At Home with Rob Fissmer of Vitsœ
Ghostly fan and GMS subscriber Rob Fissmer studied architecture at RISD and later went on to work at one of the world’s most influential design stores, Moss, where he was also responsible for compiling our MG/M1 collaboration. Following his time at Moss, Fissmer settled into a position as the head of North American operations for Vitsœ, the UK company which produces the iconic 606 Universal Shelving System designed by Dieter Rams.
It’s a little known fact that we are devout admirers of everything Dieter Rams related. In an age of overabundance, both digital and physical, Rams’ designs speak volumes to the practice of living better, with less. Amazingly, Rams even managed to imbue his humble shelving system with this sensibility.
Fissmer recently re-located with his wife Elise Loehnen to Venice Beach, CA, where they have set up a unique “Vitsœ apartment” prominently featuring an array of 606 compositions. As a former DJ and lifelong vinyl collector, one could say that he is an ideal use-case for the system, which is not only flexible and movable, but perfectly suited for vinyl storage.
We asked Rob to some share some of his insights on Rams, eclectic possessions, and organizing your vinyl by color. His answers after the jump.
[GI] How long have you been purchasing vinyl?
[RF] I’d say about 28 years. My memory is a bit hazy, but I’m pretty sure the first album I made my mother drive me to the mall to buy was Run D.M.C.’s eponymous album from 1984. It was the soundtrack to my endless hours of perfecting backspins in our basement in St. Louis.
[GI] Do you remember what your first album was?
[RF] Giorgio Moroder’s Midnight Express soundtrack, which I permanently borrowed from my father’s collection. To this day whenever I hear ‘The Chase’ or ‘Theme from Midnight Express’ I get visions of green shag carpet and my ’70s porta-turntable.
I still have both the Run D.M.C. and Moroder records. They’ve moved everywhere with me. Not surprisingly, the sound I am most interested in these days falls somewhere right in the middle of those two.
[GI] When did you first learn about Rams and how did his designs affect you?
[RF] I was first exposed to his work while at art school, through my friends who were in the industrial design department. I didn’t get a sense of his importance until years later, when I was actually able to use some of the pieces he designed for both Vitsœ and Braun. I remember seeing a big wall of 606 at the back of the original Moss store in SoHo, since it’s what actually drew me into the shop. I ended up working there for years—definitely long enough to see design trends come and go—but 606 was always there, a constant reminder of how a good design that doesn’t pander to fashion or trends can remain truly timeless.
I was also fortunate enough to buy one of the last production runs of the Braun calculators while at Moss. I really dislike using software calculators, whether it’s on a computer or my iPhone. I didn’t even like using the homage to Rams on the original Apple iPhone iOS 1.0, as funny as that was. To this day I still bring my Braun ET66 with me whenever I go out on a site visit to take measurements in the field. It represents the ultimate study in refinement through reduction.
While at Braun, Dieter—together with Dietrich Lubs—designed many calculators over the years, and in most cases each subsequent model would remove functions rather than add them. The last change they made was to remove a single switch that was deemed unnecessary. As Dieter says himself, “Less, but better.” 1987’s ET66 was the end of the line because they felt the calculator was finally perfect.
[GI] What kind of music does Dieter listen to?
[RF] I’ve heard he’s into both Miles Davis and the Beatles. Sounds like a good mix to me.
[GI] What’s your favorite piece of audio equipment by Rams?
[RF] The Audio 300 from 1969, the last in the Audio series of single-unit radio/turntable combinations Rams designed for Braun. I think I’m specifically drawn to it because of the role the original Audio 1 played while Dieter was designing the 606 Universal shelving system for Vitsoe. Little known fact: Vitsoe’s 667mm shelving bay width was created to house the Audio 1. You could (and still can) mount it right into the system with optional end-plate attachments. It’s amazing to think that a turntable was at the nexus of it all, and I love that there was a symbiotic relationship between the hi-fi gear he was designing for Braun and the furniture he was designing for Vitsœ.
Rams was originally hired by Braun as an architect and interior designer, and in his sketches for a redesign of the Braun offices from 1955 you can see the beginnings of a shelving system drawn in harmony with audio components. A few years later he would become the head of the design department at Braun, and start designing furniture for Vitsœ. The rest is history, as they say.
[GI] We see that you’ve organized your vinyl by color. How does that work?
[RF] My wife Elise has always been obsessed with color coding things, and when I say things, I mean everything. When we moved to our new apartment here in Venice, CA, she insisted that I let her unpack my music (using the fact that she wanted to reunite the orphans in the collection as justification). Record sleeve artwork is permanently etched into my mind, so when looking for records on my shelf I can quickly scan for the color, then hone in. This works in a casual way, meaning, I don’t mind the extra 30 seconds it might take to find a white or black record.
As a DJ, if I were still spinning vinyl instead of digital files exclusively, I probably wouldn’t have the patience to let Elise have her way, but at this scale, it works. Obviously nothing is going to beat the practicality of alphabetical organization—I’m sure you would not have found the late great John Peel organizing his collection via color! It’s a funny thing: Color coding can definitely spark off heated debates, too–people really get up in arms about it over on shelter blogs. Some seem to think it’s sacrilege to treat books and LPs as objects. They are objects after all, and most of them quite colorfully designed, so why not have a little fun with it?
[GI] You and your wife have quite an eclectic assemblage of objects. What’s the strangest thing you have on display?
[RF] We have some pretty random stuff integrated into the mix on our shelves, but everything there tells a story of where we found it, etc. What seems to spark the most discussion from people visiting the space with fresh eyes are the cluster of hi-fi knobs I’ve modded into magnets. I don’t know when it started, but I’ve been collecting lathed aluminum hi-fi switches and knobs for some time. I have bags of them. When I see vintage hi-fi gear on the sidewalk I always strip it. I guess I just think they are beautiful, precision objects, and I’ve always thought I’d do something with them one day.
When my father’s hand-me-down Pioneer amp finally died, I stripped it of course, and embedded strong rare-earth magnets into the aluminum knobs, finally coming up with a good re-use scenario. I’ve been able to get a little more life out of a sentimental object that’s been with me for a long time. The shelves in the 606 Universal Shelving system are steel, and you can actually mount them rotated so that the surface of the shelf is vertical. It’s kind of a great solution for a magnetic bulletin board that tightly integrates with the rest of the system.
[GI] You recently moved to LA and now live just blocks away from the famed Eames studio. How does that feel?
[RF] The more I learn about the Eames’, the more I realize that their designs for Herman Miller were just the tip of the iceberg. Their creative output ran so deep, and the studio at 901 Washington (now 901 Abbot Kinney) was the hub of it all. I think about this each time I walk by. It’s sad to think that the building didn’t stay in the family. I’m not sure why it didn’t get landmark status when Ray had to sell it. It should have, as they were/are national treasures in my opinion. One thing I love about California is the amount of their furniture you see in actual use. It’s everywhere out here and I’ll never grow tired of it.
We recently found a stray cat in a lot next to 901, nursed him back to heath and found him a home after a few weeks. We named him Ray, because people mistakenly assumed she was a man. :)
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