...And in doing so sowed the seeds of many of their later much celebrated projects; a great many of which only became possible when they were taken under the wing of Fehlbaum der Jüngere, Lord of Vitra, an autonomous commonwealth established by Fehlbaum's ancestors on the strategically important, and most convenient, German-Swiss border, and a commonwealth for which Fehlbaum hired many of the most famed architects of their days to develop buildings intended to be not only practical and meaningful for the Vitronians but also to serve as stimuli for architectural discourse... And a commonwealth in which Ronan et Erwan flourished, their collaborations with the Vitronians realising concepts as diverse as Algae which divides space without dividing space, allows for separation with connection, and which again isn't wizardry, Ronan et Erwan aren't magicians, but diligent designers with a very clear understanding of what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, how they want to achieve and with the resilience to (more often than not) get there; Workbays, which aren't, but which can be, and which on account of their modularity and flexibility can also be a meeting room, a tea kitchen, a lounge, a team workbay, an individual workbay, or a combination off all and much more, and can change that which they are when required, thereby allowing any given space to be continually redefined; Vegetal, a chair grown from polyamide as a plant grows from lignin and which re-interprets the French Art Nouveauists desire to transpose florid forms and natural structures into furniture in a much more restrained, reserved, durable, visual expression than was achieved then, without losing the directness or the intimacy of the association; or the Slow Chair which all but does away with the seat as a component of a chair relying solely on the upholstery, and thus recalling memories of the work of the Californian designer Eames Office who had been responsible for so much of the pioneer work in the early days of Vitra, albeit while Eames Office with works such as the Aluminium Chair developed understandings of chairs, with the Slow Chair Ronan et Erwan developed understandings of upholstery...
Although founded in 1950, the Vitra story really starts in 1953. On a visit to the USA Vitra founders Willi and Erika Fehlbaum saw some furniture from Charles and Ray Eames, and were so enraptured they decided to try to acquire the license to produce Eames' furniture in Europe. Following several years negotiation with the rights holder - the renowned US designer furniture producer Herman Miller - Vitra finally received the license in 1957. However, Vitra received not only the European rights to the work of Charles and Ray Eames but also to those of George Nelson, Alexander Girard and Isamu Noguchi. This license was to be one of the keys to establishing both the success and reputation of Vitra. A second important moment came in the early 1960s when Willi Fehlbaum decided to cooperate with the Danish designer Verner Panton on the production of a new plastic chair. After several prototypes and several false starts, 1967 finally saw the launch of the so called Panton Chair - the first plastic cantilever chair formed in a single cast. And more importantly, the first new product developed by Vitra. This positive experience encouraged Vitra to undertake further cooperations, and in the years since they have worked with designers as varied as, for example, Jasper Morrison, Mario Bellini and Antonio Citterio. In 1977 Rolf Fehlbaum succeeded his parents at the head of the company. In addition to carrying on the Vitra traditions of quality and innovation, Fehlbaum founded the Vitra Design Museum as a location not only for those products produced by Vitra, but for classic pieces of designer furniture per se. Today, over 50 years after that fateful day in 1953, Vitra are amongst the most influential and important producers of designer furniture.
Charles & Ray Eames
In essence the Vitra story starts with Charles and Ray Eames and the two icons of 20th century American design remain one of the cornerstones of both the Vitra portfolio and philosophy. Classics such as the Eames Lounge Chair, the Eames DSR Plastic Chair or the Aluminium Chair range have not only stood the test of time but continue to inspire young designers. In addition to providing Vitra with some of their most endearing articles, Charles Eames also helped form the Vitra philosophy which sees designers as "authors". For Eames the recognition of need is the raison d'être of design and he was opposed to extravagance without purpose; the designer should concentrate on solving the problem, albeit in their own way and with their own creativity.
The American star architect and Vitra first worked together in 1987 when Gehry used the Vitra Editions program to design his cardboard "Little Beaver" chair. It is, however, his buildings that bond Gehry most to Vitra. In the late 1980s he was responsible for the Vitra Design Museum building, as well as production halls and a canteen in the same complex. Gehrys 1994 extension to the Vitra HQ in Basel is one of the most instantly recognized buildings in modern architecture.
Maarten Van Severen
The Dutch architect and designer initially established himself as a small scale furniture producer and interior designer. In 1996 Van Severen's first collaboration with Vitra resulted in the chair .03, and over the subsequent years until his untimely death in 2005 Van Severen and Vitra worked closely on a range of products including the .04, .07 and the Kast shelving unit.
The cooperation between Vitra and the Italian designer and architect Antonio Citterio stretches back to 1985. Although he has produced numerous items for Vitra, Citterio is best known for his Vitra office chairs including the Axess plus, T-Chair and the new AC 4 and Skape. In addition Antonio Citterio was commissioned to design the Vitra production facilities in Neuenburg.
