Willy Guhl, modern furniture pioneer

Willy Guhl, modern furniture pioneer



Willy Guhl (1915 – 2004) was a design pioneer of the previous century. The artist, born in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, made his mark through unconventional experimentation with new materials, concise and timeless designs and an immense technical understanding. His work ranged widely, from prototype furniture, agricultural machinery, door handles and church pews; he also planned renovations and designed exhibitions. Nevertheless, his best known works remain his chairs, such as the Scolabit shell chair or the so-called “Guhl-Stuhl” (1954).


Scolabit shell chair (1954)

©Design Willy Guhl (1954)


Original Scolabit shell chair



After apprenticing as a cabinetmaker, Guhl was awarded a stipend for the highest apprenticeship qualification that allowed him to undertake study at the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule (School for Arts and Crafts) in Switzerland. In 1939, he established his own workshop in Zurich, Switzerland. It was not only as a furniture designer that Willy Guhl made history, however; he was a trailblazer in his position as teacher as well. After 1941, on top of his duties as a designer he was also employed for close to forty years at the art school as a teacher and contributed to the top reputation of the school. Many of his former students became leading designers in their own right, including Robert Haussmann, Kurt Thut and Bruno Rey.


At the center of my efforts, I put people and their living requirements, I want to improve their immediate environment. My products must be useful to people.

Willy Guhl, modern furniture pioneer


area of expertise

Taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich, Switzerland. As attested by his work, Willy Guhl was open to the use of new materials. His works were characterised by their simplicity, usefulness and self-evident function.



Robert Haussmann, Molder Noser and Willy Guhl (from left to right)


Career / education

Born in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.


1930 – 1933
Apprenticeship as a cabinet maker in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.


1934 – 1939
Attended the course in Interior Design at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (kgsz).


Own studio.


Teacher for Interior Construction at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (kgsz), Switzerland.


Invited to take up a position at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, Germany – Guhl turned down the offer.


Guhl Chair


1951 – 1981
Head of the course on Interior Construction at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (kgsz), Switzerland.


Died in 2004.



Three generations of flower boxes: Model with metal frame, standard version & Guhl flower box from 1954 with ergonomic recessed grips.


Important works / projects

  • Various projects as teacher at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (kgsz).
  • Garden exhibition g59, project with the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (kgsz).
  • Various objects in collaboration Swisspearl in those days.
  • Various objects in collaboration with Dietiker table factory.
  • From 1968, projects with agricultural machine manufacturer aebi.
  • Various competitions and exhibitions.
  • Cofounder of the vsi and sid (Swiss Association of Industrial Designers).


    The plant containers Rondo and Excenter received the award “Die gute Form” in 1966.



    Pictures: Archive Swisspearl / Eternit (Schweiz) AG

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