Designer Otto Zapf Biography

Otto Zapf was born on 10 August 1931 in Rossbach, Czechoslovakia.  He was born into a lineage of carpenters and cabinet makers. His family experienced displacement at the end of World War.

Quick Info

Born:10 August 1931
Birthplace:Rossbach, Czechoslovakia
College:J. W. Goethe University in Frankfurt
Awards:Bundespreis Gute Form Award in 1972
Death:28th June 2018

Early Days

A post-war child, his formative years were influenced by the rebuilding of the country, fostering a deep appreciation for craftsmanship and functional design in him.

At age fourteen, Zapf, who loved math and physics, began exploring these subjects with great interest. His family had to leave their home and business and move to Eschborn, Germany, as refugees. 

Starting a new life in a different town without any belongings was a significant change for them. Even though it was tough, Zapf’s father managed to restart their old carpentry business.


At seventeen, Zapf decided to do something different from his family’s tradition. He took advantage of Germany’s free education and studied mathematics and physics at J. W. Goethe University in Frankfurt

During this time, he developed a liking for creating comfortable environments for people and enjoyed solving math problems. These interests eventually shaped his unique style of design.


At twenty-five, while still at university, Otto Zapf encountered graphic designer Günther Kieser and architect Rolf Schmidt at the Kronberg tennis club. This fortuitous encounter led to the formation of a design collective, inspiring Zapf to create his own innovative designs. 

When his father requested assistance in the family’s carpentry business, twenty-five-year-old Zapf introduced a completely fresh modern style, challenging conventional notions of furniture design. 

In 1956 Zapf started producing his own designs and later collaborated with German Architect Rolf Schmidt, Interior designer Dieter Rams, and visual artist Gunther Keiser for designs and productions.

Later in 1957, Zapf started a joint venture with German interior designer Dieter Rams to RZ Furniture Sales Company (RZ Möbelvertriebs-Gesellschaft) in Eschborn, Germany. This collaboration yielded the RZ series, including the RZ 606, RZ 620, and RZ 621 designs, which became iconic and are still produced by Vitsoe today.

Later in the year Zapf partnered with Niels Wiese Vitsoe, a Danish furniture dealer, and created a company called Zapf+Vitsoe. The company’s sole purpose was to manufacture Dietor Ram’s designs. The partnership ended in 1969 when Otto Zapf left the company and it became only Vitsoe.

After leaving Vitsoe+Zapf, he began to work on his sole designs for clients such as Knoll and COR (Creative Office Resources). He launched his own furniture design series under the brand name “Zapfdesigns“.

In 1969 Zapf introduced his avant-garde Softline wall cabinet designs. He experimented with fiberglass and used it to design chairs, cabinets, bookcases, shelves, etc.

In 1972 Zapf launched his most successful design yet the “Pillorama” (A very large lounge). 

After the success of Pillorama, he was noticed by the President of Knoll International. Texan Bobby Cadwalladar. They joined hands in 1973 and Zapf created his first design for the office space with the ”Zapf Office Chair”.

In 1974 Zapf designed the Pollorama the seating couch for work offices. 

In 1975 Zapf designed the first individual workstations and partitions for offices. In the healthy seating space, Zapf launched another design the “Follow Me Arm Chair & Sofa” in 1979. 

From 1980 to 1982 he made several designs such as

  • Tempora for Cor  in the year 1980 
  • Comtesa and Paliseda for Matrapol in the year 1980
  • Responda for B&B Italia in the year 1981
  • Helichair for Knoll International in the year 1981
  • Sofalets83 for Interprofil in 1982, and 
  • Teamset for Drabert m in 1982

In 1989, Zapf designed the best-ever modern workstation the Aurora Office System for AllSteel company. It had integrated power and data cable management and a simple line of color., 

His next lounge design was First-Class Senator for Lufthansa Airlines in the same year.

Zapf gained a reputation for his innovative approach to design, where he focused on creating furniture that was not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly functional and user-friendly.


Otto Zapf married his girlfriend Rosalie in 1959 at the age of 28. Zapf launched a new showroom and made it their creative hub to showcase their furniture designs. Rosalie had active participation in the design studio.

Awards and Honors

He won the Bundespreis Gute Form award in 1972 for the iconic design of a lamp.


Otto Zapf passed away on 28th June 2018 at the age of 88 years. His legacy lives on through his pioneering designs and his impact on the world of furniture design.

Famous & Iconic Chair Designs By Otto Zapf

YearDesign NameDescription
1967The Column TableUnder Zapf Design (His Own Collection)
1967ComodusProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1967ArcadiaProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1967Fibreglass DesignsProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1967SofaletesProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1967CalixProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1968Immuminated ColumnProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1969Softline CouchUnder Zapf Design (His Own Collection)
1972Pillorama CouchUnder Zapf Design (His Own Collection)
1973PlloramaUnder Zapf Design (His Own Collection)
1973The Zapf Office ChairDesigned for Knoll International
1975Garderobe Metal StandFor Garderobe
1975Zapf Office SystemDesigned for Knoll International
1976CompilloProduced Under his brand Zapf Production
1976ResidentDesigned for COR
1976Wingset Shelving SystemDesigned for VIELER
1977ComodusDesigned for COR
1978MoltestaDesigned for Interprofil
1978CompilloDesigned for COR
1978ButtonpilloDesigned for COR
1979Follow Me ChairDesigned forKnoll International
1979LobbytopDesigned for Drabert
1980ComtestaDesigned for Matrapol
1980PalisidaDesigned for Matrapol
1981HeliDesigned for Knoll International
1981RespondaDesigned for B&B Italia
1981Senator LoungeDesigned for Lufthansa Airlines
1982ParcoursDesigned for De Sede
1982Zapf Plus Office System Designed for Knoll International
1983SofaletesDesigned for Interprofil
1984CosinusDesigned for Dreipunkt
1985DS 56Designed for De Sede
1985His & Hers LoungeDesigned for Sunar
1985PulloserDesigned for Mann Mobilia
1986ArconaDesigned for Art Collection
1986PoligniaDesigned for Kill
1987System 22Designed for Comforto
1988Elinia Lounge SystemDesigned for Interprofil
1988Gourmet ChairDesigned Under Zapf Production
1988RotondoDesigned for Dreipunkt
1989AngulusDesigned for Interprofil
1989Allsteel Lounge SeatingDesigned for Allsteel
1989AmbassadorDesigned for Interprofil
1991Aurora SeriesDesigned for Allsteel
1993ConturDesigned for Design Trade
1995AttacheDesigned for Actiform
2006Zapf ChairDesigned for Topstar/Wagner
2006ZAPFTECDesigned for Topstar/Wagner

This is the first article in our series of Famous Chair Designers. Keep visiting for more such interesting biographies.

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