The grand old man of Danish design was the first designer to work with Vitra on the development of a new product - the Panton Chair. Following his studies at the Copenhagen art school, Panton worked briefly in Arne Jacobsen's studio before setting up on his own. Following a range of highly successful design, architecture and interior design projects he met Willi Fehlbaum, and the rest is history...
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
In 2000 Rolf Fehlbaum approached the, then still relatively unknown, French design team of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec and invited them to design an office system for Vitra - the first office system the brothers had created. The result "Joyn" was premiered in 2002. Since then the Bouroullecs have not only gone on to become acclaimed and sought after designers, but they have also created some of Vitra's most commercially successful products including the Algue room divider system and the Belleville Chair Wood multi-purpose chair.
The former design director at Herman Miller "arrived" at Vitra in 1957 courtesy of the licensing agreement between Vitra and Herman Miller; however, despite the somewhat involuntary route Nelson was to prove one of the closest mentors for Rolf Fehlbaum and in many ways helped shape Fehlbaum's philosophy and understanding of "design" in Vitra's formative years. As a designer Nelson was just as influential and designs such as the marshmallow sofa or Coconut Chair are in many ways the first steps towards pop art.
The original comes from Vitra
Original Vitra furniture meets the highest quality standards, is stable in value and can be passed on from generation to generation. But what exactly does original mean? Aren't the Eames originals from the 1940s in the MoMA or the Center Pompidou? Isn't every reproduction a copy? In the fine arts the terms original and forgery are common, in the field of design they require explanation. With regard to the design furniture industry, only those manufacturers who have the appropriate licenses are authorized to produce certain products. If this legal basis does not exist, it is plagiarism, a copy, a stolen idea. What does that mean specifically in relation to Vitra furniture? The Fehlbaum family, founders of Vitra, maintained a close friendly relationship with Charles and Ray Eames. And to this day, as the legal license holder, the company has endeavoured to preserve and further develop their cultural heritage together with the descendants of the Eames. An original can therefore be designated as such if the legal and ideal requirements are met: The original comes from Vitra. The argument that only first-produced drafts are originals is misleading and is often used by plagiarists. Each design is aimed at solving a specific problem and the initial drafts offer an initial approach, which in practice sometimes proves to be in need of improvement. Ray and Charles Eames worked their entire lives on the further development of their products, experimented with new materials or exchanged gliders because they found a better solution. Since reproduction is part of the concept in the design logic, Vitra chairs manufactured today are just as original as the valuable vintage objects and mid-century collectibles.
Up to 30 years of warranty on Vitra design classics
Highest quality standards enable Vitra to grant an extended manufacturer's warranty of 10 to 30 years on selected design classics. Register your Vitra furniture today and benefit from generous guarantee advantages. All information as well as questions and answers about the Vitra manufacturer's warranty can be found here or directly on the Vitra website.
Vitra Design Museum
The Vitra Design Museum originated from a wish from Vitra Chairman Rolf Fehlbaum to create a location in which to document the history of Vitra. In 1987 Fehlbaum commissioned US Architect Frank Gehry to design a building for the collection; Gehrys first building in Europe. The museum opened on November the 3rd 1989 and although the initial attention was won by Gehrys structure, it wasn't long before the contents of the museum took centre stage and a series of award winning exhibitions were being staged. Over the years the Design Museum has grown from a single building to a complex on the edge of the German town of Weil am Rhein. In addition to the Gehry building the Design Museum complex includes buildings designed by designers such as Jasper Morrison, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando and Jean Prouvé.
VitraHaus: smow is official partner
The VitraHaus is the latest addition to the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. Designed for Vitra by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron the VitraHaus is principally intended as an exhibition area for the Vitra Home Collection. Vistors to the spectacular building can, however, not only admire the collection but also request either more information on individual products or a concrete offer from specially selected Vitra specialist dealers. smow is one of these specialist Vitra VitraHaus partners.
The world as it existed when Vitra acquired the rights to Eames, Nelson et al was a clearly defined world where work and home life rarely encroached on one another. Over the decades the borders have become blurred and today homes must offer their owners more than merely a sofa and bed. As a response to this shift in emphasis Vitra initiated their Home Program based on the concept of the collage. Rolf Fehlbaum, guiding light of Vitra Home, first experienced the collage concept at Charles and Ray Eames house in Pacific Palisades where furniture, objects, art and plants fused in such a way that each object became more personal, familiar and intimate. This collage, however, is no patchwork, nor a random collection rather it is an arrangement based on an individual system of coordination based on the personality and requirements of each user. Vitra supplys the elements but it is up to each individual to decide what is right for them. And so we are all free to mix any Vitra chair with any accessory, such as a Panton chair with a George Nelson home desk, a Park Sofa, Hella Jongerius cushions and an Eames segmented table - or not. Just as you wish.
