In the 1940s, industrial designers in Europe and the United States had already begun experimenting with soft and organic seating forms. Hans Bellmann’s (1911–1990) Sitwell range, manufactured by the Strässle company, featured industrially produced polyester seat shells. The colorfully upholstered furniture with its modern look was a best seller.
Europe’s first industrially manufactured fiberglass shell chairs were made in 1954 in Toggenburg. Hans Bellmann (1911–1990), who had attracted attention after the war with his wooden “type furniture” for Wohnbedarf AG, Zurich/Basel, then developed a series of novel seat shells made of fiberglass-reinforced polyester (“Stracolite”) in collaboration with the upholstery company Strässle Söhne in Kirchberg. Founded in 1886, the company rose to international prominence with groundbreaking seating furniture under the leadership of Alex Strässle (b. 1931), a trained upholstery specialist. Bellmann’s Sitwell collection took up directly where Charles and Ray Eames’s experiments in the United States with polyester shells in 1950 to 1953 had left off. However, in the Sitwell sofas, armchairs, chairs, and stools, the plastic surfaces are hidden. All models featured foam padding and—with the exception of the chairs—fabric upholstery with loose cushions. The big armchair, launched with the checked fabric typical of the time, formed the core of the collection. As in Eames’s Plastic Armchair, the armrests form an integral part of the overall shape. The shell is couched, as it were, in a black-painted tubular steel frame with, as a signature feature, a high arc at the back. Although Bellmann later dismissed the whole series apart from this one iconic armchair, the entire Sitwell collection, upholstered in the latest colors, enjoyed great popularity. (Arthur Rüegg)