A Belgian architect is reinterpreting traditional Valais furniture. Designs cover the whole span of life – from cradle to coffin.
The story began with a challenge: how to find suitable furniture for a newly renovated historical building. The Belwalder-Gitsch Hüs in Grengiols dates from 1592, and has been listed as a monument of regional importance since 2013. The architects in charge of the renovation – Leentje Walliser Garrels and her husband, Damian Walliser – had preserved the house in its original form as much as possible. That includes the floors of solid larch timber, full of character but completely uneven: any normal four-legged chair would wobble dangerously. The only solution: three-legged chairs that would remain steady on any surface. But not any chair would do: the pair of architects sifted through books and documents on historical furniture from the region for authentic inspiration. “I was amazed by the variety and design of traditional furniture from Valais,” recalls Leentje Walliser.
To furnish the listed building, she designed a three-legged version of the Stabelle chair and a bed, inspired by traditional furniture styles and construction methods. Her work delighted the master craftsman Schosi Rotzer and his colleagues at the R-Team joinery company in Gampel. He came up with the idea of developing the concept to create a whole line of Valais furniture. “I wanted not just to follow the form and function of traditional furniture,” says Schosi Roster, “but also pay tribute to the skills of our ancestors.”
These items of furniture reflect the way people once lived in the mountains of Valais. Space was limited in family homes; a typical Valais bed frame boasted a “Gütschi”, a second bed stored underneath that could be pulled out in the evening for the children to sleep on.
Leentje and Damian Walliser have a narrower version of the same bed at their home in Brig – in their living room. After all, says Leentje Walliser, “in modern terms, it is also a sofa.” The collection of furniture made from untreated larch timber also includes a chest with drawers, a stool and rocking chairs. These rocking chairs are designed so that two can be joined together in a couple of simple steps to make a cradle. The designer explains the concept: “Today, families need a cradle for only a short time,” she says, “so it makes sense for the item to have another use afterwards.” The furniture is designed to accompany owners through their whole life, from birth to death, so a simple coffin completes the collection. “From cradle to coffin” is also the slogan adopted by Schosi Rotzer for the line, called Walliser Möbel (“Valais furniture”). His philosophy: “Creating high-quality furniture to last a lifetime – and beyond.”
The furniture is crafted and assembled at the modern R-Team workshop. As far as possible, the team avoids using nails and screws, instead making hinges and fittings from wood: a fiddly challenge, demanding considerable ingenuity. Leentje Walliser found a natural soulmate in the form of Carlo Zengaffinen: with the help of his CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine, he, too, takes pride in combining new technology with traditional craft skills. Cushions and mattresses complement the elegant joinery perfectly: the linen fabrics are produced at the weaving workshop of the Fondation Marie Métrailler in the Val d’Hérens and are skilfully made into covers at the Ecole de Couture in Sierre. Pure Valais, in other words!
Text: Monique Ryser
Photographs: Kurt Reichenbach
Published : March 2019