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"We keep calling ourselves into question"

The days were long. More than sixty years ago, Aloys F. Dornbracht, who was 57 years old at the time and his son Helmut, were working until five o'clock in the afternoon for other firms, so that they could then use their wages to set up their own business in an old shack in Iserlohn. Evening after evening, they stood at the workbench, filing and polishing the first Dornbracht patent - a totally new fitting with an extending spout Today, it is still that entrepreneurial spirit to take risks and welcome change, that determines the success of this family company. With the first fittings in his suitcase, Aloys F. Dornbracht took the train to the merchants in Cologne, literally selling from door to door. A few years later, the firm was producing 40,000 pieces a month. Now Helmut Dornbracht's sons, Andreas and Matthias, are at the helm of this medium-sized company, that in six decades has become the global market leader in premium fitting production and has exerted considerable influence over the cultural importance of design, architecture and technology in the bathroom.

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"It is a feature of the way we think and work that we keep calling ourselves and what we have created into question", says Andreas Dornbracht, who is responsible for Sales and Marketing in the company. The invention of the extending spout was followed by countless product innovations for the bathroom, accompanied by a keen instinct for future social and cultural developments – often even anticipating them. As a physically separate bathroom became standard in buildings erected in the fifties, Dornbracht expanded the firm around the shack, took on employees and was thus in a position to meet the rising demand. In the sixties and seventies, the focus was on functionality, together with redesigning the water points. A shower with a thermostat, a washbasin with a single-lever mixer and mirrored cabinets with a shelf, a light and switch functions.
The first luxury fitting.
 "They smiled at us to start with" In 1969, with the Edition 2000 luxury fitting, Helmut Dornbracht took the crucial first step, which in the long term, was to make the company stand out from the competition. Initially people smiled at Dornbracht for its wide, crescent-shaped fitting, emerging from the washbasin like a jet of water from a fountain. Customers reacted somewhat differently. Their design consciousness was aroused – and Dornbracht established a totally new market segment. This was not to be the only time that a new development from Dornbracht caused amazement. In the eighties, when function and technology were no longer distinguishing features in the eyes of the customers, Dornbracht showcased the Domani fitting, designed by Dieter Sieger. This polarising product was even controversial within the company. From a present-day perspective, it came at exactly the right time. Domani was copied many times and became an international trendsetter. It ultimately marked the birth of the Dornbracht brand we know today: a company that makes stylistic and cultural orientation in the bathroom and kitchen a key point of its philosophy.
1992 – The creation of Tara, a classic design.
At the start of the nineties, Dornbracht reinforced its role as a trendsetting manufacturer of designer fittings and accessories with the market launch of the two-handle Tara fitting. Once again, it was an extremely progressive concept, because the position of the single-lever mixer on the market seemed impregnable at the time. "A two-handle mixer was really regarded as behind the times. But the time was ripe to redesign this archetype", says Andreas Dornbracht. Once again Dornbracht was going its own way, being "different from the others". Peter Sieger's minimalist design helped Tara achieve cult status. The winner of numerous international design awards, it is now regarded as a classic design and is the model for countless copies, worldwide.
Dornbracht develops a new cultural identity
Dornbracht was integrating kitchen fittings into the product range as early as 1989 and since 2005, has pushed ahead and intensified its commitment in this sector, with independent product designs. But the Dornbracht brothers' claim went beyond playing a pioneering role in the high-quality designer fittings segment. The question asked was, what's actually next after form and function? Convinced by the idea that cultural debate with the element of water would significantly boost the future development of the company, in 1996, Dornbracht gave their content a different slant. From then on, the communications agency Meiré und Meiré has advised the company how to organise its wide ranging commitment to art and culture. Artists, photographers, authors, musicians and designers have since worked on subjects of rituals and culture. The Statements series of publications documents this internationally oriented process, to which numerous renowned artists have contributed since 1996, in various formats and media. The findings from the cultural debate have significantly shaped the company's understanding and in 2003, were channelled into the development of a new, elementary fitting and bathroom aesthetic. The needs of individuals in the bathroom became the focus of attention. With MEM, Dornbracht showcased a fitting with a supremely restrained design language and with the MEM ritual bathroom, put some fundamental ideas on the subject of rituals into an architectonic concept.  