INDESIGN MAGAZINE: ISSUE 61
Titled 'Alpine Artisans,' the story about Zeitraum is explored in the 'All in the Family' section of the Indesign magazine #61: May-July 2015.
In celebrating its 25th anniversary, German furniture manufacturer Zeitraum is as much about attitude as it is about furniture. Twenty-five years ago, it was a love for wood that inspired Birgit Gämmerler to establish Zeitraum. Her wish was to honour solid wood as a living material, with a vision to create clear minimalistic designs and furniture that was ecologically sustainable as well as sensual.
“The driving force behind the foundation of Zeitraum was based on our enthusiasm for the material; solid wood, an ancient cultural asset that is everywhere. Its beauty provides us with specific opportunities and uses which we cultivate in our furniture,” Gämmerler says.
A year after starting the business, in 1991, she was ready to present at the international furniture fair in Cologne. But amidst the design hall’s offbeat experiments, Gämmerler’s small 12 square metre stand comprised nothing except for an oiled beech table and chair. With no colour, varnish or fancy extras, it stood out in stark contrast against the shiny, plastic refrigerators and chairs with cold metal backs. “Most people just stared unbelievably and thought we’d made a terrible mistake,” Gämmerler recalls. But the industrial designer was passionate about timber, and she stuck to her vision.
She first set up in Wolfratshausen, near Munich and began working from an old flourmill, with loft-style rooms and the waters of the river Loisach running through underground turbines. The company’s first chairs, beds, tables and small furnishings were designed here, crafted by local joiners.
Even back then, the designers demanded high standards. For example, they preferred using clever wooden joints and bone glue instead of simpler techniques of screw together solutions and conventional resin glues.
Architect Peter Gaebelein was engaged to oversee production, and another team member, Peter Joebsch, for sales and logistics. Deliberately keeping the team small, young and in constant motion, Zeitraum began cementing relationships with reliable manufacturers in Germany, Austria and Italy, who were able to produce higher quantities without affecting the strict quality standards.
The result is beautifully unique pieces of furniture. The wood selected for use includes maple, ash, beech, cherry, walnut and oak, from forests that comply with FSC standards. Imported timber is sourced from reforestation areas, with all wood processed without any chemical pre-treatment, enabling it to ‘breathe’. This open pore treatment also includes fine sanding, priming with oil, and then sanding again prior to being finished with oil or beeswax balsam.
The majority of its producers, located less than 250 kilometres from the headquarters in Wolfratshausen, procure timber from the woods nearby. This guarantees local timber, short transportation and short delivery routes, along with the opportunity to foster closer partnerships with their suppliers.
“Our vision has not changed substantially, but we have learned that in this overloaded world true quality is found in focus, reduction and appropriateness,” Gaebelein says.
At the heart of Zeitraum is a focus on embracing simpler things. “We find our inspiration by concentrating on the things that touch us, our personal values and by observing nature,” Gämmerler says. “At the same time we focus on our roots – craftsmanship and material traditions of the Alpine region, as well as on the opportunities modern manufacturing technologies provide.”
Today, Zeitraum retains its flexible yet global reach. The core team of about 20 offers expertise in product design, furniture sales and distribution and commercial furnishing, with representatives all over the world. Among its achievements, Zeitraum became the first manufacturer in the premium furniture sector to emphasise the combination of ecological sustainability and design. It also prides itself on its ability to produce to order.
Zeitraum is a family business. Gämmerler and Gaebelein share the responsibilities of the family and office equally together. The hierarchy of the business is kept flat, and they don’t work to a business plan; they prefer to do what they think is reasonable, appropriate and for the common good.
“If we have different opinions, we respect the decision of the person responsible. We learn from the results and use them to develop constructive perspectives,” Gämmerler says. “In case of a shortage we can assume the responsibilities of the other and thus relieve each other.”
As for design, the two stress the importance of ensuring each collection retains its unique and homogenous overall appearance.
“We feel it is a luxury to be able to professionally deal with issues that affect us in our daily lives,” Gaebelein says.
With this attitude as an owner-managed family business of the first generation, Zeitraum now celebrates 25 years with the freedom of being more independent with making decisions for their future.
“We combine our demand for longevity with an evolving appearance that is linked to the spirit of the times,” Gämmerler says.