Craft and Calories: The Story of Nohrd and the Waterrower

At long last the ugly gym is dead — or should be. THE RAKE was invited to Germany to check out WaterRower Nohrd, whose design-led equipment ensures that working out has never looked so good.

Craft and Calories: The Story of Nohrd and the Waterrower

I have two passions in life (don’t tell my wife): design and health and fitness. For many years I’ve spent my time writing about the former, so when the Editor-in-Chief of this magazine gave me the opportunity to indulge myself in the latter, I took it. Two of the great joys for me are travelling and training in new environments, which is why the opportunity to visit the facilities at WaterRower Nohrd in Germany was a welcome double whammy. 

I always find that a new atmosphere is a new challenge, and a new country and climate tend to bring huge rewards. It’s almost as if it’s a reset moment: everything is new, everything is fresh, and the vibrancy I feel after a session in a new place is magnitudes greater than at home. My favourite experience in recent memory was Thailand, where you are sweating before you even set foot in the gym. While travelling for work, I’m baffled at how poor most hotel gyms are. I don’t want lots of kit — far from it — I just want a space to move. Often the gym is located in a room on the second floor that nobody would dare stay in, with equipment that looks like it was an afterthought. 

A few brands have tried to change it, and have taken a different approach to gym equipment, one I would say is more in line with Apple’s approach to business — design first. One of those companies is WaterRower Nohrd. I had the pleasure of talking to Dominik Kuprecht, the Managing Director of WaterRower Germany, and to say I was inspired is an understatement. 

The WaterRower.

What was once a small woodshop making one rower a month is now a state-of-the-art manufacturing operation. 

From their humble beginnings, WaterRower have expanded to become a global fitness firm. What was once a small woodshop making one rowing machine a month is now a state-of-the-art manufacturing operation. WaterRower’s sister brand, Nohrd, is Kuprecht’s brainchild. Deriving its name from the town in which WaterRower Germany is based, the brand was created to meet demand from WaterRower customers for fitness equipment with the same space-saving, functional design as their rowing machines. 

It’s an obvious question when you think about it: why are indoor rowers not made to emulate the sensitisation of rowing? Rowing machines have been around for decades, but they have never really taken on the challenge of asking users to get on the water. The WaterRower was invented in 1988 by John Duke, a Yale University engineer and USA Rowing national team candidate. Duke had two principles guiding his design. Firstly, he wanted to replicate the experience of rowing in a boat, with the sounds, resistance and physiological benefits. Secondly, he wanted to create a piece of ‘fitness furniture’, with an aesthetic that would complement a residential setting. Duke’s philosophy when he founded WaterRower was to manufacture high-quality products from ethically sourced materials, and that mission remains a core value to this day. An antidote to disposable manufacturing culture, all WaterRower machines are made by hand and designed to last a lifetime. 

Inspiration for the design came from the sparse elegance of Shaker furniture, beautiful, well-constructed objects that can be used in everyday life. The ultimate goal was to not have any superfluous design elements. Every component of the WaterRower was to play a role in the rowing machine’s function. 

With his design finalised, Duke set up the WaterRower factory in Rhode Island, a hub for skilled manufacturing labour a few hours north of the Appalachian mountain range from which the WaterRower wood is sourced. All Nohrd kit is manufactured in Germany, and the WaterRowers are still made at the Rhode Island factory. “Nohrd equipment follows the same design blueprint as the WaterRower machine, originally inspired by the sparse elegance of Shaker furniture, where every element performs a function,” Kuprecht says. I wondered what his favourite piece of kit is. “Every piece would be my favourite, they are like my babies,” he says. “If I was stranded on an empty island and could only take one, it would be the bike: it embodies the perfect blend of aesthetics, functionality and style.” 

The craftsmen and women of Nohrd create, often by hand, products that are sustainable, ethically sourced and aesthetically pleasing. 

The first Nohrd product was the WaterWorkx, in 2008, which is no longer in production, as it has been replaced by the SlimBeam, a cable pulley machine that takes up less space and is more versatile. There are about 38 different product categories available at Nohrd, which doesn’t include the different options within each product category, such as wood type, monitor, etc. During peak times they produce an incredible 100,000 WaterRowers in a year. 

And the wonderful thing about great design is that it lasts, which is vital when the issue of sustainability is so pressing. Kuprecht says: “Sustainability is often just a buzzword for many brands and manufacturers. However, we focus on tangible actions, not just as a marketing strapline but because it’s the right thing to do. We only use wood from sustainable sources where the replanting rate exceeds the harvest rate. In winter, the factory is heated using energy from production waste. We employ lean manufacturing techniques, but the most important thing is our products’ timeless style and longevity.” 

The craftsmen and women of Nohrd create, often by hand, products that are sustainable, ethically sourced and aesthetically pleasing.