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Monday, February 14, 2011

Vitra Project

While reading a very informative article the other day in which a collector, a manufacturer and an heir of a designer debated the merit of original pieces, reproductions and reissues (which I'll eventually get around to posting about, I'm sure), I couldn't help but notice that even the diehard purist and the grandson of a famous designer found it impossible to criticize Vitra's "re-editions." It became clear that no matter where one stands in that debate, it's impossible to deny that Vitra makes flawless pieces which remain faithful to the intent of the designer to the last detail, not only in the miniatures I posted about yesterday but also in their full-size pieces. One bit of research led to another, and I have to confess that what I learned about Vitra was very enlightening and quite interesting.

Vitra was founded by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum in 1957 when they began to produce furniture by Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson at their factories in Basel, Switzerland, and Weil am Rhein, Germany. Today CEO Rolf Fehlbaum contends that Vitra is far more than a company. It is a project, because everyone involved considers it much more than just a business.
While he freely admits that financial success is the main goal of the Vitra company, he says their work is based on the conviction that everyday life holds great potential for inspiration and aesthetic enjoyment, and that design can discover and develop this potential. According to Fehlbaum, the company manifests its beliefs on several levels: in the company's products and interior concepts, in its architecture, collections, museums, as well as in its approach to designers and users.
One of the Vitra Project's most important influences was Charles Eames's belief that design was the "recognition of need" and his warning against stylistic excesses. He believed that the designer should practice self-restraint and devote himself completely to the task of problem solving. 
Vitra maintains a campus in Weil am Rhein that is made up of an architectural park, the Vitra Design Museum and its production facility. This embodies their belief in the concept of related environments, rather than a homogeneous approach.

Fehlbaum says that Vitra creates products as inexpensive as their plastic chairs, or as luxurious as the Eames Lounge Chair. They move backward and forward on the continuum of time with their commitment to their collections and re-editions and their support of contemporary design.

Fehlbaum began collecting modern furniture in the early 1980s. The collection grew to such an extent that he began to consider building a museum. He realized that a museum had to have exhibitions that would be attractive to other institutions, so Vitra began to publish catalogs, hold workshops, acquire archives and create unique museum products. Vitra exhibitions now tour around the world.

In 1981 a fire destroyed most of the factory in Weil am Rhein, necessitating the building of a new factory. Nicholas Grimshaw was the architect for this projects. A short time later, the Fehlbaum's encountered Frank Gehry, and the idea for the Vitra Campus was formed.

Even the most serious purists admit that Vitra's "re-editions" of classic mid-century designs are flawlessly true to the designer's intentions.
All photos from

Noguchi Freeform sofa and ottoman
Eames DKR and DKX
Panton C1 chair
Nelson desk clocks
And, yes, I still want one of these in the worst way...

Vitra Eames House Bird

To learn more about Vitra, you might enjoy this 12-minute video about the company and why it sees itself as so much more than a manufacturer.
Uploaded by vitraproject on Nov 30, 2010


  1. It's wonderful to know that these fabulous designs are being kept alive. It saddens me to think about how many mcm designs have become extinct or are being reproduced for quantity vs quality. Thank you for this post!

  2. Repros do have an important place. I talked to one antique dealer who said that before mcm became cool again, many dealers just pitched pieces from that era. So many pieces found their way to landfills. This was a super informative post - thanks :)

  3. @Krazy4Mod and Tanya: I have leaned toward being a purist for years, but I'm beginning to see that good, licenced reproductions or reissues...made to the designer's specifications and with his or her intent in mind...can't be dismissed as worthless. They keep the design alive. As both of you pointed out, so many of the originals have been lost, and remaining pieces will retain their value as long as there are honest manufacturers like Vitra who don't try to pass off their products as originals. Sadly, there will always be unscrupulous people who make cheap knock-offs, whether we're talking MCM furniture or Louis Vuitton handbags. That's why we need to educate ourselves and know what we're buying.