Vitsœ is tiny, its voice is quiet; but its voice is determined.
A man of few words, Mark Adams is the managing director of Vitsœ, an international furniture company made famous by the design duo Niels Vitsœ and the master of modernism, Dieter Rams. While its success can be credited to simple and durable design, its longevity as a business is almost entirely down to Mark Adams, who rescued the company from financial strife in the 1990s when he moved its entire production base to the UK. Adams explains the success of Vitsœ and what he has learned from Rams over the years.
How did you, as an Englishman, become involved in the former German business, Vitsœ?
I took a job as a shop assistant at a London shop that had just started selling the 606 Universal Shelving System. When that shop closed a few months later, I went to Frankfurt to meet a 73-year-old Niels Vitsœ; I asked if I could set up a company in London to sell only Vitsœ. He accepted. A few years later, on Niels Vitsœ’s retirement, we transferred Vitsœ’s corporate seat and production to the UK.
It is said Vitsœ has a close relationship with its customers. How fundamental is this to the success of Vitsœ and what do customers appreciate most about your furniture?
Utterly fundamental. That's why we only deal directly with our customers worldwide; no middlemen whatsoever. Vitsœ is a service business that just happens to make furniture. Our customers appreciate that.
You have worked with Dieter Rams for many years. What have you learned from him?
How much time do you have? Primarily I've learned that the (unwritten) eleventh principle for good design is “single-mindedness.” Set the bar high and, under no circumstances compromise. Easy.
Dieter Rams said that in the 50s there were only a few companies who took design seriously, and nowadays there are still only a few. He said we miss a large voice in the world. What is your opinion and can Vitsœ become this voice?
I agree with Dieter, there are few businesses that take good design seriously. Just look at the vast array of kettles, toasters, coffee machines lined up in the department store. The only conclusion you can reach is, "More, but worse". Vitsœ is tiny, its voice is quiet; but its voice is determined.
What is your personal favourite product from the current Vitsœ collection and why?
Vitsœ does not have any products; Vitsœ has a kit of parts. And you can arrange those parts to suit your life. It's all about being subservient to the user. In my own home I use our shelving system, chair programme and side tables to solve every problem—except the bed.
What is your definition of minimalist design?
I have little choice than to say: less, but better.
Is there currently a designer outside of Vitsœ whose work you really appreciate?
Alberto Meda has always impressed me.
Which Vitsœ product are you most proud of?
Our business. We've designed it and built it from the bottom upwards.
Dieter Rams has a much celebrated philosophy of 'Less but better'. Is there an alternate design philosophy that you appreciate or value?
“Descent with modification." by Charles Darwin
This interview was originally published in Minimalissimo Nº1