60s 620 is 60
Celebrating six decades of a chair engineered to outlive its owner
Words & Photography: Vitsœ
A 30-year-old Dieter Rams designed the 620 Chair Programme in 1962, just two years after his 606 Universal Shelving System made its debut. Using a combination of traditional upholstery techniques and (what were then) pioneering materials, Rams created a chair without compromise, engineered to outlive its owner.
From the outset, Rams wanted to achieve the comfort of a fully-upholstered chair with a visually lightweight frame. He talked about how Niels Vitsœ’s experience in the bed industry helped inform the design and resulted in the use of coil springs in the construction to achieve a high level of comfort.
As Mark Adams, Vitsœ’s managing director, explains: ”I’ll always remember Niels Vitsœ saying to me, ‘Mark, you have to realise that the trouble with Dieter Rams’s design is that you don’t see where all of the cost goes.’ And this is especially true about 620, and it’s the reason we always have a cut-away (cross section of the chair seat) for customers in our shops, so they can see exactly what goes into the making of each chair.”
The high-quality materials – many hidden from view – used throughout the manufacturing process of the chair achieve a degree of satisfaction that often surprises the first-time sitter. “That’s the Vitsœ virtue” continues Mark, “all the cost is in there and it’s hidden, but it’s the reason why your chair will still be going strong and will remain in good condition for 40, 50 or more years. We’ve got customers coming back now, ordering new upholstery after 50 years and being so excited that they can not only buy it but fit it themselves in their own home.”
What appears at first glance to be a relatively simple chair belies the intelligent and comprehensive design. It’s not obvious at first sight that 620 is a kit of parts; Lego for grown-ups. There’s no such thing as a three-seater 620 sofa, it’s three chairs joined together, which could easily become a ten-seater if required, or a two-seater and a single seater and so on…
Adams states: “620 arrives in easily manageable boxes, you could carry a four-seat 620 sofa to a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in New York City piece by piece without a problem. No need to hire specialist equipment or pay someone to remove the windows to fit it all in. It all adds up”.
“And every component of 620 can be replaced if needed. I think it’s because the design comes from a time when people were encouraged (or expected) to have more ownership over their products and feel that if something was broken, they could take it apart, replace the broken element and fix it. These days products are being designed in such a way that you’re actively prevented from being able to do that, but with 620 and 606, the assembly is honest, we’re not trying to hide anything.”
Vitsœ has always encouraged its customers to buy less but better. Today the signs are all around us. Nature is showing its contempt for our disrespectful, disposable way of life. Increasingly we have a responsibility to buy fewer items of better quality – and to make them last longer.
Ideally, we should buy them directly from the makers, where we are sure of the provenance – and the value-for-money. The 620 chair represents the pinnacle of Vitsœ’s decades of determination to make, sell and support its products for the benefit of customers, suppliers, colleagues … and the planet on which we all live.
In 1969, seven years after the 620 Chair Programme appeared on the market for the first time, it was copied. Legal action commenced, and in 1973 the court substantiated: “The design of this chair is a personal, original creation of highly aesthetic value.” Accordingly, the 620 Chair Programme was granted copyright protection.
Four decades later, in 2013, Vitsœ together with Rams reassessed the engineering of the 620 Chair Programme, right down to the last purpose-designed stainless-steel bolt. In doing so the objective was always to ensure that the chair truly maintained its heritage, thus allowing existing customers to add to, and rearrange as needed. The result is an armchair that has been refined and improved at the most detailed level to ensure its longevity for generations to come.
The 60-year history of the 620 Chair Programme proves that Rams did indeed design a remarkable chair. Surprisingly comfortable, the 620 remains a popular choice for the discerning customer who understands the meaning of true value and appreciates the freedom to easily adapt their furniture whenever their needs change.