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Hannes Wettstein, 50, Swiss Designer Who Championed Function Over Flair

July 23, 2008

By Josephine Minutillo

Hannes Wettstein
Photo © Marco Grob
Portrait of Hannes Wettstein

In the star-studded arena that is today’s design scene, Swiss designer Hannes Wettstein was not as well known as some of his contemporaries. But his work reached a wide audience, with designs that ranged from high-tech innovations and high-end furniture to more accessible consumer products like bicycles, lamps, pens, razors, and watches. His products, while simple and straightforward in appearance, were the result of a rigorous design process. On July 5, his life was cut short at the age of 50 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Wettstein created one of his best-known furniture designs, the lightweight Juliette chair for Baleri Italia, before turning 30. As the story goes, Philippe Starck—whose own early furniture designs were produced by Baleri Italia—suggested to Wettstein that he meet with Enrico Baleri, the company founder. But Mr. Baleri didn’t make things easy for Wettstein. “I told him that I lived on a hill on the outskirts of Bergamo,” Baleri recalls. “I didn’t give him an address or a phone number, and told him that if he found me within 24 hours, I would look at some of his designs. The next day, he rang my doorbell.”

the Hola 367 chair for Cassina in 2003

Photo courtesy Cassina SpA

Wettstein designed the Hola 367 chair for Cassina in 2003. Its articulated back serves as short armrests. Later versions were produced in plastic (Hola Sprint, 2005), and without armrests (Hola 369, 2006).

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From that meeting, a 20-year working relationship was born: Wettstein went on to design tables, sofas, and more chairs for the company, including the boxy armchair Capri, its best-selling product and the recipient of the Compasso d’Oro prize in 1994. Wettstein also designed furniture for Cassina, Molteni, Bulo, Arflex, Wittmann, and Erik Jørgensen; lighting for Artemide and Oluce; and in true Swiss fashion, several pioneering timepieces. His 1982 lighting design, Metro, for the Swiss company Belux, was the first low-voltage system on contact wires. He also was among the first to dabble in the emerging organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. “Hannes was curious and always seeking information,” says Baleri, “but the overriding element of his design was the quality.”

His design work extended beyond products to include art direction, corporate identity, and interiors. He did the interior design for several Swiss embassies across the globe, most notably the Steven Holl-designed Residence at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C., completed in 2006.

Wettstein will be commemorated during a celebration on August 14 at the Fraumünster church in Zurich.

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