Rudolf Lehni metal workshop - © Stadt Zürich, Baugeschichtliches Archiv

Origins of the company

In 1922, Rudolf Lehni senior (1885 - 1956), born in Basel, opened a sheet metal workshop not far from the Kunsthaus Zurich. As a craftsman interested in culture, he had already established contacts with the artistic avantgarde in Berlin during his time of travel. His business soon became a contact point for artists. After setting up shop in Zurich Hottingen, his workshop developed into a renowned company with 40 employees. Lehni also occasionally carried out metalwork for the Schauspielhaus Zurich.

The internationally active artist, graphic designer and architect Max Bill had his famous "Wellrelief" made by Lehni in 1932. The architect Willy Boesiger was also a customer; for the chess players in his Café Select, he designed a folding table in 1935, which was produced by Lehni. Rudolf Lehni junior, a regular guest at the meeting place of Zurich's non-conformists, later included the table in the Lehni collection.

Max Bill, "Wellrelief" - © Haus Bill/Hauser & Wirth Galerie / Max Bill, photo by Doris Quarella, 1975. © Doris Quarella/Fotostiftung Schweiz

Further development and move to Dübendorf

Rudolf Lehni senior died in 1956, and shortly afterwards his son took over the company’s management. Rudolf Lehni junior (1927 - 1981) greatly expanded the company in the following years and shifted production towards industrial manufacturing. For example, he developed a new type of fold for sheet metal that enabled precise processing, which also made the company known in architectural circles. Lehni worked regularly with the architect Ernst Gisel, who was a friend of his. The two got to know each other as their families lived in the neighbourhood.

Rudolf Lehni, Zumikon 1978 - Photograph of Doris Lehni Quarella

In addition to working in the sheet metal workshop, Rudolf Lehni taught materials science and metalworking at the Zurich School of Applied Arts. There he met the artist and designer Andreas Christen (1936 - 2006), who early on experimented with aluminium. The famous aluminium shelf was created in 1964 for the Expo in Lausanne through the mediation of Max Bill and was subsequently included in the range. Since then, has developed a collaboration between Lehni and Christen that has lasted over 40 years. Christen designed the main part of the Lehni furniture collection until his death in 2006.

Pavillon Max Bill. Lausanne Expo 1964
© Musée historique de Lausanne

In the 1970s, the furniture trade became an important pillar of the company. Lehni decided to move production to Dübendorf. He commissioned Ernst Gisel Architekt to design the new factory building, which was completed in 1975. With the move, the step into serial production was intensified and the collection continuously expanded.

Lehni Factory - Ernst Gisel Architekt, Dübendorf 1975
Lehni factory hall, Dübendorf 1980

Cooperation with artists

Lehni's contacts to the Zurich art scene favoured new collaborations with artists, including Sol LeWitt, for whom Lehni realised several artworks such as "Cubes with Hidden Cubes".

After Rudolf Lehni's early death in 1981, his wife Doris Lehni Quarella (1944 - 1998) took over the company’s management. With her work, the photographer had a significant influence on the company's fortunes. Together with Andreas Christen, she continued to develop the furniture programme; classics such as the wardrobe or Bed 1 were created.

Doris Lehni Quarella furniture exposition - Cologne 1985
Andreas Christen, 1983 - Photograph of Doris Lehni Quarella

A special case was the furniture objects by the artist Donald Judd, which he had manufactured by Lehni from 1984 onwards. The result was 15 different types of furniture, optionally in powder-coated aluminium, sheet copper or brass. All pieces are numbered and stamped.

Donald Judd, Zumikon 1984 - Photograph of Doris Lehni Quarella

Doris Lehni Quarella documented the growing collection in powerful photographs. The simple designs also reflect the industrial manufacturing process. In the 1990s, seating furniture was also added to the range ; for example, the "Elox" chair and armchair programme, which was intended for both indoor and outdoor use.

The unexpected death of Doris Lehni Quarella in 1998 marked another cut in the company's history.

Doris Lehni Quarella

Continuity and renewal

Doris Lehni Quarella leaves the company to her nephew Antonio Monaci, who was trained first as an artist and then as an architect at the University of Florence. The latter continues the company in the direction set by the previous generation under the direction of Heinz and Ursula Menet, already trusted employees of Doris Quarella. As an architect interested in design, has developed several pieces for Lehni, such as the sofa (2008). Under the leadership of the siblings Menet , the "Office Shelf", specifically tailored to the needs of offices, or the last design by Andreas Christen, the modular cabinet (2005), are also created. The collaboration with new designers leads to straightforward pieces in the spirit of the Lehni collection.

Antonio Monaci
Ursula and Heinz Menet

Since 2014, Lehni has also been producing customised kitchens made of aluminium. These are executed in close cooperation with architects and leading kitchen appliance manufacturers.

Lehni aluminium kitchen, detail

The anniversary year 2022 marks a new beginning. In addition to owner Antonio Monaci and technical director Heinz Menet, the team now includes Benedetta Agostini as creative director and Niels Blättler as managing director.

Benedetta Agostini - Niels Blaettler - Antonio Monaci
Antonio Monaci - Benedetta Agostini - Niels Blaettler - Heinz Menet