less, that lasts longer.

Whilst many of us look for the latest fashions for clothing and the home, Vitsœ is quietly going about its way selling the same product that it has done for over 50 years. I cannot think of any company that is doing the same thing without messing around with the product. Even my beloved Ercol are playing around with their products.

You can read a lot more of the message at vitsoe.com and treat yourself to the first purchase that will start a lifetime of love for this little furniture company.