Vitra documents a 200-year history of the humble chair

Written by Sara Black

Just when you thought you’d clocked watching the internet, up pops another intriguing insight into a rather niche but also everywhere-you-look item, the chair.

When Vitra say sit, you say sure thing. In other words, Vitra have released a 90-min doco, enitiled Chair Times and you must watch it.

Filmed on the site at the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the documentary opens the doors to the production factory which also happens to be the Vitra Design Museum and an experimental lab for architecture and design.

Within the first 60 seconds, we spy a Jean Prouvé and an Alvar Aalto gently rolled out by gloved hands and lovingly placed on the museum floor with sometimes three-person-job precision. What follows is a seven-minute prelude of unnarrated beauty as we watch the remaining chairs being meticulously placed in their rightful spots, chronologically, of course. All accompanied by the soundtrack of piano and the bopping of drum brushes, to get us into the chair-admiring mood.

Beyond the initial set up, we’re introduced to Rolf Fehlbaum and designer Hella Jongeruis whose reaction upon entering the chair-laden room is “wow, just wow”. Fehlbaum, the Chairman emeritus Vitra and Founder of the Vitra Design Museum Collector, then briefly muses on the concept of chair personality as he plays with his Miniatures Collection and then it’s all go.

We explore how the designs illustrate different eras, societal development in the 19th century and the advent of industrial production. We learn about wood bending (Thonet), the iron casting (Schinkel) and the minimalist techniques of tubular steel (Breuer). We discover how cafe culture, the end of War World I and the recession played keys parts in the evolution of the chair.

If you’re not yet a classic chair convert but the names Charles & Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright or Charlotte Perriand ring a bell, watch this film and become enlightened for your next dinner party chit chat.


vitra chairs

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