An architect and decorator, Hoffmann was one of the founders of the Viennese Secession. As early as 1901 he turned his back on the curves of Art Nouveau and designed strictly simple furniture with straight lines.
Several sources of influence proved decisive: from the Arts & Crafts movement, which revived the dialogue between the designer and the craftsman, to the example set by Japan, where the rites of daily life had obeyed the same refined aesthetic for centuries. More immediately, the participation of the Scottish designer Mackintosh in the exhibition of the Secession in Vienna in 1900 was decisive for the flowering of this style in which form and decoration fitted into the same orthogonal grid. Functionalism and abstraction were most radically expressed in the models designed by Hoffmann and Koloman Moser in 1902-1905, the years when they were working in perfect harmony.
The first customers belonged to a small circle of artists, friends and a few collectors, headed by the Wittgenstein family. In 1904, Hoffman made this small pivoting piece, rather like lightweight English bookshelves, for the Berlin apartment of Margaret Stonborough Wittgenstein (1882-1958).
A piece of furniture with such pared down geometrical lines, devoid of all ornament, may at first sight seem disconcertingly simple. But its construction is in fact extremely elaborate, each side being arranged in a different way. The same subtle elegance characterises the use of oak coated with white lead, then black varnish, imitating ancient techniques used by Japanese carpenters.