The Eyla conference swivel chair will be the last of Burkhard Vogtherr's chair models to be launched on the European market. Thanks to his many years on the international scene, Vogtherr was one of the best-known German furniture designers and won many awards over the course of his career, the first being the German Gute Form (Good Design) Prize in 1969. The designer, who latterly had a studio in Mulhouse, Alsace, and has now left a huge void among the ranks of the major German designers, died suddenly in August 2019. His death is an occasion for us to commemorate his life and work. After all, we have the wonderful, long-standing cooperation with the designer, who was famed for his clear, minimalist style, to thank for many of our successful furniture models.
After graduating as an industrial designer from the Werkkunstschulen Kassel and Wuppertal and working briefly as a designer at Vitra, Burkhard Vogtherr started his freelance career with Rosenthal Einrichtung in 1972. The furniture segment of the well-known porcelain manufacturer was just being established at the time, and the young designer was given the chance to use this first great experimental opportunity to take on a range of adventurous experiences. During this period he created wall units, sofas and tables which, for the purchasers of the day, were far more of an investment in the future than they are today. Not all of his ideas and design approaches worked.
One such example was "secondary architecture": the concept of furniture belonging to a building and therefore being passed on to the next residents. This was a very sustainable approach which could gain new significance as part of a circular economy in our current throw-away society with cheap furniture and frequently changing furnishing trends.
What was created was mainly built-in furniture or sets of furniture with a good solid look – in terms of materials as well as volume. The 1970s were an era with a stronger sense of permanence in general than the decades that followed.
A focus on seats and chairs
The work with Rosenthal was followed by an intense period with partners south of the Alps. Burkhard Vogtherr was a designer who always came to potential customers such as Arflex and Capellini with finished ideas and prototypes. His studio produced around one piece of furniture per year. Vogtherr initially created and made all new designs himself there, from the first sketch through to the prototype. His training as a cabinet-maker served him well.
The pieces he produced were rarely to order. "I love light shapes and gracefulness. Furniture that dominates a room isn't my thing. And because gracefulness is a characteristic of some Italian collections, my pieces look as though they were created there," Burkhard Vogtherr said in an interview with the specialist magazine md. His work with these partners, as well as with other companies such as Fritz Hansen, Rolf Benz, Klöber, Arco or Davis, brought him a great deal of experience in the area of seats and chairs. This was of enormous benefit to Girsberger in his last phase as a designer.
»I love light shapes
Furniture that dominates a room
isn't my thing. «
Reaching maturity – the designer's signature style
To sum up what makes Burkhard Vogtherr's gradually evolved style recognizable, we can only let him speak for himself, with his own words from 2011: "The core aspect of my style is probably minimalism. To take an example: because I like to avoid thick, large cushions or padding, I try to create comfort using other, minimized means. By using the elasticity of woven bands, for instance, or by flexibly mounting the seat shell on rubber padding. I've been working on these ideas in principle for over thirty years and continue to refine them."
His work was created in the workshop rather than on paper or using sketches – he preferred to show his designs as models and prototypes. "If I do my designs on paper at all, then it's with just a few strokes. I was never brilliant at drawing. I use paper more to make something clear to colleagues or to clarify something to myself. However, as soon as I try to draw something graphically or in perspective, it often doesn't look quite right."
»If I do my designs on paper at all,
then it's withjust a few strokes.
I was never brilliant at drawing.
I use paper more to make something clear to colleagues
or to clarify something to myself.
However, as soon as I try to draw something graphically or
in perspective, it often doesn't look quite right.«
Although he often had finished designs ready and waiting, Burkhard Vogtherr still saw himself as a service provider. The journey from prototype to marketable product is a long process after all: with furniture for the commercial sector, in particular, ergonomic factors and norms play a large part, as do suitable materials. And to sell sufficient numbers in the end to justify the manufacturing of a product with all of its associated costs, a certain degree of compromise is possible. As Vogtherr was forced to admit, "the most beautiful designs are not always those that sell the best." But since it is never in a designer's interest for his designs to end up hidden away in a drawer, he sometimes had to confess that his customers and even he himself would not be able to survive if nothing were sold and the costs were not recovered.
In swivel chairs, movement and an appearance of lightness were important to him. However, the price also had to be competitive of course – something that caused many good chairs to be commercially unviable in Vogtherr's experience.
Burkhard Vogtherr died suddenly in August 2019 while on holiday in France. For us, working and exchanging ideas with him was a source of great enrichment which is now sorely missed. Mathias Seiler, Head of Design and Marketing at Girsberger Holding AG: "Our work with Burkhard Vogtherr was characterized by continuous discussion. We often met up, thought things over together, debated matters and also enjoyed eating together. Some product plans came about almost in passing."
Work with Girsberger
Burkhard Vogtherr was very good at selling his ideas. He was able to identify the needs of customers and manufacturers and cater to them. His ideas were always logical and understandable. And because he often presented his furniture designs with models or even working prototypes, he was extremely persuasive.
His work with Girsberger began in 2009 with the Corpo range of chairs. In 2011 he then created the Sway standing seat. This practical item of furniture features an ingenious technical concept: a flexibly mounted leg. This automatically encourages a healthy, non-static sitting posture. The seat height can be adjusted with one simple hand movement.
Sway was followed by the Jack range of swivel and conference chairs in 2012. This model also features an interesting technical idea: the seat shells are mounted on foam rubber padding, allowing plenty of movement when sitting. 2013 saw the launch of the extensive Diagon range of swivel chairs, which was followed in 2014 by the high-quality Diagon Executive model.
The Eyla conference swivel chair now completes Vogtherr's life's work and, sadly, also marks the end of his collaboration with Girsberger. The chair was originally produced in cooperation with the US manufacturer Davis. The joint design by the British designer Jonathan Prestwich and Burkhard Vogtherr is now being manufactured by Girsberger for the European market with particularly sophisticated upholstery.
Text: Dorothea Scheidl-Nennemann, January 2022
Portrait photos: Rainer Spitzenberger
Product photos: Manufacturer