German Industrial Designer Rams’s ideological approach to design, best summed up with his 1994 decree, ‘Less but better,’ is applied to everything that surrounds him, from the house that he designed and lives in, to much of the furniture, shelving systems and electronic devices that fill it. His greatest legacy is his work as the chief of design for Braun, the German electrical products manufacturer, where he worked from 1955 until 1995. While there he created dozens of now-iconic items for the home – from hi-fi systems and coffee machines to electric razors and food blenders – in the form-follows-function style of the Bauhaus and Modernist movement. These were mass-produced products for a reinvigorated era, selling in their millions and helping to define the idea of modern design. One needs look no further than the output of Apple from the past 10 years – from iMacs to its latest iPhone – to see the effect that Rams’s aesthetic continues to have on contemporary designers.
Behind the front door of the squat white semi is a three-storey home that reveals itself gradually down a long and sloped site. As in the rest of the house, the L-shaped ground floor has white-painted walls and white ceramic floor tiles. Not surprisingly there is little by way of ornamentation: paintings are hung in hallways rather than rooms so that Rams isn’t faced with them when he eats, works, or relaxes. One half of the floor is dedicated to the main bedroom, bathroom and lavatory, the other to an open-plan living space. Here, a wall of glass opens on to steps that lead down through a Japanese-style garden of mossy rocks and bonsai. At the bottom is a swimming-pool where Rams does lengths every morning.
The house is something of a living museum. Look this way and that, and the eye will fall on one of Rams’s designs. In the living-room there is the 606 Universal Shelving System and the compact 620 seating system that he designed for Vitsoe in 1962. The dining chairs may be Thonet, but the 720 Round Oval dining-table (for Vitsoe, 1972) and the black leather recliner in one corner are further examples of his work. The television (Braun TV3), which features a screen whose horizontal angle can be adjusted, is by Rams, dating from Braun’s last hi-fi collection in 1986. So is the handle to the door that leads to a small kitchen just off this space; its 6ft-long serving hatch is used as a breakfast bar.
There are a few items in the house that haven’t been designed by Rams, such as cylindrical steel tabletop accessories from Georg Jensen and bar stools by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen. The pendant light above the dining-table was designed by Poul Henningsen in the 1950s and outside the guest room downstairs is a 1930s vase by Alvar Aalto for Iitala. But I can’t see anything that was designed within the past 10 years.
The past decade has seen a resurgence of interest in Rams and his work, fuelled in part by the obvious influence he has had on Ive’s work for Apple. Over the past two years the ‘Dieter Rams – Less and More’ retrospective has travelled from Osaka to London and is now on display in Frankfurt. Hugely popular, it showcases Rams’s work for Braun and Vitsoe. ‘I’m lucky now that there seems to be a rethinking,’ he says. He refers to the period from the dawn of Post-Modern in the late 1960s until now as ‘an irritating period of time’, but one that may be coming to an end. ‘There were lots of young people at the exhibition in Japan and London. Maybe there is a small movement towards simplicity again, something nearer to my 10 principles.’
Dieter Rams began to formulate his ideas about design in the early 1970s. His formal set of rules first appeared around 1975 and 10 years later became his 10 Principles for Good Design:
Good design is innovative
Good design makes a product useful
Good design is aesthetic
Good design helps us to understand a product
Good design is unobtrusive
Good design is honest
Good design is durable
Good design is thorough to the last detail
Good design is concerned with the environment
Good design is as little design as possible
Pictures by Philip Sinden
Post by Coco Pastis