Rob Fissmer works at the only Vitsoe (pronounced Vit-soo) showroom in the US, located on Bond Street in New York's SoHo shopping district. Essentially, any American purchase order goes through him. Dieter Rams designed Vitsoe's 606 Universal Shelving System in 1960, and it's been in continuous production ever since. Rob talked to us about how a product survives 50 years, evolving and adapting while remaining fundamentally unchanged.Trained as an architect at the Rhode Island School of Design, Rob's retail career began at SoHo store and gallery Moss, where he worked from 1999 to 2006. In September 2009 he helped opened the Vitsoe showroom.
From May 2 to 28, 2011, the store will host an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 606 Universal Shelving System.
What are the differences between the original Vitsoe collection and today's?
"The evolutionary changes in the line are consistent, so you can add onto a 1960s shelving system with new components. The E-track is the core component, and it remains essentially unchanged, except that the spacing of the holes was doubled in the mid-80s to allow more flexibility. So, modularity still exists, it's just that when you line up the new track with the old one, you'll see that every other hole lines up."
What were the original components of Dieter Rams' shelving system?
"The single shelf was the original design — it was made in wood. The major innovation was the metal shelf. It was introduced in the 1980s to accommodate heavier loads with no visible deflection. The surface is surrounded by folds, which essentially creates an I-beam. It's about as strong as your wall is."
"Visually, the cabinetry is exactly the same as it was in the 60s, but there are subtle internal changes, such as the mechanisms, which have soft closure now."
If someone decides to order shelves, how does the process work?
"Go to the website, click start your design, take a photo of your space so that we can see what it looks like. Enter the wall width and height. All that information comes through to us in an email."
"Then the Vitsoe planners use a custom tool to mock up a drawing — it's basically like AutoCAD. They upload the drawing to the website, give the customer log-in credentials, and provide price quotes."
What are some of the entry level systems?
"The small Starter Collection comes with two tracks and two shelves; it's $285."
"The medium size [Starter Collection, $535] comes with four shelves and two tracks. The system is all modular — the medium comes with a 45-inch track, so when you want to expand, two of those are compatible with the 90-inch track. That way, you can double your system when you're ready."
"The large [Starter System] is six shelves on a 67-1/2-inch track [$775], or you can do a hanging rail for coats with a few shelves [$590]."
What are the most popular configurations?
"The simple bookshelves are probably the most popular combination. When you stack it up against other manufacturers, it's actually very affordable. People also seem to like the home office configuration — the desk shelf next to a file cabinet with a few shelves above."
"TV cabinets are another big seller — one of the panels can be flipped on the track, and then it serves as a TV mount, or you can float your TV on a compressed [pole-mounted] system. Another thing you can do with the compressed system is to put plexi panels in to create a room divider and separate space."
Do a lot of customers take the shelving with them when they move?
"I'm working with a customer this week. She bought her system in London, moved around there three or four times, and added to it. (She has a semi-wall-mounted system, which is good for lath and plaster walls or old buildings where you have a chair rail or a picture rail, something that would obstruct the wall mount.) She moved it around a few times, changed the height of it. She just moved it to California, and today I FedExed her new hardware for her walls, since her wall type changed."
"We don't charge design fees — the planning sketches are a free service. So, every time she moves, she can ask us for help planning and reconfiguring her shelves."
Vitsoe's New York Showroom is located at 33 Bond Street, New York, 917.675.6990. Open to the public Monday-Saturday, 11am-7pm. Closed Sundays.
Photos: Sarah Coffey, Vitsoe