By 2007, there were two further contributions to the subject of ritual architecture in the bathroom, Tara.Logic and Elemental Spa. The "fractal factory" – progress and growth at the Iserlohn location. Success in international markets was accompanied by a constant thirst for innovation at the Iserlohn production location, which has grown in area from 8,000 square metres in the seventies to what is now well over 25,000 square metres. For Matthias Dornbracht, who since the brothers started in the company has been responsible for Production, Purchasing and Logistics, maintaining flexibility and economic efficiency in production, in the highest quality standards, even for smaller batch sizes, was and is one of the most important objectives of all the technical improvements. A few years ago, to secure the long-term market leadership in global competition, Matthias Dornbracht also initiated a process that was designed to accomplish a gradual changeover from a hierarchical, rigid corporate organisation to a structurally and operationally independent system of modules. Now all those employed in a particular division, from development to procurement to production and sales, work together in one module, largely on their own responsibility. This continued development of the "fractal factory" is intended to boost employees' understanding of their contribution to the company's success, as they take responsibility for their own decisions, quickly resolve difficulties and reduce complexity overall. The consistent implementation of the modular principle also became central to the long-term orientation of the company's organisational and manufacturing units. In electroplating, for example, the most important added-value process in the production of premium fittings. After a fire in summer 2009 totally destroyed the old rack-based electroplating system, spring saw new surface finishing come into operation, in two production lines that can work on specific products and adopt a highly flexible approach, thanks to their modular structure. As Matthias Dornbracht says. "Our production systems are secondary to the standard of design. Not a single radius, nor a single edge is to be changed for the sake of faster or more convenient production." In future, the focus will increasingly be on the element of water. Dornbracht maintains its position as the top manufacturer of high-quality designer fittings and accessories because the company keeps investing in new departures and new ideas. The debate with culture and architecture in the bathroom and kitchen environments encourages an even greater awareness of the central element of water and its significance in everyday life. Andreas Dornbracht is now convinced that in the long term, product design will be secondary to a creative and technical context, which will be geared more to the needs of individuals and allow for diverse forms of water. In this development too, Dornbracht is already justifying its role as a pioneer of the entire industry. With the development of ATT/Ambience Tuning Technique, for example, the company provides a programme of events for the Balance Modules, its products for the bathroom. The technology keeps choreographed shower scenarios ready for users, that can be started just by pressing a button. The different outlet points are digitally controlled to make varying temperatures and quantities of water rain, pour and fall onto the individual at the centre. A closer look at the nature and diversity of the water is increasingly involved in kitchen innovations as well. The Water Zones concept allows the various water-related working processes to be physically separated into Preparing, Cooking, Cleaning and Drinking. A division familiar from professional kitchens is now available for domestic kitchens – clearly oriented to everyday life. As Andreas Dornbracht says, "The focus used to be very much on the hardware - the product and the architecture. The major challenge for the future is to go beyond this and occupy ourselves with the software - the water."

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Facts

  • Portrait

    Premium fittings from Iserlohn. Innovative products for kitchen and bathroom from the family-run Dornbracht company are setting global standards.   More
  • History

    For more than 60 years, the name of Dornbracht has signified daring to try something new. It all started one evening after work, in a shack in Iserlohn.   More

Competence

  • Efficiency

    "Every employee must know their exact contribution to the success of the company" – Dornbracht increases efficiency at the Iserlohn location.   More
  • Technology

    Complex geometric shapes are easily coated – the new electroplating system has secured Dornbracht a clear advantage over the competition.   More
  • Quality

    International awards and top customers with the highest standards bear witness to the exceptional quality of Dornbracht products.   More
  • Partnership

    The corporate strategies and cultivated relationships make it obvious that Dornbracht's fate is not under the control of a faceless consortium.   More
  • Premium

    Dornbracht explores its cultural identity – and by so doing, assists the learning process of the premium brand.   More

Career portal

  • Career portal

    Exciting and demanding job and training opportunities in a company that aims to be "different and better than the others".   More