VITEO Urban Gardenwall


Lateral Thinking: Just a table

It was the classic scenario, VITEO’s design director Wolfgang Pichler explains: architect builds own table, friends like it and want some too, the idea of a product line is born. “And I said, yeah yeah, because the world is really waiting for yet another architect who designs furniture.”  Since then, what began more or less as Pichler’s hobby has famously bloomed into a successful high-end outdoor furniture company operating at an international level. Still, Wolfgang Pichler has clearly not lost his down-to-earth sense of humour or his ties to his roots.

The company is based in the village of Straß in southern Styria, where Pichler renovated an old shoe factory to use both as VITEO’s company office and his own home. As a child he had played on the derelict site, “a land of adventure for us, where we could run around and pick up old bits of leather.” Years later, when it stood empty again, he bought it: “I played here as a child, now I can play here as an adult”, he laughs.
The headquarters are now immaculate and sit in landscaped grounds. As I wait for him in the conference room, I examine the bookshelf, filled with what I assume are Wolfgang Pichler’s own books. A 2000 HDA publication catches my eye: ‘On the abandonment of architecture as the task of architecture’, by Gregor Langenbrinck and Renate Ilsinger.

Pichler grew up in his parents’ construction company and was immersed in the business of building from a young age, so it was perfectly natural to him that he should study architecture: “I have a strong relationship to the feeling of an object growing and being completed... theory becoming real and lasting in the landscape”. Yet when he qualified from the TU Graz and began to plan houses in Upper Austria, he soon realised that he was strongly drawn to the details rather than the whole. At the same time he found himself arguing with clients over what he felt was their lack of responsibility for the context: “I’d try to get them to look over the edge of the teacup and consider the general setting, their neighbours – and they’d say, what’s it to them what I do on my land?”

The design process, Pichler says, gives him great pleasure, “but with furniture it’s not as final as with houses”. Still, one can plainly see that his furniture, with its very reduced design and strong styling, is the furniture of an architect. Its basic approach is of one of modularity and strict rules of form.
This architectural instinct extends to context too: “It’s crucial for me how it fits into the setting. Our clients tend to have big glass windows, so there is always this indoor/outdoor feeling to think about. You have to consider all the details: how does the furniture look in winter? You can make furniture look good for a photo shoot very quickly with a few cushions and so on, but what happens when it’s there every day? What is its basic statement, its basic shape?”
“Also, if furniture is outdoors, you see it from a different distance. Inside you’re usually looking at furniture up close, outside it stands together with the exterior, so it is a very different approach. Everything flows into the design this way.”

VITEO now has a huge international presence and exports all over the world, mainly to Europe but also to Canada, South Africa, the USA and China. They are in the meantime part of the XAL group and have a showroom at the MP09 building in Graz. Yet Wolfgang Pichler still goes himself to a lot of trade fairs, “So architecture comes in handy there too because I can design and build my own stands.”
He also takes a joy in hands-on involvement in the sourcing and assembly process. VITEO’s raw materials are processed as far as possible by local experts and then put together in situ in Austria. “I want to make something of quality that lasts, not throwaway... Also it must be international but with a regional context. You have to consider social sensitivity, transportability. This is for me a field of tension, and it’s fascinating.”

He pauses and gives a wry smile. “And yet while thinking all the time, it’s just a table.”

Verfasser / in:

Kate Howlett-Jones


Mon 21/01/2013


As part of the Lateral Thinking series, Kate Howlett-Jones meets designer Wolfgang Pichler of VITEO.
GAT Lateral Thinking series features trained architects who have moved sideways into other professional disciplines.


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