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Modern furniture pioneer dies aged 89

Furniture designer Guhl and one of his famous chairs, taken in 2003

(Keystone)

Swiss designer Willy Guhl, whose innovative furniture creations included the “Loop” rocking chair and table, has died aged 89.

The designer was one of the leading lights of the neo-functional design scene and one of the first to import industrial design to Switzerland.

His family said on Wednesday that Guhl died of heart failure two days ago in the town of Hemishofen in northern Switzerland.

Guhl was born in Stein am Rhein in 1915 and trained as a carpenter before studying at the Zurich School of Applied Arts. He later went on to teach at the school for 39 years, retiring in 1980.

He was best known for his trademark rocking chair, which he designed in 1954. It was made out of a single piece of material, which was bent over into a loop.

Guhl designed it according to his motto of “achieving the most with the minimum of effort”.

The chair was originally made out of eternit, a mixture of cement and asbestos. Guhl said he chose the material because “no other building substance that is so thin gives so much stability.”

But Guhl ran into trouble when New York’s Museum of Modern Art decided to display the chair in 2001. Realising that it contained potentially cancer-causing asbestos, the museum sent the chair back after just two weeks.

The chair is now made with a cement and fibre mix which does not contain asbestos.

Pioneer

Guhl was also one of the first advocates of flat-packed furniture, similar to the type now made by Swedish furniture giant, Ikea.

He believed this type of furniture would give poorer people access to good design.

“At the centre of my efforts, I put people and their living requirements,” said Guhl in 2003. “I want to improve their immediate environment.”

“My products must be useful to people,” he added.

Other famous Guhl works include the Scobalit shell chair, the first to be made in Europe, and the Guhl chair. Swiss students compete every year for a design prize bearing his name.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Guhl was born in 1915 in Stein am Rhein. He trained as a carpenter and later attended the Zurich School of Applied Arts.

Guhl, who taught at the Zurich School of Applied Arts for 39 years, was responsible for many innovative furniture designs.

One of the most famous is the “Loop” rocking chair, designed in 1954.

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