Visiting Vitsœ
We enjoy welcoming visitors to our shops and production building, none more so than the designer of our furniture, Dieter Rams.

Vitsœ shop opening, Marylebone Lane, London: 2019

Words: The fly on the wall

Photography: Vitsœ

In October 2019 Dieter Rams visited our shop in London, to celebrate opening the doors of our new location on Marylebone Lane. We had announced that Dieter, the godfather of product design, would be joining us. What we didn’t expect was the buzz that this would create, and the crowds that ensued.

On 6 February 2024 things are much quieter. As Dieter approaches his 92nd birthday it is understandable that he wishes to take things a little more gently. He and our own Mark Adams stroll past Manchester Square, Dieter recollecting being filmed there by Gary Hustwit for the ‘Rams’ film, then across the road to the Vitsœ shop on the Lane. As always, Dieter likes to stand for a while and absorb the contents of the windows and look within. It is a familiar sight to many of us at Vitsœ, seeing Mark and Dieter standing together outside the shop discussing what they see. They have worked together for nearly 40 years and are soulmates, with the same single-minded determination to create products that do not strive for built-in obsolescence but are discreet, adaptable, and faithful servants.

Dieter and Mark scrutinising the shop window: 2024

Inside he absorbs all that is around him, touching the products, understanding their quality with his hands. As always, he and Mark sit together discussing Vitsœ, its ethos, London, Germany, climate-change, governments, a turbulent world and so on… They sit on a three-seat, linen, 620 chair of Dieter’s design and another discussion around this material and the leather upholstery develops. Dieter is pleased with these materials; they are right for his chair.

The following morning Dieter arrives at our Vitsœ production building in Royal Leamington Spa. He is accompanied by Klaus Klemp, design historian and chair of the trustees of the Rams Foundation, which Dieter and his late wife, Ingeborg, formed in 1992 for the purpose of promoting “industrial design that adopts a responsible attitude towards people and the natural environment.” The sun is kindly shining, and the building is flooded with natural light from the sawtooth roof above. Not a single artificial light is needed. The buzz of activity makes Dieter smile with satisfaction. It is here that he is invigorated by the energy of making. The furniture he designed – over 60 years ago – is created for customers who want to invest in long-living furniture. While famous for the radical electrical goods he created at Braun from 1955 to 1995, those items are no longer in production, but relegated to collections and museums. For Rams they are not alive, and this pains him. He hates obsolescence.

Ian discusses the assembly of 620 Chair Programme

Our production building is formed of 18 repeating sections – each 25 metres wide by 7.5 metres deep – known to us as ‘bays’. Dieter is always amused by our use of this word, associating it with the sea. On arrival he engages with Ian Lidgbird in bay 1, who is responsible for the production of Vitsœ’s 620 Chair Programme. A placid meticulous character, he and Dieter are instantly in their own little world, scrutinising the finer details of the chair. Most of the hard-working, precision-designed components are completely hidden from the user, but are so important in making the chair such an exquisite beast. Today it is improvements to the chair’s swivel base that are being dissected.

Dieter meanders through the product-assembly area in bays 2, 3 and 4, his beady eyes digesting every activity. Lewis Nelson, one of our newer cabinet-makers, has not yet met Dieter. Normally confident and smiling, it takes us all a little by surprise to see his hand tremble nervously as Dieter watches him assemble a double shelf. Dieter, however, is not distracted; it is the precision that grips his attention. In bay 5, Dudley Gardiner demonstrates the new laser-annealing machine that adds a fine Vitsœ logo to every E-track. He has also selected today’s music, playing throughout the production area. Having rewatched ‘Rams’ the previous evening, Dudley knows that it is the Oscar Peterson Trio to whom Dieter was filmed dancing in his home. Dieter acknowledges the music selection, with a smile and a nod.

Lewis assembles a double shelf with precision

As Dieter and Mark wander through the building to logistics and supply-chain in bays 5 and 6, those doing their daily job stop and come over to say hello, shaking hands, smiling and chatting. There is pride in what they do, and they are excited to share this with him. He likes to see the boxes stacked high in the dispatch area and read their country of destination: today there is Singapore, South Korea, several states of North America, Italy, France and Germany, sitting ready for collection in bays 8 and 9. Virgil Tracy is packing the Faber-Castell pencils and Bosch drill bits that accompany the screws and wall plugs of all shelving-system orders. Dieter approves of these familiar German names.

Through the stock area of bays 11, 12 and 13, he meets the finance team and technology team in the north pod of bay 14, who all leave their 606 workstations to come and say hello. Arrival in bays 15 and 16 feels very familiar, as here the exhibition area presents the Strong collection. A collection of Braun products accumulated over the years by Vitsœ customer, Tom Strong, who kindly donated more than 250 items to Vitsœ for the purpose of helping educate the next generation of design students. Here Dieter is joined by director emeritus of the Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic, who worked with Klaus Klemp to present the exhibition ‘Less and More; the design ethos of Dieter Rams’ at the museum in 2009. Everything is familiar to them, despite Deyan and Klaus seeing this particular collection for the first time. With Mark and Vitsœ’s custodian, Daniel Calderbank, they huddle as aficionados of the world they scrutinise. Today Dieter explains the use of colour for functional purposes on the buttons of the Braun ET 66 calculator – even if the buttons clearly look good, too.

Dieter and Mark with Daniel and Deyan

Deyan kindly clicks the shutter on the camera for the Vitsœ group photograph that signifies that it is time for lunch. Vitsœ’s chef, Will Leigh, has created delicious food for us all to share from the kitchen in bay 18. Brill is on the menu today, as it is no secret that Dieter likes his fish. As happens daily at Vitsœ, everyone sits down together to eat, allowing colleagues from each area of the business to engage with one another. Both Klaus and Deyan comment on the atmosphere of community that envelops them, while for the familiar visitor, Dieter, it always feels like this. After lunch there is time for Dieter to engage where he is happiest – product development. The process of feeling, turning and analysing is instinctive. He questions, challenges and comments, offering 70 years of knowledge to those at Vitsœ who are entrusted with ensuring his designs are always evolving with current developments in manufacturing, while remaining true to their original design. New materials are evident today.

The process of understanding material through touch

He leaves – a little tired, but happy – saying he looks forward to seeing us all again soon. He has enjoyed once again witnessing the love and care we endeavour to bestow in his designs and our products for the benefit of our colleagues and our customers. We, too, hope he will return soon.

The Leamington Spa Vitsœ team