Obsessed by chairs

Sueddeutsche Zeitung, October 4/5, 2014 Obsessed by chairs by Ingrid Brunner

It all started with "Teodora" a chair of the Italian-Austrian designer Ettore Sottsass: "I discovered it at the Neubert furniture store in Hirschaid, where it was exhibited on an elevated turntable. My first thought when I saw it was 'this will be the beginning of a collection'. Imagine: Applied art in a furniture store - you cannot imagine this any more today." That was in 1987. Since then, the businessman Werner Löffler who produces office furniture in Reichenschwand near Nuremberg has amassed more than one thousand chairs from three centuries and many cultural circles.

Löffler is not sure how many there are exactly. New pieces keep coming all the time. There are between 1000 and 1100 in the exhibition right next to the production hall. Then there are the ones which still have to be restored. "In the meantime, the collection has between 1300 and 1400 exhibits", Löffler estimates. Even today, he still finds many of his exhibits at flea markets, auctions, or through the network he has developed over the years. Löffler is also quite well-known in the region. People keep coming by and bring him furniture which they think is too nice to throw away. Like the old couple which brought by an old, worm-ridden stool from their farm. Or the Danish gentleman who ran a furniture store in Nuremberg for 40 years and left Löffler a boot full of Danish designer chairs after he closed shop. The exhibition also contains design drawings and prototypes of famous designers and architects like the "S-chair" by Vemer Panton or the Danish chair classic "CH07" by Hans J. Wegner. But big names and labels are important to Löffler. "When we accept a chair into the collection, we recognize it as valuable", he says. Löffler laments the current Zeitgeist: "Everybody just looks at the label. But what is important is the content, the quality. Only then do I ask: Who made this?" And this is why you can often find a very expensive piece standing right next to a very affordable one in the exhibition hall. His selection criteria are optimal utility and use of material, top-level craftsmanship, innovative features, and a formal-aesthetic quality.

The oldest piece is from around 1700. Tow real jewels are the original Thonet pieces, model Schwarzenberg, a chair and a sofa, which date to 1850. Löffler also considers furniture to be socio-cultural testaments of their time which tell us stories about the life of people from that period. For instance, old school benches and teacher's desks in the collection permit inferences to the pedagogics of past centuries. And an original seat from the first Bundestag in Bonn reminds us of the atmosphere in the plenary hall in those days.

The time after the second World War is clearly the focus of the collection. Not only did people have to rebuild lots of living space in very little time, but the space also had to be furnished. For many architects it was obvious not just to design the building but also the pertinent interior. "When you look at the modern post-war period, you can't just reduce it to the kidney-shaped table." There were artists like Herbert Hirche, whose furniture designs like the music cabinet by Braun created a new factual formal language. Or Paul Schneider-Esleben, who not only designed the first parking garage and the Cologne-Bonn Airport but also the furnishings for his buildings. Seating furniture of both these architects can be found in the collection.

"There is hardly a piece which doesn't come with a story", says Helmut Klarner, one of the two curators of the Löffler collection. He guides visitors through the exhibition, but before setting off on the tour between the rows of chairs and shelves, he admonishes: "You are not allowed to sit on any of the chairs in the collection." Easy enough to understand, but still a pity. After all, this is one of the few exhibitions in which every visitor can consider himself some kind of expert on the ergonomics and utility of the exhibits. Everybody can, and indeed has to, sit.

Of course, you can't judge a chair solely on the impression it makes on your behind (and vice versa). But it should also not become some exalted object. At least that is what the Austrian-Swedish architect Josef Frank thought. To paraphrase: "Seating furniture is actually used for sitting very little of the time. Most of the time it stands there in the expectation of being permitted to serve" – a thought that Löffler likes. While the chair waits to be sat on, it also must please the other senses. "Furniture has to make you feel good", Löffler demands – especially from his own products. His demand of himself is that his office furniture be both ergonomic and beautiful. Löffler describes his business philosophy with the words of Max Bill, another artist-architect: A company that wants to develop its own brand must also be active in the arts. For this reason, in addition to his big series, Löffler permits himself the luxury of a hobby. In the Löffler Edition, he reissues classics like the "Pegasus" by Günter Beltzig or the "Orgone" by Marc Newson. He also commissions new designs, for instance from the Japanese artist Katsuhito Nishikawa. Maybe his radically minimalistic swivel chair "NK1″ will be a collector's item one day?

Tours through the Löffler collection are scheduled on each first Friday of the month from 3 pm to 6 pm and on every second Sunday of the month from 11 am to 4 pm and by appointment under: Tel. ++49 9151/83008-0 or per e-mail to collection@loeffler.de.

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