In one of his last major decisions before standing down, Willi Fehlbaum decided to take Vitra into the production of office furniture. The program Vitra Office started at the 1976 Orgatec furniture trade fair in Cologne with the chair "Vitramat" by the Berlin based designer Wolfgang Deisig. Three years later Vitra started working with Mario Bellini who not only brought a little Italian design je ne sais quoi to Vitra but started the expansion of the Vitra office chair range. This baton of innovative, Italian office furniture design was taken up in subsequent decades by first Antonio Citterio and Alberto Meda through office chairs such as the Axess plus, MedaPal and MedaPro. Mario Bellini further added to the canon in 2005 with his Headline chairs designed together with his son Claudio. In addition to office chairs Vitra have also worked with designers such as Antonio Citterio or Jasper Morrison to produce office systems such as the Ad Hoc or the ATM. Just as the Vitra Home program has responded to cultural and social changes, so too has the Vitra office program evolved over the decades. In 1993 the Vitra Design Museum presented the exhibition "Citizen Office" which presented modern office design concepts based on the thesis that an office is not just a place of work, but much more is a living space where various processes and interactions occur. Ten years later Vitra updated the Citizen Office to Network Office, under the motto "Break down the walls" and based around the Joyn system from Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. In 2008 the further development of the Network Office concept Net'n'Nest was presented at Orgatec - the very place where Vitra first entered the office furniture market some 32 years previous. However, just as with their Home program Vitra place the emphasis in their Office program on the individual choosing those elements that best suit their personality, requirements and for all their working style.
Much like the haute couture of the French fashion world, Vitra editions is a "laboratory" where selected designers can create designer furniture articles without having to pay heed to the potential commercial success of the project. Although the products created in the Vitra Editions are produced in small quantities the principle aim is to give the designers the freedom to experiment with material, form and production processes and so help stretch the boundaries of what is possible. Started in 1987 with Ron Arad, Vitra Editions has allowed designers such as Fernando & Humberto Campana, Konstantin Grcic or Naoto Fukasawa to experiment and learn.
Click on the images below to find all the latest inspiration from the Vitra broschures.
smow sells exclusively originals from licensed manufacturers and is an official trading partner of Vitra.
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smow Blog Design Calender: May 17th 1955 - Charles Eames Granted US Patent 2,708,476 for Furniture Frame Construction
...Saarinen and Eames (with Kaiser's hand) were awarded first prize in the category "Seating for a living room" with a collection which in addition to the "Conversation" armchair and "Relaxation" lounge chair which later became the Vitra Organic and Organic Highback chairs respectively, also featured a sectional sofa concept that has largely vanished, and a side chair... Formally launched in January 1952 at the winter furniture fairs in Chicago and Grand Rapids20 the new Eames Upholstered Wire Chairs made their public debut in the same month in context of a presentation at Macy's in New York, a presentation which not only underscores the important, central, role large department stores played in the dissemination of contemporary furnishing ideas in post-War America, but a presentation which in addition to the wire side chair shells also featured a long since lost wire lounge chair21, a work of which we can find no photographs of in-situ in Macy's; but, if its the same as the experimental model wire lounge chair depicted in the Vitra Design Museum's Eames Furniture Source Book22, it would represent a further development of the 1940 plywood Relaxation chair...
smow Blog Design Calender: April 30th 1993 - Opening of Citizen Office at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein
...With the exhibition Citizen Office the Vitra Design Museum staged not only their first conceptual, research based, exhibition, but also one of the first museal reflections on "the world of the office"... In many regards Citizen Office arose as the logical merging of two paths: in the late 1980s Vitra began the, somewhat unfortunately monickered, project "Office Dreams - Dream Offices", which saw them cooperate with designers on developing concepts for "a more attractive, sensual and social office"1, a project largely driven by the, then, Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum, and as a targeted response to evolving realities...
..."Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors" at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany As previously opined in these dispatches, as long as humans have lived in shelters consideration has been given to the interior design of those shelters, considerations which, arguably, at least in a European context, became increasingly involved in the wake of the Renaissance and became increasingly professionalised with the development of what became Art Nouveau in the late 19th century and its associated Gesamtkunstwerk fixated architects... And considerations the Vitra Design Museum aim to follow, chart and dissect over the course of the century past and as elucidated through twenty case studies...
..."You can't lose ideas in a small space" with this simple piece of almost Confucian wisdom Italian architect Renzo Piano explains part the deeper philosophy behind Diogene, his collaboration with Vitra... And the latest object on the Vitra Campus...
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